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Revolutionary Road : Movie Review

February 28, 2009

There’s something about history which intrigues me. One reason is that it holds the key to the present and another is because it answers every “How” in your thoughts. Back in the 50’s when the world was just about managing to stand up and look ahead towards a promising future, something strange happened to the human psyche. We got caught in a moral dilemma about following our dreams .vs.  stability in life. This eventually gave rise to a new generation which would continue to grapple with this dilemma for ages to come, something which has been beautifully brought to life in Richard Yates’ 1961 novel, “Revolutionary Road.” And 47 years later, the book finally saw its big screen adaptation directed by Sam Mendes, starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo diCaprio. The film “Revolutionary Road” narrates the life of a family in US who are living an “American Dream” in the 50’s, spiralling into a quagmire of dogma, delusion and perpetual hopelessness.

Frank and April (The Wheelers), a young couple move into their new house on Revolutionary Road. With time, both of them realise how hopeless their lives are and to break that anamoly, April suggests that they move to Paris. Frank does approve of this idea and he is quite convinced that this will do him good as he can figure out what exactly he wants in life. During the course of these events, Frank is offered a new position at work and the dream of earning more money leads him to think that they can be happy with their status quo. Eventually, this becomes the bone of contention between the couple who engage themeselves in a series of hysterical arguments with devastating results.

The “American Dream”, which is often quoted by many to exemplify USA as the land of opportunity, is in the heart of “Revolutionary Road” creation. It was James Truslow Adams who coined this term in 1931 in his book “The Epic of America”. Over the course of time the definition of “American Dream” might have changed, but it’s still a very narcissist way of life. The traits of ‘free will’ and liberty are buried under the weight of dogma prevelant in the society. In one of the scenes, when the Wheelers break the news of their plan of moving to Paris to their neighbours, the latter are not only shocked but also question the logic behind their decision. The zeal to break away from clutter and mundanity of their claustrophobic life is interpreted as escapism. As the outlook of life for both Frank and April begins to diverge, they realise how different they have been all their married life. Eventually it leads to a series of emotional breakdowns culminating with some gut-wrenching and horrific set of events.

Leonardo and Kate come together after a hiatus of almost 11 years since their previous movie, “Titanic”. One thing I couldn’t understand after having seen the movie is, how the hell did Leonardo not get an Oscar nomination for this role? He gets under the skin of Frank Wheeler so well that it almost reaches a disturbing level. The intensity which we saw in his earlier movie, “Departed” is still intact, maybe it has got even better here. One of the most complex written roles you will ever come across, Frank Wheeler suffers from hopeless emptiness in his life as well as imploding within himself for not following his dreams. Kate Winslet on the other hand also deserves an Oscar Nomination for her role as “April Wheeler”. If I can put across her role in a line, then all I can say is, ” Calling it Awesome would be an understatement”. The rest of the characters fall into place perfectly. I still wonder how Micheal Shannon managed to get an Oscar nomination.

The set design of the film leaves a lasting impression about the quaint neighbourhoods with beautiful lawns and cars. The costume design is great! And so is the camera work which brilliantly captures the tension between the Wheelers. Sam Mendes, who had previously directed “American Beauty”, deals with the subject with great compassion. He understands the characters too well and has done a brilliant job in making the actors perform within the confines of a delusional society.

Looking back at this film, all I can think of is, it’s just not the “American Dream”, but across many cultures “Free Will” and “Liberty” exist only in literature. While some do manage to break free, others end up living someone else’s life. Watch this film for some brilliant performances….for the hopeless emptiness which fills the void between the characters…for it is devastatingly real. More than anything else, watch it, because quite frankly you may see yourself in the Wheelers.

P.S: One of the landmark scenes in the movie is set in a Train station, where hundreds of men wearing their suits, hats and carrying morning newspaper walk across the terminal. If I were Frank, I would be so lost walking those few steps. Wonder what others have to say?

Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia.com

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 15, 2009 8:19 pm

    Come on! American dream is not definitely only a part of the literature or art. It is an actual thing. The American dream has been the main proponent of America during all of 20th century. After the world war the dream started coming true for most ppl. American dream was a fact and still might be though not as well as it was in the new deal era.

    p.s: You really want to see a beautiful train terminal scene with all the hats and newspaper. Check out Road to Perdition by Sam Mendes. It will floor you.

  2. Hemanth permalink*
    March 15, 2009 9:01 pm

    @Vemana: Dude…I never said that it existed only in books. Of course the American Dream is a way of life…but it somehow doesn’t let the person break away from the bondage of everyday life. That was what I was pointing my fingers at.

    Ahh…yes, I saw Road To perdition..that was amazing…I don’t exactly remember the scene with lot of fedora hats and newspapers…they were just everywhere in the movie!..:)

  3. Anirudh permalink
    July 24, 2009 7:07 pm

    well, this movie is about humans… human emotions.. relationships .. feelings. This movie is NOT for everyone. this movie is depressing… in the end you are like mentally exhausted… it’s a tiring journey and i, for one, felt sad at the end.

    It’s a fantastic movie. Every scene has been directed to perfection. The intent, the intensity, the hopelessness is never missing… it’s etched in every frame.

    kate and leo, once again, looked good together and acted brilliantly. Michael Shannon was amazing…

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