Watching Revolutionary Road has, arguably, changed my life.
I didn’t attempt suicide, but it is the kind of film that makes one think that perhaps suicide isn’t such a dubious option after all.
Frank Wheeler (Leonard di Caprio) and April Wheeler (Kate Winslet) decide their suburban American-Dream lifestyle is actually more like an American-Nightmare. The kind of nightmare where, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t get from where you are to where you want to be. It’s like wading through molasses.
April is an actress, but the small town, amateur acting circuit doesn’t do her justice. Her acting career is over.
Everyday, Frank competes in the rat race to the top of the corporate ladder, but he doesn’t look like he has much prospect of winning. His father worked for the same company and didn’t make much of an impression either. He finds his job unbearably dull, and foresees that his fate will mirror that of Dad’s.
They have two children, and people with children need to behave responsibly and provide economically for their off-springs’ well-being.
Frank and April argue a lot and are completely miserable a lot. Their relationship is clearly going to hell, because they both hate their lives (although not necessarily each other).
The quiet desperation of their lives (quiet, even taking the shouting-matches into account) leads them to make a revolutionary decision. Let’s move to Paris, France! The art scene there is much more developed, April can take up acting again and support Frank and the children. Frank can spend the time to figure out what he really wants to do with his life, and then he can do it. This movie is set in the 50’s, so that really is some crazy revolutionary idea right there.
Outstanding! At this point I began to think that perhaps this movie was going to brighten up a bit. It’s Hollywood, right? It’s Leo and Kate, from Titanic. There might still be a sad ending, but at least if they go to Paris the whole movie won’t carry this burden of crushing-defeat the whole way through.
Everyone else in this 50’s setting is bemused by the Wheelers. Leaving the USA? Going to France? The woman is going to be the bread-winner? Okaaaaaay. In fact the only character, other than the Wheeler’s, who thinks extracting oneself from one’s middle-class prison is an excellent idea is a guy from a psychiatric facility (brilliantly played my Michael Shannon. The film is worth seeing just for the scenes he is in. I even recommend skipping the rest of the film in order to avoid wanting to kill yourself at the end). At one point, Michael Shannon’s character tells the couple, “Hopeless emptiness. Now you’ve said it. Plenty of people are onto the emptiness, but it takes real guts to see the hopelessness.”
So, the crazy guy cheers them on and commends them on their brave decision. This just sets the viewer up to take a huge emotional dive into the depths of depression, mortification, and total numbing impotence.
From this point onward, shit happens. Things do not get better. Hollywood does not play its usual tricks.
April falls pregnant. Frank, because he no longer cares about his job, manages to get offered a promotion (à la Office Space, but depressing instead of hilarious). The Wheeler’s dream (or perhaps just April’s dream) of a European life spirals away and dissipates into nothing. Nothing will change. Frank will continue in the rat race that can never be won. April will continue in her suburban prison, overseen by her juvenile wardens. Even the psychiatric-ward guy lambastes them on during his final visit, and despite his enraged screaming during that scene, he seems like the most sane character in the film.
With her escape route to Paris blocked, desperation strikes April again and she carries out a home abortion. Then she bleeds to death.
Highly Abridged Review
A really excellent film, but not enjoyable. Too disheartening to be enjoyable.
To get enjoyment out of it, only watch the scenes starring Michael Shannon.
I mentioned something about this film changing my life. I think the life changes I’ve implemented deserve a post of their own, uncoloured by this black and foreboding tale.