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Revolutionary Road – Is it just me?

Why am I the only person I know..or even “know” in the Internet sense of “knowing”  – who didn’t hate it?


I didn’t love it, either. There was a lot wrong with it. Weak
characterization. Miscasting. Anvil-wielding mentally ill prophets.

But here’s the thing.

Whether or not Yates’ original novel intended it, whether or not Mendes intended it in his adaptation, the movie did not come off to me like a blanket condemnation of late 50’s soulless suburbia.

As I said to Michael as we left the theater, it very much felt to me like an expose of life – a person’s life –  without God.

Again – not intended, I’m sure.

But even if you don’t buy my sense of the thing, I think it’s still difficult to see the piece as a critique of the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit and his Aproned Wife – simply because Frank and April were such delusional nitwits.

It seemed clear to me that the desire to go to Paris was presented, not as a noble expression of searching souls, but simple escapism from a life that did not have to be as empty as the characters believed it to be.

The irony being that after his wife’s death, Leo moves away from the suburbs to…New York City…which many believe to be, if not as mythically romantic as Paris, at least as full of opportunities for creative, engaged people.

So my impression was not that Frank and April were brilliant spirits deadened by the suburbs, but rather that they were self-deluded dolts who couldn’t live in reality because they had no purposeful, transcendent sense of self and purpose.

And the abortion? Was the point that legal abortion would have improved April’s life? I didn’t see it at all. The abortion in itself – whether it had been legal or not, done in “safety” in a physician’s office – came off as one more delusional act, expressive of a determination to avoid the real issues, which had nothing at all to do with where you lived, but your sense of yourself – which in Frank and April’s case involved no purpose greater than “feeling.”

What I thought was most telling was Frank’s mournful comment about April’s post-abortive death: “She did it to herself,” which is a reference not as much to the self-administered abortion, but to her whole constricted life: She did it to herself.  She didn’t have to. But she did.

So argue away. We need arguments here, and while I’m not quite up to arguments about politics, secular or churchy, I can handle a movie fight, though. At least today.

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posted March 5, 2009 at 12:05 am

Remember the film The Hours based on the book by Michael Cunningham, which is really a retelling of Mrs. Dalloway?
It was to me a great condemnation of homosexual living, as the movie made clear that the only lasting love, caritas, that you could depend upon was between husband and wife. Even when both the husband and the wife had moved on to their own gay relationships, those people did nothing to buoy each other, to end suffering, to suffer together, to have compassion.
But of course, that wasn’t at all what Michael Cunningham was thinking when he wrote it. I doubt it was what the film makers meant either. But it was the movie’s truth, nonetheless.
That film supposedly also condemned the horrors of the 50s suburban life, showing how confining it was to be homosexual in such a world. But all it showed was that people who have a difficult time functioning have a difficult time functioning, and that running away produces enormous damage for those who run and those left behind. The nuclear family was the best institution to protect everyone.
anyway, Revolutionary Road felt the same way as Mrs. Dalloway. Somehow, the movie makers didn’t see the truth the movie told.

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Your Name

posted March 5, 2009 at 3:40 am

I only read the novel a few years ago, right before Christmas, and it depressed me so much I spent the next three weeks or so reading Harry Potter Books back-to-back-to-back as therapy. The movie is in one of my stacks of DVDs to watch (the one of those my husband has no interest in), so I haven’t seen it, but I was really intrigued by the way Yates discusses April’s abortion (or desire for an abortion). The words he uses are along the lines of it being “unnatural” for a woman not to want to have her husband’s baby. Something about that way of expressing it, “unnatural” has stuck with me as I had never heard it put that way before. Beyond right or wrong it was totally “unnatural.”

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posted March 5, 2009 at 7:04 am

It’s not just you. Worldview matters, both now and later. The same thing can be seen by the world and by believers and reveal entirely different lessons: “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God.” (1st Corinthians 3:19) Bless you for explicating what I think is the right one. Again. :)

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posted March 5, 2009 at 7:20 am

I don’t do well with hopelessness, and that’s about all I got out of this movie. I do appreciate the attempt to unseat the 1950’s as some sort of mythical glory years to which we ought return, but I think the dynamics of that decade contain far more than simple dissatisfaction and restraint. When contrasting this movie with possibly the most brilliant and poignant film wrestling with the 1950’s Rebel Without A Cause, I think it becomes clear just how flat and one dimensional Revolutionary Road truly is as a film. In Rebel, the viewer actually empathizes with the characters and the confusing structure of what is and what is not considered acceptable behaviour. Rebel also offers hope, the same way out of the 1950’s that the Beats eventually offer (whether or not it is a flawed solution)- that of finding identity, acceptance, and at least an approximation of love within groups of one’s friends. Revolutionary Road in contrast offers no solution, no way out, no hope. And for the life of me, I cannot understand, nor empathise with art whose only enduring emotion is “why should we even try in the first place”.

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Memphis Aggie

posted March 5, 2009 at 7:51 am

I didn’t see the movie but let me ask: did the movie provide a Godly contrast or did you bring that in with you? I’m guessing that your well formed conscience put the movie in it’s proper place, but those not so attuned would read only despair. I don’t mind a movie with darkness and tragedy but I do mind one without any contrasting virtue. Today it seems with few exceptions movies and TV wallow in the ugliness to the exclusion of all else.

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Amy Welborn

posted March 5, 2009 at 9:16 am

As I said in the post. any referent to the transcendent was undoubtedly unintended by everyone involved.
The point is that even without the God referent, the character’s misery is not attributed to their external circumstances. It’s not 1958’s fault (or whenever) – it’s rooted in their own flaws, which would be there no matter where or when they lived. “She did it to herself.”

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Your Name

posted March 5, 2009 at 9:18 am

If they were dynamic, creative people, Frank and April wouldn’t really need Paris, would they?

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Amy Welborn

posted March 5, 2009 at 9:21 am

(Although it did provide a nudge on my conscience in regard to my constant Italy-mongering.)

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Your Name

posted March 5, 2009 at 9:57 am

I did like the movie, as much as you can like something that is so depressing.
Although, I just wanted to shout at Leo and Kate, “Yeah, a long ocean voyage is JUST what you two need.” And then I thought, that is exactly it. You think you are getting out of your problems, situation, ennui, what have you. But you obviously take them with you, and might get yourself in much more trouble.
I recently worked with someone like this. Completely sure that “if only I could/ you would….” things would be perfect. If only my office is completely redecorated. If only we buy lots of expensive equipment things will be better. If only a colleague moves his office. If only I run this project. If only I don’t. He recently left for something completely different, but, he’ll still be there. And ‘if only’ is a terrible way to live.
On the same theme, I went through a bit of mid-life regret almost 20 years ago. If only…. I spent that summer visiting college friends, many of whom had taken the path I hadn’t. And they were all eaten up with envy about MY life! Surprise.
We all had good things going. We were just adjusting to the reality that life’s potential is not unlimited after awhile. You age and you are where you got planted.
Live where you are. That’s the prize I took from that summer.
I just wanted to shout at April “Enjoy your kids, start a book club, go into the city once a month for dinner and a show. You’ll be fine.”

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Clare Krishan

posted March 5, 2009 at 10:03 am

No knowledge of the book or the film, except to admit to being one of the folks Amy refers to in the “internet sense of knowing” who has an aversion to the meme in this kind of piece, I want to experience the trinitarian redemption of the feminine and masculine through the children… but one is dead and their siblings are hanging in the balance at the close, no?
Here’s a useful essay for those like me who are game to discuss something we’re probably not qualified to (as non-viewers) but who enjoy engaging with the metaphysics/culture-of-death angle Nel mezzo del cammin aka along the via media [ ;-) ] di nostra vita:
Perhaps key to unlocking the “original sin/concupiscence” drama is the fact that the creative Hollywood types are ignorant of the metaphorical in the piece: the play “the petrified forest” is allegorical for the tragic, no? The Dantesque infernal of the Platonic
      “… image of chaotic matter–unformed, unnamed–as a type of primordial wood (silva); the forest at the entrance to the classical underworld (Hades) as described by Virgil (Aeneid 6.179); Augustine’s association of spiritual error (sin) with a “region of unlikeness” (Confessions 7.10); and the dangerous forests from which the wandering knights of medieval Romances must extricate themselves.”
a la “Sleeping Beauty”, no? (citation credit America as modern fairy tale heroine, comatose, with no prince to risk piercing by thorns and save her (or crazy romantic willing to sign over his life-insurance for sweet wee Gaby as the evil gangster shoots to kill, Humphrey Bogart attained fame in the movie, but he played the gangsta not the hero, what does that say about us…?)
Godless, indeed… abandon hope all ye who enter in…
and yet great thread Amy, more please
(I’m scaling the mount of Purgatorio this Lent
after slogging thru the bolgia of Inferno a few years ago)!

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Clare Krishan

posted March 5, 2009 at 10:09 am

link to more on the meme “sins of the fathers” (the heroine of the “play” in the novel is a warbride-child from World War I) while the characters in the movie are WWII survivors (autobiographical material used, for sure):

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posted March 5, 2009 at 10:14 am

I hated the movie. I laughed at times I didn’t think I was meant to.
What upsets me is that everybody sees “the prison that was middle class suburbia in the ’50’s” (or something like that, as the presenters at the Academy Awards described it. The trouble is that’s only part of the truth.
I see people with no sense of vocation, to whom life is about accumulating pleasurable experience and minimizing the pain –
no sense of sacrifice or duty – who are sorely disappointed.
Amy, I think you liked that the spiritual void was exposed. What I didn’t like was that there was no hope of fulfillment – there were no Cramdens and Nortons who had humble jobs but were happy (I know, I’m mixing genres). In Revolutionary Road even the neighbors were miserable. Or the implication is, they are, whether they know it or not.
I wasn’t around in the ’50s, but I imagine there was a euphoria after the end of war, the end of the Depression, and people bought into a consumerist idea of prosperity convenience, and unlimited potential. (Think of the old newsreels of push-button appliances). DiCaprio would live in Paris and “figure out what he really wanted to do” while his wife supports him and his children.
It rings true with current generations, with the “I am special” song, and “you can do anything you want to do if you put your mind to it” mentality. I almost forgot “believe in yourself”. All you need to do is spend a lot of money college “figuring out what you really want to do” (instead of who you really are and what really is) then you can get a job. Todays push-button appliances are web 2.0, high-def video, and pharmaceuticals that will make us live sexually-satisfied lives, wrinkle-free, into our 100s.

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Amy Welborn

posted March 5, 2009 at 10:16 am

Great discussion so far. Thanks to all.

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Patrick Martin

posted March 5, 2009 at 11:17 am

I think the key to some of these angst-ridden movies is that nobody ever actually stops the characters from doing anything they want to do. They limit themselves. What they want is not just to do something exotic, they want social approval for doing so.

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posted March 5, 2009 at 11:54 am

I didn’t see the movie, but I share your insight into movies where you just want to shout “find Jesus” to the characters. I have on ongoing joke where I sum up almost every movie I see with “Salvation through….” For Revolutionary Road, sounds like salvation through geographical cure. Star Wars (which I love, love, love): Salvation through the Force. Most romantic comedies: Salvation through the True Love™. Most action movies: Salvation through revenge. There’s been salvation through almost everything but God in today’s movies. You’re not alone in seeing the movies’ worlds through God’s lens, but your are rare.

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posted March 5, 2009 at 6:03 pm

Haven’t seen it yet but it is on my NetFlix list now. There is another “conservative” on the internet who liked it, Mike Long, over at Big Hollywood. Though he took something, less Catholic and more typically American away from it. Here’s a link to his review:
Nice to see you blogging again.
Greg Marquez
(1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) 13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

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Your Name

posted March 6, 2009 at 11:06 am

Suppose, just for the heck of it, that Leo and Kate HAD gone to Paris. What then?
Were they suddenly going to become stars of the Bohemian scene? Was Leo going to become a jazz saxophonist? Was Kate going to become a great ctress? Of COURSE not! The movie SHOWED us what a terrible actress her character was. Even if they’d gone to Paris, they’d have found themselves in the same boat. They’d still have to get 9 to 5 jobs to earn a living and take care of their kids. They were not destined fro stardome of “great things.” And THAT is the most important theme of the movie. Even though the author undoubtedly intended it as a condemnation of American suburbia, Leo and Kate would have faced the same problem wherever they lived: they just weren’t extraordinary or talented. They weren’t destined to become great artists or celebrities.
MOST of us aren’t destined for such things! MOST of us will never have the type of jobs we dreamed about as kids. I didn’t become a major league shortstop or a cowboy or an astronaut or President of the United States, and unless Barack Obama reads this blog, chances are, neither did you. If you START with the assumption that you’re destined for greatness, an “ordinary” decent job and an “ordinary” happy family may seem tragically inadequate. Kate Winslet’s tragedy was her inability to see what was precious in her ordinary life.

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Joan H.

posted March 8, 2009 at 2:26 am

I’ll probably watch this one when it hits HBO, because I like Leo tremendously, he’s a great actor, and Kate I just enjoy. She’s pretty. The palette looked interesting and it looks like they totally nailed the period vibe, too.
So for all those reasons, I’ll watch it. I won’t pay extra money and carve time out of my schedule to see it in the theater, though, because I’ve already seen American Beauty and Fight Club and any number of movies about poor aimless Godless souls railing against the futility and emptiness of their lives. None of these films is as revelatory as it supposes it is, and I resent tremendously the implication that because I live in the ‘burbs with my husband and our kids and our house that I must be some lobotomized drone.
God is everywhere, and if we live to serve others as Jesus did, it doesn’t matter where we are or what we do. Now that I understand this it seems so simple to me, but my years of struggling are proof that it really isn’t such an easy thing — well. It is an easy thing, but believing it is the hard part.

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posted March 8, 2009 at 6:10 pm

I came away with the same sense of despression and disappoinment that you had Amy. In one sense, yes, I did hate the movie, if only because it felt like a profound waste of a rare night out (I was out with some mom friends and the movie we had planned on seeing hadn’t been delivered to the theatre in the midst of a snowstorm, so Revolutionary Road was the last-minute replacement). But really I felt more sadness than hatred. I felt as though meaning and purpose were everywhere in this woman’s life if she would only allow herself to be open to it, to see it. I felt for her husband, simple man that he appeared to be, because time and again he sought to talk to her, to understand her, to help in any way, but she just seemed to yell back at him in response.
Paris would not have solved their problems. It would have just tranferred them overseas. I am in the midst of my own overseas adventure with my husband and four young kids (3+ years in Berlin, Germany) and my gosh, how many ways can I list in which life overseas is not simpler or easier?! I did not become thin or fashionable, less awkward at fancy dinners, more striking or interesting when talking to new people, more cultured or gifted or well-rounded or sophisticated. I am a slightly more well-travelled, happily married and imperfect wife and mom, with a great and imperfect husband and some great and imperfect kids. How sad to see “salvation” in the form of a destiny, and not within one’s own four walls, not within one’s own grasp–within one’s own vocation. The ultimate irony is that in running from her vocation she also ran from the means to that (salvific) fulfillment that she so earnestly wanted.

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Tim Robs

posted July 7, 2009 at 12:15 am

I would like to point out that I do not think the point was ever Paris, in fact I don’t think it had much to do with the destination at all. I think it had a bit more to do with type of individual and environment can produce, that perhaps these young kids who were once passionate became victim to their own lack of will power and their society, they chose to conform, all the while brewing deep resentment for themselves and their inability to change.
I think it paints a picture of the rut that many individuals in our puritan society get stuck in. Having such hopes and dreams and slowly getting tied down and attached to various things in your environment, until it becomes not only difficult to leave, but a burden to leave.
In the end, yes it is our choice, it’s ALWAYS our choice to go or stay, to fight or give in. BUT the fact that it was your decision does not make it any less of a tragedy. An unhappy life, can be akin to a wasted life, and to feel as though your LIFE has been wasted while you are still alive… now that is a tragedy. At least that’s what I garnered from the whole bit.

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