Sunday, January 25, 2009

The ridiculous delusion of having to settle down and resign from Life

Revolutionary Road, dir. Sam Mendes, 2008

I saw Kate Winslet in The Reader a few weeks ago and was stunned by her performance as Hannah, a woman with a past in Auschwitz who falls in love with a 15 year old boy 20 odd years after the end of WWII. However, having seen Revolutionary Road tonight, I realize that The Reader is a film that isn't strong enough or deep enough to make her shine to her full brilliance. Revolutionary Road, on the other hand, has what it takes. She is extraordinary. The film is stronger, much stronger than American Beauty. In fact, I can't remember the last time I saw one of these American middle-class angst films and was so engaged by it. Much of my engagement has to do with Winslet's performance - why she didn't get an academy award nomination for this role is beyond me. As her marriage unravels, so does she. The undoing of her marriage is spawned by the inability of her husband to face the truth about himself (to feel real emotion), and her inability to resolve herself to a life in Connecticut taking out the garbage, making scrambled eggs, going on double dates with Milly and Shep, and of course, breeding. Her understandable inner turmoil, frustration, entrapment and finally resignation to all of these, become written on her face in the subtlest of gestures, which sometimes means no gesture at all. Powerful. As a woman brought up in a world that gave me, to use her words, the idea that I had "to buy into the same ridiculous delusion, this idea of having to settle down and resign from life" in order to be accepted, I identified with every one of her protestations. Including her ultimate decision to halt the perpetuation of the illusion by using the only means left available to her: her body. It's a powerful statement about the choices, and lack thereof, of suburban women to break out of the template for life that the world gives us.

And men? I have never been a fan of Leonardo DiCaprio, even though I will admit he has matured as an actor. Still, I had difficulty feeling any empathy for Frank Wheeler, though empathy is what he really needs. Trapped by his own image of what a man must and can do, of what makes life safe, the energy we believe he has (because his wife tells us so) has nowhere to go but to well up inside of him. And then, of course, it is expended in sex with the secretary and violent outbursts against his wife. It's a familiar story. My sense is that, though the film is set in 1950s America, and specifically relates a middle-class dream, its message is really more general in nature. Sadly, the disintegration of this "perfect" couple, an erosion of private life thanks to a struggle to fit the mold of the bourgeoise nuclear family life, is way too common an occurrence in our suburbs, today. 

Mendes handles all of this social indictment with skill, and I have few criticisms of the way the film is put together. The use of a clinically insane sage to put the film's message into words was perhaps overwrought. Similarly, I found the film's opening with a violent argument between DiCaprio and Winslet as the exposition of their relationship to be too much too soon. For some reason I would have liked to have seen DiCaprio's rage build up across the film, rather than have it introduced, then disappear - ie. when he was all ready to leave the Connecticut suburbs and his detested job in sales. When the rage all of a sudden evaporates, and he becomes the loving husband who seems to have no emotional baggage, his character becomes uneven and loses credibility.

Despite its flaws, go see it, and hopefully, it will put you off marriage and life in the suburbs - FOREVER!

1 comment:

Fx Reflects said...

My friend Ruth mentioned she had read the blog, and had this to say about Revolutionary Road: "it was a wonderful film but began badly I thought. I also couldn't tell if Leonardo was being wooden at
times or whether it was his character who was awkward. Isn't part of the point that Winslet reads into him all sorts of talents and aspirations that just
aren't there? Isn't it partly about how love makes us fictionalise others? I am very keen to read the book and I want to see the film again."