That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, these ones revolve mostly around films.)

Revolutionary Road

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009 2:16 pm—Film

Revolutionary Road (USA 2008, Drama), Writer: Justin Haythe; Director: Sam Mendes

Last weekend was an interesting one to watch a movie full of dysfunctional relationships and shattered dreams. It seemed nearly everywhere I went, people were coping with some kind of emotional turmoil—being jilted, avoiding being jilted, choosing between two lovers… Revolutionary Road was timely for me in that way. But one major difference between the people I was around this weekend and those in the movie is that the ones in real life were acting on their feelings. As awful as their emotions may have felt at the time, it’s always better to truly feel them than to live a life as sterilized and detached as the ones portrayed in Revolutionary Road.

The movie is from American Beauty director Sam Mendes and is based on Richard Yates’ 1961 novel about a dissatisfied American couple living in 1950s suburbia. Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) and April (Kate Winslet) had high hopes when they bought their beautiful home on Connecticut’s Revolutionary Road, but their dreams were soon smothered by the weight of a mortgage, two children, and—most significantly—social expectations. In an attempt to escape their malaise and disappointment, the couple plans to move to Paris, where April will support Frank as he discovers how to fulfill his destiny as “a man.” But when they announce the news to their friends and co-workers, the response makes them question their decision, driving them even deeper into the dark hole they thought they had found a way out of.

Revolutionary Road has been out for a while now, so many of you may already have seen it. I’ve heard an awful lot about it, from friends and through reviews. The feedback has been mixed, but I have to say that any of the criticisms I’ve heard struck me as strengths rather than weaknesses. Some people have said that the movie felt staged, detached and full of pretense. Not to mention depressing. All that is true, but it absolutely suits the subject matter, and serves to create a wonderful tone that allows the tension to come to a slow, rolling boil before quietly spilling over.

The 50s, at least from what I’ve seen in movies from the period, were staged and full of pretense. What mattered most was appearance. People not only set aside their true feelings and desires, but they rarely took the time to discover what they even were. Revolutionary Road takes the viewer on a guided tour of emotional and psychic destruction, exposing what happens to people—as individuals, as partners, as families—when they are suppressed by convention, forced into gender roles, and detached from their dreams.

In convincing Frank to move to Paris, April—who once had high hopes of being a famous actress—tells Frank that their entire life in Connecticut is based on the premise that they are special. But, she says, “we’re just like everyone else,” a realization that hits home for her when she takes her trash can out and looks up to see identical bins lining the curb of every house on the road.

Frank and April’s struggle to find themselves leads to increasingly destructive behaviour, and you know it’s just a matter of time before their beautifully decorated lifestyle implodes. Thinking back on the movie, I’m reminded of a line from Tori Amos’ song Silent All These Years: “My scream got lost in a paper cup; you think there’s a heaven where some screams have gone.”

I wonder how many people peering through the windows of today’s quiet suburban homes feel the same sense of entrapment that Frank and April feel. How many people truly love what they do, or are excited to be alive? And how many escape to various imagined realities when their minds can’t bear the truth of their existence?

Mendes, Director of Photography Roger Deakins, and especially Winslet, create a tone that perfectly reflects the feelings of unrest and stagnation that arise when people are forced into a culture that is based on a fear of being different. Yes, Revolutionary Road is hard to watch. You’re supposed to feel temporarily numbed by the experience. And scared. And introspective. Hopefully it will inspire action, or at least self-discovery, in anyone who sees it.

The film’s closing shot is a quietly powerful testament to what can happen when people resign themselves to playing along, rather than trying to make what they want of their lives. They slowly tune the world out and fall into a vacuum, detached from everything around them and from who they really are. Watch Revolutionary Road. Take a lesson from the strangeness you feel. And enjoy some fabulous craftsmanship while you’re at it; it’s not every filmmaker who can create such a powerful mood.

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