Have you ever felt trapped by life? Is your marriage everything you hoped for? Do you fight often, or have you moved passed that into a sullen silence, covering intimacy with a blank smile and finally to indifference?
For April Wheeler (Kate Winslet), the “perfect” life – successful husband, big house in the suburbs, two kids – is a perfectly constructed prison which she and husband Frank (Leo DiCaprio) have fashioned for themselves, in Revolutionary Road.
In deconstructing films like this where a key relationship is in focus, it is helpful for the filmmaker if the script writer contrives to have the reality of everyday life muted or better still, removed. This film is set in the 1950s and yet we do not see any of the extra-curricular activities that occupied the housewives of the day – the church groups, the tennis club, the whatever else that could give a woman a sense of purpose and prestige in the community, outside of cleaning house and raising children. The children, of which Frank and April have two, are absent for long stretches, presumably staying over at “friends houses.” Naturally this hard headedness misses the point of the film and so, by removing these realities, allows the tense, incommunicative relationship to disintegrate before our eyes.
Their relationship experiences a reprieve for the summer. April decides they could move to Paris in the fall, in September. April could work as a secretary, she thinks, and Frank would have the time to discover what he really wants to do. Their dream of a new start replaces the fights. Passage is reserved on a steamer. Boxes are slowly packed. They tell their friends, who can’t understand why anyone would give up their perfect life in the ‘burbs.
But this dream is just a dream. Frank is offered a promotion at the office and this allows him the chance to slip back into the comfort zone of the familiar. For April, unable to find freedom and unable to break the marriage or leave her children, descends into an desperate hell.
The men in this film are ‘typical’ of their time and do not know how to give emotional support or even perceive when its necessary. This imbalance, the woman trapped by circumstance and the man blinded by it, leads to the irretrievable breakdown. It is a literary touch I think that names the main character “April”, while placing her dream in faraway September while Frank is anything but.
Kate Winslet won the “Best Actress” award at the Golden Globes for her troubles here and she brings a maturity to her character. She is married and had children in real life (to director of this film, Sam Mendes) and this adds depth to her performance.
Mendes previously won Best Director for American Beauty and this film shares some similarities – the “American” dream of pursuing the house / the wife / the car by way of a “better” job is an empty pursuit if meaning and purpose are forfeit.
While not a ‘happy’ film, it is well made, well acted and worthy of those who enjoy a serious, relationship drama. 3 out of 5.
Many thanks to ABC radio for the preview.
Scanning the Oscar nominations, which have just been announced, the only mention for Revolutionary Road (of the “big 6” awards) is that of Best Support for Michael Shannon.
Shannon plays John Givings, a neighbour who plays Lear’s fool to Frank and his rationale for firstly agreeing to move to Paris, and then not. He sees Frank and April as we, the audience do, and pushes and challenges them, often in colourful language, which serves the dual purpose of releasing the tension by amusing us for a moment and providing a counterpoint to the words that they don’t say to each other.
Revolutionary Road has also been nominated for Best Achievement in Art Direction and Costume Design.