Revolutionary Road (Sam Mendes, 2008)
Category: Sad movie about suburban angst. Suburbs have technically been around for a while; in fact, originally the term was primarily used to describe the residential areas within cities themselves. But they really blew up in America in the 1950s, thanks to the Federal Housing Authority and the Interstate Highway System and all that modern stuff. Long Island (or as it is frequently called by the guido types, Strong Island) was “the first large-scale suburban area in the world to develop” (this isn’t me just reppin’ Strong Island here, this is Wikipedia talking), thanks largely to Levittown and its mass-produced cheap cookie-cutter houses. Well, it’s good to be at the forefront of something. Even if that something is “the banal corruption of the American Dream.”
So what’s there to do in the suburbs, you ask? Not as much as in the urbs, to be honest. There’s generally a lot of mowing the lawn and taking the kids to soccer practice and going to PTA meetings and not fulfilling your dreams. And this causes a lot of issues, especially for the type of people who aspire to be interesting city folk. Now granted, this sort of ennui is among the more #whitegirlproblem-y issues we’ll tackle here in the blog. But that doesn’t make it any more or less important than, say, genocide. OK that’s ridiculous. It’s way less important than genocide. Get a hobby, for Christ’s sake. Knitting, or golf, or paint-by-numbers, or ANYTHING. Just for the love of God stop complaining.
My familiarity with this issue: As I alluded to earlier, I spent my formative years in the heart of the original suburban paradise, Long Island. We get a bad rap, the Long Island kids do, and it’s not entirely justified. Alright it is often very justified. Good Lord. This video is very accurate. I think a major issue is the fact that so many Long Island kids are very rich, and very bored, and so they develop real Neanderthal personalities. It’s not true of everyone though. It’s really a good place to grow up: safe, with good schools and stuff to do on the weekends. And you know, I could've been born somewhere else that was much worse, like Africa. Or Jersey.
I think my relationship with the suburbs is particularly complicated because of my class warrior impulses, first written about on this blog in the previous post. My natural inclination to dislike people who make money a) for the sake of making money and b) without contributing anything of value to society meant I had a lot of people to dislike among the adults in my area. But obviously the suburbs are also full of people like my parents, who taught the other adults’ spoiled brat kids and didn’t whine about how they felt unfulfilled or whatever. I feel like this group is actually the majority. But for the time being, it’s fun to enjoy my city lifestyle and sit back and make fun of the 2030 version of me in a blog post.
Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “It's 1955. Frank and April Wheeler, in the seventh year of their marriage, have fallen into a life that appears to most as being perfect. They live in the Connecticut suburbs with two young children. Frank commutes to New York City where he works in an office job while April stays at home as a housewife. But they're not happy. April has forgone her dream of becoming an actress, and Frank hates his job – one where he places little effort – although he has never figured out what his passion in life is.”
What I thought of the movie: Eh. I appreciate that the movie was well-made, directed and acted nicely and such. But for the most part, except for a twist at the end that I was unaware of and will not reveal here, it left me cold. (I’m doing really well at avoiding spoilers for these movies, by the way. It’s surprising that that’s the case, based on the amount of time I spend on the Wikipedias.) I’d be willing to chalk this non-reaction up to the subject matter, but I’ve read books and seen movies that were about similar things, angst and repression and all that, and that resonated a lot more than this movie did with me (The Age of Innocence and The Remains of the Day, to name two). I do love Leo and Kate, and the costumes and sets and stuff were Mad Men-esque. I just didn’t really care about the characters and their problems, and I think that has to do with the source material (the book by Richard Yates, and the screenplay by Justin Haythe).
Leo and Kate both play really shallow, selfish characters, rarely bothering to address the welfare of their kids, whose names I significantly can’t recall. They are characters that are supposed to be sympathetic, but admittedly do not understand the sacrifices and challenges inherent in being parents. We’re kind of supposed to forget about the kids during the movie (won't someone please etc.), particularly their conspicuous absences during the huge fights that Leo and Kate have. And so we sit there and watch as Kate does community theater, and apparently it sucks, which causes a huge fight of its own. (I really wanted to throw up during that part. Sure, sometimes community theater isn’t that great. But you move on! Maybe the next show they’ll do Gypsy and everyone will have a good time.) And then they talk on and on about how they need to escape the soul-crushing sameness of the suburbs in order to express their true selves, hatching a plan to up and move to Paris (with their two young children) so that Leo can “express himself” or some bullshit. I’m sorry, but no amount of great acting or writing or directing can make that not annoying to me. It was impossible.
How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: I recognized the lawns and the cars and the consumerism. The suburbia of 1955 is very different from the suburbia I inhabited as a child, of course. Neighbors stopped by more often to borrow cups of sugar, mentally challenged people were described as being “not right,” people probably put razor blades in candy apples on Halloween. And that’s all well and good. I acknowledge that people were more repressed and stuff back then. But then there’s this character, played by Michael Shannon, who is awesome, but he’s one of those “not right”/autistic people that is conveniently here in this movie to say what the audience is thinking out loud. I don’t mean to imply that this is some sort of anachronism; I’m sure that character was in the original book, which was published in 1962. But it’s still lazy. The other thing I couldn’t help but think about during the movie was: thank God my parents weren’t like these people. I don’t think I would’ve done well in Paris when I was five. I doubt they had a lot of macaroni and cheese there at the time.
How I felt after the movie ended: It is possible that, at last, I’m being affected by the environment that I have created for myself. That is, I can’t help but wonder if I would have had a different reaction to the film if I hadn’t spent the last two months watching sad movies, many of which were about subjects far more serious and life-altering than this one. Yes, it’s ultimately a tragic film, and the tragedy that occurs is avoidable, which often makes things all the more tragic. But it’s avoidable in a way that makes you want to punch someone in the face for being so selfish. Anyway. A lot of people whose opinions I respect liked this movie a lot. And for me to do that, I would have had to accept it on its own terms to a degree with which I was uncomfortable for several reasons. But today I got Hotel Rwanda from Netflix, so now I'm back in my comfort zone.