Saturday, January 17, 2009

Revolutionary Road

This is a wonderful movie. The acting is superb; I have never seen Kate Winslet so amazingly complex and approachable at the same time. Leonardo DiCaprio positively morphs into a 1950's archetype of suburban businessman; his performance is rich and layered and sympathetic -- he's not just 'playing' this husband, he seems to become him. If you didn't read the book, you don't have to in order to appreciate the subtleties of character evoked. The two main characters inhabit the characters so completely and satisfyingly that it's pretty close to a live-action reading experience.

Revolutionary Road is the name of the actual street in a suburban tract where the family lives. For this couple, their roles are thrust upon them -- moving to the suburbs, husband the breadwinner who commutes to a lifeless job in Manhattan, wife the homemaker who gets involved in a community theater. Their average life is not what they were dreaming about when they first came together as a couple. Like all new couples, they felt special, different, meant for great achievements in an alternative lifestyle. However, through marriage and parenting, they become, in a word, ordinary. This sense of themselves as cogs in the wheel of their particular American dream propels them to imagine themselves making a tremendous change in their lives by moving to Paris. Paris? Yes, as this is the 1950's, Paris is the metaphor for revolutionary thinking and artistic individualism. The whole idea of it, and the wonder of themselves as again being special, ignites their relationship and brings them closer, sexier, lovingly together.

Until the reality of their lives -- an unplanned pregnancy, an unexpected promotion -- brings the whole plan crashing down.

What is so compelling about this story is how much sense it makes. Who hasn't wanted to shed their regular, workaday lives and reach for something else? But, in their reaching, in their desperation to be special and set themselves apart, they become something foreign to themselves. Their fantasies weigh heavily on them, suffocating the life they already have. Ultimately, these dreams leave no room for the very thing they seem to want -- that is, a flexible, breathable life that allows them to feel good about themselves. At the end of the day, that really is all that remains.

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