Thursday, March 26, 2009

Revolutionary Road: The Road to Escapism

Revolutionary Road is a 1950s based movie, it’s about lives of a couple Wheelers living at Revolutionary Road in suburb of Connecticut. When April (Kate Winslet) and Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) met for the fist time, April was studying to be an actress and Frank didn’t really know what he wanted to do in life. After few years, a marriage and two kids, April Wheeler is a miserable housewife who occasionally does insignificant roles in insignificant local plays. Frank Wheeler has a marketing job at Knox Business Machines, same place where his late father whom he never wanted to emulate worked for 20 years at same position. Frank hates his job, is dissatisfied with the monotonous 9 to 6 routine and occasionally goes out with an available young secretary in the office.

Wheelers have a picture perfect middleclass life comprising a decent house, stable job and cute kids. They also have love for each other; yet, they have frequent fights and are anything but content with their lives. Why? There is no sadder sight than an ambitious person stuck in an inconsequential, mundane life. Wheelers always thought that they were “special”, but did nothing particularly different from their “ordinary” neighbors.

April and Frank are all about unfulfilled dreams, ambitions; yet an inertia to pursue them. Sounds like a familiar story? Well, there are countless Aprils and Franks in any middleclass society, living “secure and stable” life almost in a same predictable pattern that their parents lived ; content in their limited social circle; having the sole aim to raise their kids well.

Twist in the tale comes when Frank returns home on his 30th birthday and April proposes a plan to break free from their current Hopeless and Empty life. She proposes to move to Paris because that’s where Frank lived during “The war” and always felt that is the place to be; In Paris, April would work as a secretary and Frank would “find out” what to do with his life. After initial hesitation, Frank gets convinced and an excitement of new life revives them and their relationship as well.

Neighbors get shocked with their plans and express skepticism over this “unrealistic” venture. After all, this is the message that society gives us: Don't take unnecessary risks, Follow family traditions, Play safe. Who are you to think that you can change the system? Stay in your cocoon. Accept your lot in life, and make the best of it. Go with the flow, and don't rock the boat. Your only hope is that your current life will pull you in a favorable direction in future, till then; just take it as it comes!

Wheelers still decide to execute their plan; but Frank gets a promotion and pay hike in his current job and an unwanted pregnancy happens to April. Do they still choose to move to Paris? Rest of the story revolves around Wheelers trying to salvage their lives.

I’ve named this article as “The Road to Escapism” because every character in the movie tries to escape from real problems instead of facing and solving them; e.g. April decides to move to Paris for the sake of Frank’s unfulfilled and yet unknown dreams, but what about her own unfulfilled dream of becoming an actress? She wishes to break free from the mundane routine of life here (in Connecticut) but won’t a life of a secretary be monotonous as well? This seems to be the path from the ordinariness to indeed, more ordinariness. She’s afraid of pursuing her own dreams so wishes to indulge in a reflected glory of Frank’s probable success, in turn escaping her ambitions. The delay she makes in informing Frank about her pregnancy and the subsequent efforts to end it, her impulsive sexual encounter with the neighbor all indicate escapism.

Frank says he wants to “feel things”, but prefers to escape discovering himself and evades reality in various ways. (Affair with secretary, Reluctance to pursue his dream life despite having a set up for it) The last scene of the movie epitomizes this escapism where an old man (Mr. Giving, Wheelers’ neighbor) puts off his hearing machine to avoid his nagging wife.

The movie ends on an unnecessary tragic note and manages to send a very disturbing message. This is not a story of optimism, achievement or redemption. Do watch this one for the powerhouse acting. Performance from both, Kate and Leo are marvelous. Kate’s surely a Goddess of acting but Leo gives equally brilliant performance as a confused, tad chauvinist, and coward man. Kate is effortless, raw as an ordinary woman, hopelessly in quest of an unordinary life.

Revolutionary Road is meant to be appreciated, not enjoyed.


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