Thursday, May 21, 2009

Revolutionary Road

Arlington Road, October Road, and now Revolutionary Road - what is it about all these 'roadshows' that capture my imagination and my high praise. Well, the first is full of suspense and the knowledge that not all is as it seems. October Road is a short-lived television series, a blog post on which I am currently working, and then we come to Revolutionary Road.

On Wednesday evenings at 5:30, Tom is the volunteer projectionist at our little town theatre for the 2-for-1 show. Two years ago, I wrote about many movies we saw there (you may find the reviews on the sidebar under the letter topic Movies at the theatre), and then last year I didn't write at all. I don't know why. Well, maybe I do. The films weren't, in general, very cheerful and light. Some were troubling like 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, not an easy movie to watch. And then there is In Bruges, one of life's guilty pleasures. I say that because the language and violence are appallingly vulgar, and yet, and yet, there was great humor and as we all walked out we didn't know if we should be embarrassed to have laughed so much and so often at such a film. There was a particularly fascinating look at the immigrant experience in The Visitor. And The Band's Visit was a sweet, quiet little movie.

Anyhow, I intend this year to write about the movies I see, and I begin the season with Revolutionary Road. When I awoke this morning, my first thought was that Revolutionary Road could almost have been a silent film. Not that there wasn't plenty of talking (and shouting) but that what I recall are the scenes - the visual scenes, the wordless scenes. All those men in their suits and hats sitting in the train, walking together, all identical except for their faces.

The scenes in the sunny perfect kitchen

Scenes in the sterile living room with its uncomfortable looking, but oh-so-modern furniture.

The house on the rise in the neighborhood so alone in the midst of other houses. The green, green wood. A dance between two people, married but not to each other, which became silent as the scene progresses - just two people soundlessly going through the physical motions - and that phrase is key: these people in this time in this film are going through the motions of living.

When people talk, very little is really said - the conversations are stilted and stiff. Tom's first impression was that their verbal expressions 'seemed almost cliché.' All the characters, that is, except one. The real estate agent's son, who has had many electric shock treatments to calm his strong emotions is quite like the fool in dramas; the person who sees all and speaks the truth. He is the person who makes more 'normal' people afraid. He is played by Michael Shannon who does an unbelievably good job.

It seems almost melodramatic to say these people are trapped. They have a nice home, a family, and he has a good job; maybe not wildly exciting or stimulating but still it allows him to live a very nice lifestyle. They are not homeless or ill. But yet, we all know that comparisons with those less well off never work when we are feeling badly about ourselves or our lives. They are stuck in the roles society has proclaimed for them.

I was struck by how very alone they are. There is a mention of the man's late father, but only in the context of his job. There are no other relatives. There are two young children, but as Roger Ebert says in his fantastic review (please do read it if you have a chance), 'Their children are like a car you never think about when you're not driving somewhere.' We barely see them in this household. And there are no dogs. It is a lifeless existence. Thoreau's words jump into the viewer's mind: 'Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.' I hear the words to Eleanor Rigby, 'ah, look at all the lonely people.' There's a scene in the morning when the woman looks at her street, and it felt like a post-nuclear accident had occurred. No one is around. The isolation is extreme and felt throughout the movie. Tom was particularly struck by a scene where a man turns off his hearing aid while his wife drones on; the ultimate distancing of oneself from another. They have one set of friends, but they seem like friends of convenience, just because they are near neighbors.

Revolutionary Road stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet who play Frank and April Wheeler, a couple who live in suburban Connecticut in the 1950s. They are brilliant. They are so good I forgot they were big stars. They were those people. I was completely caught up in their story. It would be easy for us fifty years on to look at this couple with critical eyes. But who is to say it is really that different today?

At one point, Frank speaks of 'hopeless emptiness.' The Michael Shannon character John replies, 'Hopeless emptiness. Now you’ve said it. Plenty of people are onto the emptiness, but it takes real guts to see the hopelessness.' We can possibly live with the first, if the second is not there. We all need hope, and if it is gone, what is there?

I don't have enough words of praise for Revolutionary Road. It captures these young people at a juncture in their lives and shows us what happens when one path is taken over another. They are real. The movie is authentic. I ask no more from a film.


  1. What a wonderful review. I have not been to the movie for years.
    With my home building project I miss reading. But soon I can curl up in my chair and read.
    You are such a talented writer.

  2. Oh my gosh, Ernestine, what a nice, nice thing to say. Thank you so much.
    You can't imagine how I agonize about my blog posts. :<)
    You will be so content when you are moved in. I love thinking of you in November or January, just happy, happy, happy.

  3. This is a fantastic review, Nan! I listened to Revolutionary Road and really liked it a lot. The sense of isolation came through loud and clear. Your thought of 'lives of quiet desperation' seems especially apt - my heart ached for both of those people! The scene with the real estate agent's husband turning off his hearing age was in the book, too...and very comical. The movie is at the top of my Netflix queue, but it's not released until 6/2.

    Also, I read Ethel & Ernest last night and just loved it - such a touching story! Thanks for the recommendation. I hope to post about it soon.

  4. wow. What a great analysis of this movie! My sister and I saw it a few months ago at our local theatre (sort of sounds like your theatre, but maybe just a bit more, the projectionist would be paid) We both loved it, and thought Leo was brilliant! I know that Kate got the recognition at the Golden Globes, but they were both fabulous.
    It so perfectly captured the 1950s/60s, especially the men commuting to work, and yet I can see how it does still apply today.
    I don't know if I need to read Ebert's review, you did a wonderful job.
    I look forward to the next review.

  5. Great, Nan - you've convinced me that I want to see this film.

  6. Nan - you never need to agonize about your posts. They are all great. My daughter who is a talented writer and editor will make comments to me about mom doing more editing. I am a beginner and just write like I talk. Anyone reading will understand and not grade me!!
    If they do - at this stage of life I do not care.

  7. I am totally in agreement with Ernestine's comments. A very special review, richer because of the emotional understanding and compassion you bring to it, rare in film reviewers. Copy should be sent at once to Sam Mendes!


  8. JoAnn, thank you so much. I think you will like Leonardo and Kate (I know them on a first name basis- ha ha!) in the roles. I told Tom afterwards that I think he is the best American actor today! He really is a marvel.
    And I am so very touched you read Ethel & Ernest. Gosh, it pleases me. I hope when you write about it others will be prompted to read this little gem.

    Raidergirl, I say 'wow' to your words. Geez Louise, my head is gonna swell! I agree with you about Leonardo - see above comment to JoAnn. I do tend to get carried away in my proclamations, but I truly don't think anyone can touch this man. He conveys more with his eyes than anyone else could do in a hundred words. Amazing - he gets into the skin of the character. The only other who I think is this good is Philip Seymour Hoffman, but I don't get to see him as often because I tend not to care for the roles he takes on. I remember going to movies in PEI, but they were all in Charlottetown. I don't think I know where you are - or if you are near Island Sparrow or if you know one another. (I'd still read Roger's review! He has an amazing take on the man who had shock therapy. He's just that much older than me that 'beatniks' are more a part of his memory.)

    Margaret, I will be most interested in how you like it. England was so very different in those days.

    Thank you, Ernestine. Such a nice thing to say. I like writing that reads as if the person is talking to me. I relate and connect more then.

    Carole, I laughed at your last sentence. I actually had a whole other angle I was going to approach the movie from - that of Tom's upbringing in that very society. But as I said, I awoke to this silent movie thing, got right up and began writing my thoughts down, and the blog entry took a path of its own. Please do read Roger's review. He always brings his own special 'emotional understanding and compassion' to every review. Even when I don't agree with his ideas, I love the man. Tom and I have been fans for many years, and he still is the first person I go to when I want to read about a movie. You might enjoy his blog too. He has an amazing spirit in light of a serious physical problem. Thank you for your words, Carole.

  9. Nan, thanks for the review-I'll have to put that movie in my Queue with Netflix.

  10. Sherri, I'll be interested to hear what you think.

  11. I have this on my netflix queue and want to see the movie more than read the book. Is October Road not returning? I was hoping to see it on the summer line-up. And the left open so many storylines. Bummer.

  12. Nan - excellent review and I agree with your rating!

    My wife and I are also big fans of the series, Mad Men on AMC. If you enjoyed Revolutionary Road, you should try finding the DVDs of the past 2 seasons of MM. New (3rd) season begins August.

    Same time period - same atmosphere...

    - J.

  13. I think there were two memorable movies from the last Oscar season: Revolutionary Road and Aronofsky's The Wrestler.

    I am still wondering why Brad Pitt got an oscar nomintion for his work in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and not Leonardo DiCaprio for this one.

    The DiCaprio + Winslet formula is very effective.

  14. Nan, I've missed it at the cinema near us, but our library has the DVD on order so I'll be able to borrow it - sometime! I'm going to look for the book as well.

  15. Your description of the movie has me hooked.I will definitely rent this movie when I come across it.

  16. Book Psmith, I believe the 2nd season dvd (which I am in the middle of) is supposed to include an ending. We'll see. :<)

    Jeff, Mad Men was in my queue, but I just moved it up! Thanks.

    Mge, I thought he was just fantastic. Maybe because the 'drama' centered around the wife, but honestly I think the husband's story was equal to hers.

    Margaret and Larry, I'd love to hear what you think after you've seen it.

  17. I want to read the book, then see the film. Reviews seem mixed on this one.

  18. Thanks, Diane. I'm thinking I'd like to read the book, too.

  19. Outstanding review, Nan! You really are a talented writer.

    Did you see my email about sending you my copy of the book? In spite of not enjoying the read, I'm looking forward to seeing the movie. I wasn't until I read your review. :)

    Your lilac header is stunning!

  20. Thank you so much, Les! I just emailed you about your kind offer.

  21. Wow Nan. This sounds really good. And to be honest, this was a movie that I had decided not to watch - it just didn't seem like "my thing".

  22. Heather, I kept going back and forth in my mind all that day about going, but I am so glad I did. A week later, and I'm still thinking about it.

  23. I loved this movie, and it made me even more sure that DiCaprio is the best American actor of his generation. Winslet is superb as well. She always is.

    Great review, Nan!

  24. Chartroose, thanks so much. If you happened to read the comments, you will have seen that I agree with your assessment of Mr. DiC!

  25. Don't be embarrassed about liking In Bruges ... it was hilarious!

  26. Yes, 'anonymous' it was very funny!


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