Revolutionary Road

When I first heard of Revolutionary Road, I assumed it was a movie about revolution in Cuba or some South American country. I'm always making these sort of wrong assumptions. I once misheard 'A Ballad of a Solider' as 'A Ballet of a Soldier' and I kept waiting hopefully, and in vain as the movie progressed, for poor Alyosha to get up on his toes and dance.... But to get back to the topic at hand, there's no such thing as an actual revolution here, the movie is based on the novel by Richard Yates and gives us an up close look at 'suburban angst'. A very curious term. I mean I've never heard a movie about slums or inner cities described as 'slum angst' and 'inner city angst'. Has anyone used those terms in those contexts? Anyway, the title is a deliberate misnomer. It is the story of a couple who live on Revolutionary Road, dream of leading a revolutionary existence, and, in the end, don't.

Did I like it? Yes and no. It was easy to admire the direction and the acting. It was hard to decide whether to sympathize with the characters or to get impatient with them.

For here you have a young, attractive and healthy couple, Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) and April (Kate Winslet), who married for love, have a couple of children, have no serious money problems and have a nice suburban house near the woods. Under this happy facade, however, they are struggling with a deep discontent at the way their lives have turned out. They wanted a different, exciting and more meaningful existence, not this daily humdrum grind.

April is an unsuccessful actress and is increasingly frustrated at being slotted into the typical, suburban housewife role - make meals, take care of the kids, take the trash out, socialize with smug, boring people who are so content with their smug, boring lives you want to scream. She craves for excitement, for something more meaningful, for something that will make her feel alive.

Frank too wanted a 'different' life, had in fact sworn never to be tied up in a dull job like his father. Now here he is, following in his father's footsteps more or less exactly, commuting daily to work at the same firm where his father once worked. He's bored out of his skull with his office job in the city and has embarked on an affair with one of the secretaries to relieve the tedium. He and April take out their frustrations and disappointments on each other and quarrel frequently.

Then, on Frank's thirtieth birthday, April surprises him with her grand plan for overhauling their lives. She wants them to sell up and move to Paris. They have enough savings to last them six months, she will supplement that by getting a secretarial job at an embassy, and he can take the time to think about what he really wants to do in life. She talks Frank into agreeing with the idea, and they both get caught up in the thrill of moving to foreign shores. Their relationship dramatically improves, they make travel arrangements, start packing and inform all their friends and acquaintances of the impending move. Their friends are amazed and clearly envious, and tell them they are being 'unpractical'; only one, a Mathematician fellow with mental problems, cheers them on.

The dream ends when April becomes pregnant and Frank is offered a lucrative and interesting job in computers. He is infuriated by her talk of getting an abortion, and can't bring himself to turn down the job offer. He decides they are not to go after all, and she takes it very hard. Their relationship deteriorates and the film eventually ends in a tragedy.

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Of the two, Frank was easier to like. He didn't come across as the brightest bulb on the electric circuit and he was cheating on his wife, but he was less neurotic and less self-deluding than her. It did occur to him that they could be happy right where they were, it was not absolutely essential to uproot and head for Paris to find happiness and fulfillment.

But April, oh April, she had her head stuffed with the romantic taradiddle prattled out by all the expatriates who had ever made Paris their mecca (and who made poverty and ill-health and Parisian rudeness seem like must-have experiences for everybody). She reminded me of the many foreign backpackers that come to India in search of spirituality and salvation, and then get their high hopes dashed on the gory realities of human materialism. The 'magic' of Paris would have faded for April once she got there, she would have seen that the people there were just like people everywhere after all, and she would have reverted back to being neurotic again. She would have yearned next for Timbuctoo then. She didn't strike me as a woman who would be happy anywhere.

But then again, I thought, why am I being so hard on her, what would be so wrong if she did yearn for Timbuctoo next? Why not go there next and then on again and keep on going? Life is supposed to be a journey, right? So why not pack in some actual traveling if that is what will sooth your restless soul? Well, why not? Why not give it a try at least? It's a sadder thing to want something real bad and never even attempt it, than to be disillusioned by it afterwards.

Why should April 'settle' for her dull suburban existence? Why should she go on being 'realistic' and 'practical' as defined by someone else? It clearly didn't suit her, and perhaps it would have made a real positive difference in her life if they had upped and gone to Paris. She might have met more kindred spirits and, as we all know, kindred spirits do make life seem brighter and more interesting. She might have been reminded how wonderful it is to just be alive.

She mightn't have set the world ablaze or anything of the sort, but as old Marlon Brando said in another sad film, she might have been a contender at least.