I can think of a hundred of reasons why Revolutionary Road is one of the most underrated movies ever known to man. For instance, it’s one of those rare Kate Winslet flicks where she didn’t show her boobs and pubic hair. Also, Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance in the movie is nothing less than brilliant (yet it failed to clinch him even an Oscar nomination). Revolutionary Road is that kind of movie you watch on a laidback Sunday afternoon because you have nothing else to do and then you end up questioning life and mulling over suicide the moment the credits start to roll.
Revolutionary Road is a period drama about a married couple, Frank and April Wheeler, living in the 1950’s Connecticut suburbs with their two children. Their lives appear almost perfect. 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. Frank hates his job – one where he places little effort – although he is yet to figure out what his real passion in life. April, on the other hand, has forgone her dream of becoming an actress. One day, April suggests that they move to Paris – a city where Frank visited during the war and loved, but where April has never been – as a means to rejuvenate their life. April’s plan: she would be the breadwinner, getting a lucrative secretarial job for one of the major international organizations, while Frank would have free time to find himself and whatever his passion. Initially skeptical, Frank ultimately agrees to April’s plan. When circumstances change around the Wheelers, April decides she will do whatever she has to to get herself out of her unhappy existence (IMDB).
The movie is actually a film adaptation of the novel of the same name by Richard Yates. It is Yates’ most successful work and can probably be considered his magnum opus. In 1999, he was quoted on the central theme of his work:
“If my work has a theme, I suspect it is a simple one: that most human beings are inescapably alone, and therein lies their tragedy.”
I guess a lot of people hated or disliked the movie. It simply is not a movie for everyone. The subject matter is utterly depressing and it’s certainly not the kind of movie you’d watch on a date night nor is it a film that you can sit down and be entertained. It’s nihilistic and unforgiving like a dementor that sucks dry all the happiness in you so that you’re left with nothing but stark black despair. When I first saw Revolutionary Road I was in college. Back then, I was also dealing with my own personal tragedy of taking up a college course I’m barely interested in. This made me felt so insecure about my future, or it made me question if I even have one. The thing is I was pressured to conform with the demands of society and my family and this made me forget the things that I really wanted. This is one of the central themes of the movie. In a powerful line in the film, April bashes the idea of giving up one’s aspirations in exchange of conformity:
No, Frank. This is what’s unrealistic. It’s unrealistic for a man with a fine mind to go on working year after year at a job he can’t stand. Coming home to a place he can’t stand, to a wife who’s equally unable to stand the same things. And you know what the worst part of it is? Our whole existence here is based on this great premise that we’re special. They we’re superior to the whole thing. But we’re not. We’re just like everyone else! We bought into the same, ridiculous delusion. That we have to resign from life and settle down the moment we have children. And we’ve been punishing each other for it.
Yates confirmed this in a 1972 interview when he was asked to detail the subtext of the original novel’s title. He said:
I think I meant it more as an indictment of American life in the 1950s. Because during the Fifties there was a general lust for conformity all over this country, by no means only in the suburbs — a kind of blind, desperate clinging to safety and security at any price.
In my own opinion, the movie is a cautionary tale for couples or anyone who find themselves bored by the everyday mundanes and redundancies of living. It is a very potent work of art on conformity and alienation and a vivid testament of how these two things bring destruction to a once happy and beautiful relationship. It’s not the kind of movie you will send your family to see and it will surely pierce into the hearts of those who are in a relationship that has gone bitter and unfeeling. But if you’re brave enough to face the stark reality of love, life and relationships, then this movie is for you. But I’m warning you, make sure you’re prepared even before clicking that play button.
Here are some of the powerful lines that I loved from this movie:
Hopeless emptiness. Now you’ve said it. Plenty of people are onto the emptiness, but it takes real guts to see the hopelessness.
You want to play house you got to have a job. You want to play nice house, very sweet house, you got to have a job you don’t like.
Tell me the truth, Frank, remember that? We used to live by it. And you know what’s so good about the truth? Everyone knows what it is however long they’ve lived without it. No one forgets the truth, Frank, they just get better at lying.
I wanted IN. I just wanted us to live again. For years I thought we’ve shared this secret that we would be wonderful in the world. I don’t know exactly how, but just the possibility kept me hoping. How pathetic is that? So stupid. To put all your hopes in a promise that was never made. Frank knows what he wants, he found his place, he’s just fine. Married, two kids, it should be enough. It is for him. And he’s right; we were never special or destined for anything at all.
It takes backbone to lead the life you want, Frank.
You’re just some guy who made me laugh at a party once.
I saw a whole other future. I can’t stop seeing it.
Just because you’ve got me safe in this little trap, you think you can bully me into feeling whatever you want me to feel!
I’ve never really been anywhere.
If being crazy means living life as if it matters, then I don’t mind being completely insane.
The hopeless emptiness? Now, you’ve said it. Plenty of people are on to the emptiness, but it takes real guts to see the hopelessness…
And you know what’s so good about the truth? Everyone knows what it is, no matter how long they’ve lived without it.
The dialogue below is for me one of the highlights of the film. Everything just goes spiraling down after this scene.
April Wheeler: So now I’m crazy because I don’t love you, right? Is that the point?
Frank Wheeler: No! Wrong! You’re not crazy, and you do love me. That’s the point, April.
April Wheeler: But I don’t. I hate you. You were just some boy who made me laugh at a party once, and now I loathe the sight of you. In fact, if you come any closer, if you touch me or anything, I think I’ll scream.
Frank Wheeler: Frank: Oh, come on, stop this April.
[He touches her for an instant and she screams at the top of her lungs before walking away. He chases after her]
Frank Wheeler: Fuck you, April! Fuck you and all your hateful, goddamn –
[He breaks a chair against a wall]
April Wheeler: What are you going to do now? Are you going to hit me? To show me how much you love me?
Frank Wheeler: Don’t worry, I can’t be bothered! You’re not worth the trouble it would take to hit you! You’re not worth the powder it would take to blow you up. You are an empty, empty, hollow shell of a woman. I mean, what the hell are you doing in my house if you hate me so much? Why the hell are you married to me? What the hell are you doing carrying my child? I mean, why didn’t you just get rid of it when you had the chance? Because listen to me, listen to me, I got news for you – I wish to God that you had!