Sunday, March 15, 2009

Revolutionary Road (2008)

Revolutionary Road (Sam Mendes, 2008)

America is not limited to its great cities, those centers of modern civilization that supposedly gave birth to its expansive culture. The Statue of Liberty, symbol of the timeless American Dream, stands as entrance to one of America's greatest cities, welcoming ambitious dreamers from the rest of the world to a land that would serve as stage to their limitless endeavors. However, a great irony enshrouds this perpetuated migration to America: that upon a migrant's landing on American soil, he is immediately bamboozled into a matrix of mediocrity, with his dreams and ambitions frozen in the meantime as he struggles to graduate from the dehumanizing work-a-day world that the real America symbolizes. He is temporarily placated by facile pleasantries, packaged neatly into rows of pretty prefabricated homes that serve as nests to America's perfect families, or so we think. American suburbia happens to be one beautifully perpetuated lie that is slowly blossoming into a dreary nightmare.

Sam Mendes' Revolutionary Road is not the first film to have tackled American suburbia as the dangerously engulfing illusion that it really is. Mendes' first film, American Beauty (1999), has earned accolades precisely for its supposedly fearless indictment of the American family for the vices that it tries too hard to repress. In fact, an entire genre has evolved from such cinematic discourse. Ang Lee, in The Ice Storm (1997), is more successful in fleshing out the dysfunctions of a suburban family amidst the worsening weather and the political climate. David Lynch, in Blue Velvet (1986), Twin Peaks (1990-1991), Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992), Mulholland Drive (2001), and Inland Empire (2006), blurs reality to create suburban terrains, operating more like inescapable bad dreams than melodramas or satires.

In Revolutionary Road, Mendes tracks a the journey of the Wheelers, a seemingly ideal American couple, from being ambitious starry-eyed lovers to suffocated prisoners of a Pennsylvanian suburb. Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) commutes daily to New York to a thankless job in a sales company where his father also worked for until the day he died. April (Kate Winslet), Frank's reliable housewife, consumes her day with motherly, wifely, and neighborly chores: keeping her two children safe as she maintains the house in a pleasant condition, more to please her nosey neighbors than herself. When it occurred to her that their plasticine suburban lifestyle has stripped them of the virtues that got them together in the first place, they decide to escape to Paris: for Frank to finally figure out what it is that he truly wants to do as April works for the family. The couple's ambition, however, is the opposite of everything that America stands for, and even before the dream nears its fruition, everything falls apart, forcing Frank and April's relationship to crumble as well.

Revolutionary Road, through its chronicling of an American couple's demise to what is essentially a ludicrously staged dead end, summarizes the scathing repercussions of the so-called American daydream, hypnotizing families into a system of monotony and order with the comforts of a boxed and pre-planned life. Mendes hams it up, making sure that all confrontations escalate to grandiose shouting matches, or all the encounters of the couple with John Givings (Michael Shannon), a mathematician-turned-psychiatric patient, are the film's sanest moments. Somehow, Mendes is successful in depicting a topsy-turvy environment, where romance, much more than a give-and-take scenario, partakes of a predatorial relationship, with husband and wife manipulating each other to arrive at an amicable end; and neighbors aren't what they seem to be, establishing relationships that are merely cover-ups for their insecurities, envy, and lust.

Mendes transforms the American landscape into a Darwinian arena, where because migration is rendered nugatory, only the strong survive. Contrary to Darwin's theory however, is that in Revolutionary Road, survival is hardly worth an entire lifetime spent struggling to realize the unrealizable American dream.


jayclops said...

Hi Oggs. Rev Road, so far, is my favorite American film of 2008. You could easily get distracted by the shouting but it really is poignant and timely.

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks Jay, Revolutionary Road works for the most part. It is funny when it needs to be; infuriating too; moving at times. It's definitely not my favorite American film, there's Milk, Gran Torino, Benjamin Button and a few others, but it's probably Mendes' best film to date.

parteeboi said...

I love Revolutinary Road. I hated Leo though. Spell over the top.

Anonymous said...

This is the best interpretation I've read so far. I loved this movie. Reminded me a lot of Death of a Salesman.

David said...

Why is suburbia a "dangerously engulfing illusion"? This is an easy assumption that belies the fact that many people, well, like it.

I think the point here is that the meaning they sought in Paris (or anywhere else)--and conversely the ennui they sought to escape (which would likely have ultimately found them) is not owing to external circumstances.

In truth, these experiences and relationships are not unique to suburbia, but to the human condition. The idea that we all can, or should be able to, live our dreams--well, this is nice, but it is also elitist. We can be happy and need to learn to be happy with what we have and where we are, as often there really is no "realistic" alternative. And what is wrong with that?

Oggs Cruz said...

It is an assumption that many filmmakers mine. Whether you like living in suburbia or not, it represents a social status, a norm, a code that limits humanity.

Michael Pfaff said...

I just found this blog looking for reviews for The Reader. I think your insights into RR are astute. I think this is also one of Mendes' best films. Winslet should have won the Oscar for this, not the abysmal Reader.

brookesboy said...

Great review. Insightful, entertaining.