Monday, September 14

Considering "Revolutionary Road"

I made a poor choice of surprise for my first Surprise-and-a-Treat Night. I have been bored by movies, and I have been hard pressed to remember anything about it as soon as I left the theater. I have felt manipulated by by movies, and I have been disappointed by movies (I'm looking at you Australia and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Don't try slinking into oblivion.). But it is the rare movie that I wish I had never seen. As you might have guessed by now from the title of this post, Sam Mendes' Revolutionary Road is one of those movies.

It's hard to point to any single classic element of cinema as the source of my frustration. The score, as simple and as repetitive as it is, is perfect. It is employed to set the earliest scenes and at the moments of highest drama but is always appropriate. The kudos surrounding Kate Winslet's performance are well earned, and the rest of the cast play their roles well. The only off note is sounded by Leonardo DiCaprio who comes off as something of a brute, prepared only for violence, when something more subtle is called for. The direction and pacing are fine. No complaints with the scripting or costumes or set design either. Really, when you look at the individual parts, it's a fine film.

It's only when I pull back and consider the overall effect that it begins to leave me nauseous. It's the motive pervading Revolutionary Road that irritates me most. When a cast and crew that has already received so much attention from the Academy creates such a self serious film based on an acclaimed work of literature, it's rather impossible to consider it anything other than Oscar bait. In and of itself, this is not a problem. While I prefer to side with C.S. Lewis on this and attempt to create honest art rather than art which will be great, bait can still lead to some fine films like There Will Be Blood. Revolutionary Road took a turn for the disastrous when it decided that the theme which will bring in the statuettes is that the American suburbs are stultifying and encourage conformity thereby crushing the human spirit and zest for life. Whoa. My mind is blown. Brain is all over the wall it was so blown. Then it takes a twenty-pound sledge to the remains just in case the point didn't come across. Film set in the 1950's? Check. Insecure husband works in a cubicle? Check. An incredibly ironic name for their street which only serves to further draw out how not revolutionary their lives are? Check. An incredibly ironic advertisement composed by the husband which only serves to further draw out how he isn't actually doing what he really wants to do? Check.

It was awfully generous of Revolutionary Road to provide its own best analysis of itself. Trying to convince her husband that they need to abandon their pleasant home on Revolutionary Road for Paris, the only place where he ever really felt alive, Winslet argues that everyone in the community has told them they're special, meant for something better, but they aren't. Only in this case it's not everyone else telling this movie it's special. The movie's telling us its special in every aspect of its production and performance. But it isn't.

The suburbs may very well be the refuge of the middle class and enclaves of those who prefer the norm to change, but somehow people still prefer to live in them. Some even manage to thrive. Who could imagine that? We are not slaves to our environments. We choose and find our own happiness and fulfillment. Anyone who says differently is posing a poor excuse for their own misery and should spend a few months in a slum. See how long their existential crises lasts when they actually have to put effort into their survival.

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