‘If being crazy means living life as if it matters, then I don’t mind being completely insane‘.
Adapted in 2008 from book to screen, Revolutionary Road is an American-British drama based on the 1961 novel by Richard Yates, which, at the time, was described as ‘a powerful commentary on how we live now.’ Directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty) and set in the 1950s, the movie tells the story of Frank and April Wheeler as they try to overcome their personal problems and conflicting views on marriage, children, hopes, aspirations and life, while representing a generation constantly yearning for something better as a result of the corrupt remains of the American Dream. Described as ‘lavishly dark’ and ‘a flawless, moment-to-moment autopsy of a marriage on the rocks and an indictment of the American Dream gone sour’, Mendes’ book to screen creation earned itself nominations for three Golden Globes, four BAFTA’s and three Oscars and reunites Titanic stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet and Kathy Bates (everybody loves them some Kathy Bates) for the first time since the 1997.
Yates described the subtext of his novel 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’, which Mendes portrays on the big screen for us through the acting of Leonardo DiCaprio (Frank Wheeler) and Kate Winslet (April Wheeler), as well as Kathy Bates (Misery), Michael Shannon (Pearl Harbor) and Kathryn Hahn (Step Brothers), among others. However, you can ditch the hopes of a continued romance on a big boat, as this is a completely different story (even if DiCaprio is still as drool-worthy as he was then, especially in his 1950s attire). We see the married couple settled into a cosy house on Revolutionary Road, but are keen to express to each other, as well as to themselves, that they are better than their shallow, empty, hopeless neighbours. Their marriage is not a comfortable one, and despite the constant arguments appearing to be settled again and again, there is never complete contentment or security. The Wheelers are convinced they are tied together by their two children, but as the movie progresses we see that Frank’s philosophical, reflective talk isn’t enough to keep April, even if it is what got him the girl in the first place. It seems that as the movie goes on, the deeper, shocking and far from positive feelings of the marriage between Frank and April Wheeler are uncovered, as well as the troubling, yet subtle messages Yates’ novel expresses about people and life.
One critic described the movie as ‘falling short of capturing Richard Yates’ terrific novel’, but is quick, and correct, to say that the fabulously delicate and emotional portrayal of the Wheelers by Winslet and DiCaprio, showing some of Yates’ weighty ideas makes up for it. Therefore it can be said that this film adaptation of Revolutionary Road isn’t quite as bursting with deep messages as Yates’ novel, but the acting in the film hits home the messages it does contain perfectly, as well as providing a visually-pleasing, wonderfully-classic performance that got Winslet the Golden Globe for best actress. It is clear that Mendes was inspired by a novel that Yates based on the theme ‘that most human beings are inescapably alone, and therein lies their tragedy’, and as a result, we are offered an emotional, shocking, yet relatable and understandable tale that you don’t want to miss (you are all curious to see how DiCaprio is holding up after Winslet took up all the room on that plank of wood in the Atlantic anyway, aren’t you?)
‘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.’