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Revolutionary Road (Sam Mendes, 2008) January 31, 2009

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Hollywood, Literature.


Directed by Sam Mendes
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Michael Shannon, Kathy Bates

Richard Yates’ phenomenal novel is meant for Sam Mendes to film. After all, he is neither new to dealing with the complexity of suburban life nor inexperienced in adapting literary works. Both American Beauty and Road to Perdition, I would say, are decent works, which are not disappointing from someone who makes a film every three years and from someone who had his humble beginnings in theater. His films are worth the wait. Revolutionary Road is a daunting challenge, truly the hardest text to translate is the story that looks the easiest, but Mendes has made every second of watching it painfully memorable that I think the greatest honor it can give the book is to oblige the people to read it, and it did, it deservingly did.

It is a work whose ambition lies underneath its sheets. Frank and April Wheeler’s discontentment with their life in a Connecticut suburb stirs them to move to Paris, to lead a future they have always dreamed of, and to do the things they enjoy doing. It is the prospect of an exciting life that keeps them inspired, for Frank wants to feel things, and April wants him to fulfill his dreams, and they don’t want to be just like everyone else. From that battering scene before the title comes in, Mendes has effectively drawn us to their relationship, the fussy arguments they have, the details of their quiet little family, the asphyxiating feel of confinement with consent. A suburban life can never be complete without neighbors, neighbors who barge into your home to tell you about their life, neighbors who accept your offer to have a cup of coffee, neighbors who can change your decisions, alter your thoughts. Mendes knows how to balance his material; he has a clear preference to heightened action, deliberately staging his sequences like a play, his actors pummeling us with calm resistance, their heart-wrenching delivery of pain, their dismissal of chances. The characters cross the screen and walk to us, shaking our wits with the blowing agony of their simple problems, their niceties wrapped in deceiving beams of silence. DiCaprio and Winslet show us the depthless floor of the abyss, exemplary maneuvering us to the hopeless emptiness of their marriage, and make us feel that it really takes plenty of guts to see that hopelessness, that unshared grief. Shannon steals their thunder to extinguish himself; short but hurtfully sweet.

It is clearly a wife’s tale and not a mother’s; in fact Frank and April’s two kids seem non-existent. That’s what impresses me, the concern on the woman as what she is and not on what she has become, that it is possible for her to be her own self, that she can act separately from her duties, that she is not her husband’s loyal servant but his better half, her importance is not emphasized by having children, she is not reduced into being a piece of household furniture. And if love, as Pascal has fittingly observed, has reasons that reason cannot understand, then I believe her death has given her happiness, a happiness that only she can enjoy. Now if you could just let me finish this whiskey with a Prozac, I need my endorphins.



1. raya - February 1, 2009

blech. clearly sam mendes is trying to be, for lack of decent description, “european”. oh english theatre!

2. Richard Bolisay - February 2, 2009

oh, but i loved it. hehe. enough to keep me depressed for days.

3. em - February 2, 2009

what do you thing is the good thing about it?

4. Richard Bolisay - February 2, 2009

About the film? Well if I say the story then all credit goes to Yates. Haythe has made a great adaptation of the text. But Mendes has given it a wonderful visual take, a complex study of the 50s suburbia, as well as a moving piece on the fall of marriage. The actors too are awesome.

5. Sam Mendes, “Revolutionary Road” (2008). « film, eyeballs, brain - February 4, 2009

[…] [Another review, at Lilok Pelikula.] […]

6. B. Vergara - February 4, 2009

Thanks for the great review — reading your bit about April not “reduced into being a piece of household furniture” got me thinking about how the film is so clearly divided into two spatial domains: Frank as “properly” belonging to “the outside”, the world of men, and April confined to their perfect house’s four walls.

And so we see a decisive reversal of this in the crucial scene at the end: Frank staring out the window, while April wanders in the tangle of the woods — also a nice visual reminder of how the trimmed American suburbs of the Northeast are hardly ever far away from the less domesticated forests.

7. Richard Bolisay - February 5, 2009

Thanks too, Mr Vergara. I agree that John Givings is a bit of a gimmick, but somehow I realize that his character is very necessary, the necessary evil in the Wheeler’s marriage, and despite being just a narrative device he has able to bring out the film’s battering melancholia. And your observation was enlightening as well. Winslet’s back is the loveliest back I have ever seen in contemporary cinema; like Brando’s chest in Streetcar, it is impossible to forget.

8. Jayclops - March 3, 2009

Yes, yes! Finally, someone I could agree on. For chrissakes, the clinical, mannered simplicity is not for naught. With all the critical divisiveness, the one which I can’t really get is that it is “amateurish” and that Kate and Leo “does not know how to act.” RR left me unsettled, and yes, Chard, if the film makes you want to scour every living bookstore and booksale for Yates novel, that is quite a feat.

9. Richard Bolisay - March 3, 2009

By all means, this one is better than all of those that vied for Best Picture. But then who cares, hehe. Have you read the Yates novel?

10. Jayclops - March 3, 2009

Not yet, Chard. That’s why the last line in my comment is there. Meron ka? Pahiram…

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