Monday, January 19, 2009

Initial Thoughts On "Revolutionary Road"

Just saw the movie and am ready to watch it again. Never read the novel. I thought the film was devastatingly good, if at times awkward (Greek chorus of the madman device needing to explain to the audience, the whole concept of the idiot savant, etc.). Read two or three reviews online, which tend to focus on the repressed artistry, blah blah of the characters, and the pressure of conformity in the Fifties, blah blah blah. (Caution--spoilers ahead.)

These folk are ordinary, not artistic souls repressed by their era. They know that they are ordinary, and, like most of us, desire not to be so. April (Winslet) isn't an actress, she's "studying" to be an actress. She isn't special; she desperately wants to be special. And the movie is about the folie a deux that she and Frank (DiCaprio) share.

Kenneth Turan in the L.A. Times wrote about the lingo of the times being hard to get past ("Old Sport"). Don't know if these terms were used in the Yates novel, but they're straight out of The Great Gatsby. The movie hearkens back to Fitzgerald's book in so many ways. At the opening, the twinkling lights of New York City suggest the exciting promise that the green light on Daisy's dock held for Gatsby. The Wheelers' house (with April) represents a similar ideal for their neighbor Shep (April's fellow thespian who has not, as Turan asserts, accepted his lot--nor has his wife--hence her near hysteria upon learning of the Wheelers' plans).

April uses her husband Frank as a blank canvas on which to project her fantasies, and being a rather blank slate himself (at the outset, at the loft party where they meet, she asks him what interests him, and there is apparently nothing--save for her in the moment), he takes on the projection. She is painfully (if unconsciously) aware of her lack, so she imagines that she will find glory via narcissistic extension (first via marriage, then via Paris). Or more accurately, by re-creating Frank in Paris (recall that Gatsby, according to narrator Nick Carraway, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself).

In short, the entire film is about projection. Even their realtor, played by Kathy Bates, regards the Wheelers as her golden clients--until they stop being symbols of the American Dream, become real, and disappoint. So, at the end, Bates has found another Jay and Daisy to replace them and the castle they had, in her current view, desecrated--but her husband tunes out her latest projection.

Here's a movie for grown-ups. And those who like some psychological complexity and no easy answers. It forces us, it seems to me, to confront our own hopeless grandiosity. We root for the Wheelers to be Americans in Paris while knowing it's a pipe dream that will never be realized (the trip is planned for fall, and they will take a slow steamer--dying Romance). We want them to be special even though we've seen nothing to suggest that they are. Those of a psychoanalytical bent will have a field day with this film.

She's running out again
She's running out
She runs runs runs
Whatever makes you happy
Whatever you want
You're so fucking special
I wish I was special
But I'm a creep
I'm a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don't belong here
I don't belong here

"Creep," Radiohead

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