Revolutionary Road (Sam Mendes, 2008)

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Revolutionary Road, directed by Sam Mendes (2008).

Score: Outstanding.

Frank and April Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet) look like the perfect couple: married, two children, gorgeous house in the suburbia, he works as a salesman in a big company, she’s a housewife. Though this is what they have been led to believe is a perfect life, they used to have other aspirations. On Frank’s thirtieth birthday, April proposes that they go live in Paris, like Frank said he wanted to before they got married. It’s not so easy, of course: friends and neighbours are reticent, Frank’s masculinity is questioned as he would be supported by his wife, and April’s idea is waved off as childish and unrealistic.

The movie plays with a very interesting, if rarely brought up in movies, dichotomy: leading an ordinary life versus taking risks and looking for new experiences; accepting oneself as ordinary versus striving to do things unconventionally; embracing stability and routine versus embracing freedom at the cost of safety. Accepting social expectations versus living life the way one wants to live it.

Accordingly, gender expectations are explored during the first half of the movie. Frank can’t decide who he wants to be, but he’s more and more tempted to adopt the traditional gender role of the family man and successful businessman. Though April wants to set him free so he can discover himself, Frank cannot help but feeling emasculated by the fact that she would be the one bringing money home. On the other hand, April loves her husband and children, but wants to enjoy life with them in a different way. She only finds reject from her environment, who accuse her of being selfish, whimsical and childish for wanting to escape a life everyone assumes cannot be disliked by a functional human being.

I feel lover’s quarrels are some very difficult dialogue to write and act, and in this movie they are done superbly. The ups and downs, accusations, nonsequiturs and emotional explosions are not only nailed on individual quarrels, but also in the progression they make throughout the movie. DiCaprio’s and Winslet’s facial expressions, intonations and voice modulations are so authentic it does become scary as the movie moves on. Thomas Newman’s music goes from the calm and beautiful to the tense and eerie, signaling changes in mood and focusing attention on the action.

Sam Mendes shows much more than tells, using significant looks and carefully planned shots. A lot of the story is told, nevertheless, because a lot of the pivotal scenes are violent arguments. The character of John Givings (Michael Shannon) is used not too subtly to say what the other characters are thinking but not saying. Anyway, he’s got the honour of saying one of the most devastating lines of the movie: “I’m glad I’m not gonna be that kid”. I think the repeated use of mirrors and reflections is used to emphasize how important self-image and their image in society is to these people.

To wrap it up, it’s a very emotional movie, with fleshed out characters and open to very different character interpretations. With some great acting and fantastic dialogue, it is also quite rich in visual imagery.

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