The shot in “Revolutionary Road” that epitomizes the essence of this intensely focused and passionate drama is of a blood stained carpet just inside the window of the picturesque house of the Wheeler’s, peering at the outside world as if to ridicule its ignorant view of their bleak suburban existence. This occurs late in the film when many hurtful words have been uttered and deeds done whose continuous impact recklessly disbands their lives. Although “Revolutionary Road” may appear to be exemplifying two characters whose hopeless existence defines their character, the film actually has hope toward the future, when women will have choices and be fulfilled and complete as equal human beings, not a viable option in the male dominated world of the 1950’s.
Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet play Frank and April Wheeler, a married couple who move out to the suburbs after realizing they desire for their unborn child to live in a safer and more attractive place. The Wheelers are told with absolute confidence by the realtor that they are different from the other people who scour these streets, even though they are not.
It may appear that Sam Mendes, the director, is stating that everyone was unhappy during this period and that his or her lives were unbearable. In “Revolutionary Road,” he is simply stating that others were able to cope better with the misgivings they had without blaming their partner for stealing the greatest time in their lives. The film has a strong opinion that contentment is not attainable, but that does not instinctually create despondent lives for everyone.
DiCaprio and Winslet create characters of amazing authenticity, evoking dark memories of arguments that would occur between two melancholic individuals with no choice but to stay together. The entire cast is stellar with the other standout being Michael Shannon as a truth teller. Frank states at one point to April, “I can make you happy.” Is it feasible for April Wheeler to be content in this time and place? It is not that she vehemently dislikes being a housewife to the point that bliss is an impossible emotion, but rather that any alternative to this sedentary lifestyle is considered laughable. Maybe she is a person who would have thrived in present day but could not understand the condescending way her femininity was viewed before women were welcomed in the work place.
On the other hand, Frank is a man desperate to change his life but lacks the courage to do what is necessary to make this happen. He is a coward, proudly displaying this in front of his peers every time he breathes the phony air he admonishes, while perpetually coveting its security around his cold, unfeeling body.
The title is an obvious ironic assessment of Frank’s spineless persona. Revolutionaries were brave people of devout conviction who fought for what they believed in against all odds. Frank cannot even find the valor within to break away from the imaginary chains keeping him housed within this dreary and uninspired life.
There are immediate comparisons between “Revolutionary Road” and “Mad Men,” but there are stark distinctions between this superb film and that masterfully crafted television show. Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Wheeler and Jon Hamm, who plays Don Draper with unparalleled complexity, both have random affairs with women but for vastly different reasons. Frank uses these dalliances as was to momentarily escape from his unbearable life, while Don undermines any progress toward a somewhat healthy family life with these extramarital relationships.
The main chasm lies within the motivations and feelings of the two characters. In “Mad Men,” Don desperately craves a space within this suburban life that he can call his own but cannot do this because of his childhood experiences in which his family was devoid of any love. Don has carried this numbness into adulthood as both a weapon and birthmark, but desires the normal family life that others seem to boast. Frank knows everything about suburban life and wants to break free, hoping someone will forcefully take them out of the hell he inhabits. He realizes there is no such person but the hope both keeps him alive and causes misery. Frank is not willing to take the leap necessary to achieve happiness, but April makes a decision at the film’s conclusion that she believes will save another from similar agony.
Each scene illustrates diverse examples of a marriage deteriorating before our eyes, built on false hopes, aspirations, and dreams that cannot be captured in this isolated reality that only defines them by their beautiful house in the nice neighborhood. Frank does not remember how to make love to April in the manner she covets. It is as if Frank and April are on two crossing paths that will never intersect again. Somehow, the Wheelers find themselves living in the shadows where the American dream died and the suburban nightmare began.
The woman was the person who always gave the unfortunate news to the children, even though she never made the decisions. She cared for the children, including rising in the middle of the night to check on the crying baby, while his life went on without interruption. The women did this because they loved their families but were often miserable because of the lack of options that accompanied their adulthood.
The final, pivotal decision is made by April when she looks down, takes a puff at her cigarette and peers up slightly, with the confidence rarely seen on a woman’s face in the 1950’s. She knows what must be done and finally understands the possible consequences if she fails to follow through. “Revolutionary Road” argues, through April Wheeler, that love is not enough to make someone feel they are truly living.