As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

Revolutionary Road – on (dis)contentment (a rant)

Posted by Hedwig on February 4, 2009

The problem, I think, is contentment.

I could make a lot of excuses for the dearth of blog posts in the past 8 months. First I was too busy finishing my thesis, then I had nothing to do and it made me sluggish and unproductive, and now my new job is leaving me exhausted… but the truth is, the fact that 8 months ago today I kissed a certain boy has a lot more to do with it than all of the above.

I don’t mean, necessarily, that he takes up time that I used to spend blogging, though that’s probably part of it. More importantly, for writing (or any kind of artistic expression, however mundane) you need an itch. To the risk of sounding crude: lately, my every itch has been scratched. I feel – the word sounds almost dirty – happy. Profoundly satisfied. Content.


Why complain? I don’t. However, something gnaws at me sometimes. A sense that while evenings on the couch cuddling and watching movies can be incredibly nice (and not at all boring, like I imagined in my single days), they may, in a larger sense, be “wasted”. A sense that while it’s nice to feel validating, the quest for validation was an important one, too easily abandoned. A sense that my boyfriend might be mighty good for my happiness, self-esteem and joie de vivre (not to mention personal hygiene), he might not really help my “self-development” – whatever the hell that might be. 

All the above to explain why Revolutionary Road resonated with me far more than it probably had any right to, considering Sam Mendes’ facile observations and that his glossy surfaces hide mostly platitudes – Mad Men is undoubtedly better. I’m probably too easily swayed – I liked American Beauty quite a lot when I first saw it, and it’s more painfully flawed every time I see it. But Revolutionary Road inspired me to write this post, the first one in a long while, and I think it’s worth exploring why.(note: I haven’t read Yates’ book (though I intend to), so this is purely based on the movie)

Let me get the obvious out of the way first: yes, the movie looks gorgeous. The scene at the beach is straight out of Hopper, and I don’t think any golden cage has ever looked so spotless and luscious. Kate Winslet is, indeed, impressive: she has such an expressive, open face, and she knows exactly how to use it. Leonardo comes off as a bit of a wuss, and no match for his powerhouse wife, but I guess that’s the point. Michael Shannon, who gets all the accolades, was a bit over the top for me, but I thought David Harbour gave a very intruiging performance as the neighbour, Shep.

Let’s talk plot, however. Nobody is disputing the production value here, but everyone (including some interesting discussion during the all-female movie club at Slate this year) seems to be conflicted about the plot. Is it vile, or too easy on the Wheelers? Is it feminist or sexist? I for one have no plans to make such pronouncements. The gender interpretation especially seems a bit irrelevant, fourty years “later”: while I do emphasize most with April, and she is, to me, the more interesting character, I can identify a lot more with Frank. And Frank’s problem, I think, is one much more relevant nowadays.

The “quarterlife crisis” – it’s a ridiculous term, of course, but it is one coined for a phenomenon I see all around me. People my age (and yes, this includes me) want the world: living in Paris, having a glamorous career, do good. Many of them do: I’m often intimidated by what former classmates have achieved. But many also, like me, desperately want something – without knowing what that is. Something more – can you get more vague than that?

I’m content with my life. I’m content with my job – which I chose basically because I couldn’t think of anything else that I’d like more. I enjoy spending evenings on the couch with my boyfriend, and to my horror, my rather definite “no!” on kids is slowly turning into a “hm…maybe someday”. It’s so seductively easy to just go along with the flow. Choose the path of least resistance, choose the comfortable life with port and cheeses on Sunday and the occasional trip to France as the only extravagances. The daily grind, the routine: the treacherous thing is that it’s not that bad. It’s incredibly easy to get used to. I might like it now, but will I still ten years from now? What if it turns out, as I always suspected and feared, that I’m nothing special at all?


Maybe I should be happy. The unease is back, at least for a moment, the questions bubble to the surface and – wow! Is that a blog post? I think Revolutionary Road is a flawed film, but it dislodged something in me, somehow. Unsettled me, in a way that all the friends who wondered at my choice to become a PhD student couldn’t. Made me stay up to write until past midnight, meaning I’ll probably feel like a zombie again at work tomorrow. That’s gotta count for something, right?


Oh well, it’s definitely time to go to bed now: the wine bottle I opened with the friends who watched the movie with me is empty, and my eyelids burn. I wish I could promise more (I have a great piece about Jason Statham in mind), but I’m wary of promises: the contentment might take me over again soon, and I probably won’t mind one bit. Please excuse the ranting, and I hope you won’t begrudge me the exchange of my writing bug for someone to snuggle with.


4 Responses to “Revolutionary Road – on (dis)contentment (a rant)”

  1. Wow, this post touches on a lot of things that mean something to me. I don’t know where to begin.

    If the filmmakers had underlined Frank’s dilemma in the way you have here…the seductiveness of a life of contentment…it would’ve been a much much better film. Instead of a couple of great performances surrounded by superb production design and cinematography, it could’ve been the movie of the year which I thought it was going to be for the first 40 minutes or so.

    As you say though, Frank is just kind of a wuss. Hiding behind concern for his children (the children he never shows any interest in at any other point in the movie) as an excuse to slouch toward conformity. It’s easier for him. At least he gets to get out of the house and drink his martinis and go bang his secretary.

    As for the itch you speak of…it’s fascinating to me how it ties into creativity. I’ve often wondered if I was more satisfied with other aspects of my life if I’d have the energy or the need to express myself and I wonder which is the better way to be. I’m hesitant to give up that creative edge, but if a non-pharmaceutical solution offered me ongoing contentment, I’m not sure I wouldn’t jump at the chance.

  2. sarcastig said

    Thanks for the feedback, Craig! I agree that Frank wasn’t really fleshed out enough. In fact, the (male) friend of a housemate found April a loud and crazy bitch, and saw Frank as the victim in the story, who didn’t really do anything wrong! Just goes to show you how gender-skewed visions of this film can be.

    As for the “itch”, mine seems to be slowly coming back, so I guess the honeymoon period is over 😀

  3. There is certainly a lot to admire in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, but I’ll agree it’s flawed, namely in it’s screenplay. The two leads and Michael Shannon are exceptional, as is the film’s striking cinematography (you rightly note the beach scenes are straight out of Hopper) and period sets. Yeah, Frank has little backbone. Did you ever wonder that there isn’t one single admirable person in this entire film?

    Perhaps most of all, I loved your lead-in, which explained your realtive “absense” as of late. Nice!

  4. Pierre de Plume said

    This “backbone” thing is interesting to me.

    I think I liked Revolutionary Road better than anyone here. Admittedly, it did get a little “soapy” at times, but I think perhaps Mendes (and Winslet) wanted the focus to be a little more on the April character.

    Maybe one of the points of the film is that the 1950s was not a decade of backbones, that what transpired in the McCarthy era — and the falseness bouncing around all of that — saw many Franks. The implication of this, of course, is that we’re vulnerable to an updated version of this in today’s society.

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