Who among us hasn’t had the desire to escape conventionality for an existence riddled with unpredictability? It’s a common ailment that is examined at length in Revolutionary Road, a 2008 feature from Sam Mendes that utilizes the 1950’s as a way to examine how that compulsion to subvert our daily routine can consume ones soul. Coming right off of the horrors and uncertainty of events like World War II in the 1940’s, the 1950’s were an age where people looked for consistency and peace in their lives. While it’s not like archetypes such as “stay at home mom” or “Father knows best” didn’t exist prior to the fifties, they did rise to extreme prominence in this decade to the point of being considered the only way of executing a standard family lifestyle.
For Frank Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio) the archetypal way of suburban existence suit him just fine, but his wife, April Wheeler (Kate Winslet), craves something more in her life, namely moving to Paris. The way Revolutionary Road sets up these two as a couple struck me as unique, since only one brief flashback sequence (which opens the movie) is shown. Otherwise, the story focuses entirely on them deep into the rut of marriage, sending the audience into their strife’s and conflicts in an in media res fashion that helps emphasize how great the despair between the duo is.
As I mentioned before, specific gender roles were cemented in this era that have been almost impossible to shake in the years since. It’s interesting to see Aprils struggle to find any sort of solace in her life in this particular time period, not only because her attempts to upend societies conventions are met with resistance by everyone around (including her neighbors), but also because it sharply contrasts with the idyllic image that the 50’s has in most everyone’s minds. The visual representation for this decade typically consists of a white-picket fence and a smiling family, wherein the reality is that many people were likely just like April; not quite fitting into the norm and desperately searching for an escape from their mandate filled existence.
Now, all of those ideas are ripe for examination and analysis, but they wouldn’t really work in the context of Revolutionary Road if the film didn’t have elements like high quality directing or acting working for it. Luckily, the likes of Sam Mendes and Kate Winslet bring their A-game project, especially Winslet, who lends April a tenacity that makes her sorrow and ferocity feel earth-shattering.
It’s particularly captivating to watch Leonardo DiCaprios more assured personality in the movie be decimated by every move April makes. Just because she’s got obstacles to face doesn’t mean April is gonna stop fighting for a way to escape the way of life she’s stuck in. Escape becomes a very crucial motif to Revolutionary Road, with even the most subtle aspects of the motion picture like details in the set design (environments like the house April and Frank live in feel as confining as a jail cell) reinforcing this concept. Perhaps that’s the most extraordinary element of Revolutionary Road; it manages to be something that’ll impact you while you’re watching it, while also stimulating your mind with questions and analyzation for days afterwards.