Len Phillips reviews Revolutionary Road (rated M).
in Revolutionary Road.
The film Revolutionary Road turned out to be interesting, very watchable and highly dramatic. It also reunited Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, who were last seen together in Titanic (1997).
But for all that it reminded me that I may be getting too long in the tooth to keep on going to the movies.
The plot revolved around Betty Friedan’s Feminist Mystique, not in so many words, but in every detail of every moment.
During the 1950s, this book had been the call to arms for women who, according to Friedan, had been banished to the suburbs to manage households and raise children when they could be doing something truly vital, like working in an office (while hiring a nanny).
The movie is really a tale of the supposed horrors faced by such women trapped in their suburban gulags. It is a stylised miniature of today’s feminist mythology of just how terrible conditions were for women back then.
Mrs April Wheeler (Kate Winslet) is a frustrated 1950s housewife whose life revolves around keeping house, minding the children and supporting her husband Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) in his career.
In a masterpiece of directing – by Clint Eastwood no less – her vapid existence is dramatised by the almost complete absence of any on-screen interaction with her children. The fact that they even have children comes as a complete surprise when the boy and girl, who are about nine and 10, are finally brought to the attention of the audience.
The plot is driven by two elements. The first is April’s desire for the family to uproot completely and move to Paris. She is a woman driven mad by the boredom of her life and she can think of nothing other than a complete root-and-branch disturbance of every aspect of their lives to give her any of the life satisfactions she is missing.
Frank falls in with the plan and it is almost completely hatched except that his job, which is portrayed as achingly dull and pointless, has a sudden turn for the better. He is offered promotion, recognition, more money and new horizons in the expanding computer industry of the 1950s. It is an offer too hard to resist, and he does not.
The Wheelers’ marriage could even have survived this. But, at this juncture, added to the April’s boredom and Frank’s reneging on the move to Paris is added his adultery.
At the dramatic peak of the film – which is an amazing study in the breakdown of a marriage – just as the wife is going through the psychological tumult of finding out that the trip to Paris is off the agenda, he, for no particular reason at all, tells her of his affair.
Why are you telling me this, she asks – the very question I found myself also asking as he was confessing to his infidelity. And there is, of course, no reason for him to do so other than to bring the drama to its head, which it does and with such shattering dramatic effect.
Then, in the eerie calm that follows the storm, the film’s final moments are these. The wife had been pregnant and had some form of home abortion-kit. Who knew such things even existed then? But for safety it had to be used within 12 weeks, the timing for which had just passed as they went through one of the most savage husband-and-wife rows you are ever likely to see on screen.
The next morning, these being the last five minutes of the film, she takes out the kit and, in a botched attempt at an abortion, ends up killing herself.
Whether it was actually a form of suicide is left somewhat ambiguous, but the point is clear. In those bad days, before feminism finally overthrew patriarchy, women were trapped in their loveless marriages, were utterly dependent on husbands who were oblivious to their needs, and were unable to secure an abortion on demand, but had to rely on methods that would put their lives at risk.
So, the reason I’m beginning to think I’m too old for the movies is that I am inordinately conscious of the agenda at large in such films.
I cannot watch without the sensation of being manipulated by the structuring of the plot to end up with the producers’ fashion-statement conclusions.
The film certainly presents the revolutionary road along which we’ve travelled a very great distance, that is, the notion that traditional marriage is a trap for women.
– Revolutionary Road (rated M) was reviewed by Len Phillips.