Author: Richard Yates
©1961, Vantage Books.
Director: Sam Mendes
Screenplay: Justin Haythe
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet
If you’re going to see Revolutionary Road because you’re anxiously anticipating the conclusion of the love story between Leo and Kate that started in Titanic, well, you’d best stay home. Revolutionary Road isn’t a love story; it’s a story of how you lose yourself when you’re wrong about love.
It’s the story of a suburban couple in 1950. April and Frank Wheeler’s lives are not so different from their neighbors, when you look through their plate glass windows. But once you go inside the cover, inside the front door, you discover a dark world.
A Painful Glimpse
“Hopeless emptiness. Now you’ve said it. Plenty of people are onto the emptiness, but it takes real guts to see the hopelessness.”
So says John Givings, the most honest character on Revolutionary Road, despite the fact that he’s a mental patient. Hopelessness and emptiness are the unhappy bedfellows that lead Frank and April Wheeler to anger and despair.
In Revolutionary Road, author Richard Yates does not introduce you to another syrupy sweet version of the 1950s American dream. He does not bring you into the happy world of Leave it to Beaver and My Three Sons – the typical world we think of when most of us daydream about the 1950s. There are no sock-hops, no picturesque family dinners. This becomes painfully clear from the moment that you open the pages, or the images appear on the screen. April has been in a play – a failed community production. Despite her training as an actress, she can’t save it – setting a tone and theme that reverberates throughout the pages and reels.
April tries to escape from their suburban life through her heartfelt plea with Frank to leave their home and move to Paris. In the movie, Winslet’s April kneels in front of DiCaprio’s Frank, tears in her eyes, and gives him the opportunity that virtually any man should want – if they’ll move, she’ll get a job, and he can be a man of leisure.
The book is riddled with arguments, fights and days of silence – the painful silence that we’ve all felt after a big family blowout. As uncomfortable as those fights are, they’re nothing in comparison to the gut-wrenching fights that Winslet and DiCaprio bring to the big screen.
Where would any good drama be without misguided motives and heaping platefuls of guilt? The same is true of Revolutionary Road. Through Yates’ use of flashbacks in the written story, we learn that Frank and April didn’t get married because they were madly in love, but rather because of an unplanned pregnancy. April offers to abort the child, Frank disagrees, and they end up in the suburbs with 2 children, and eventually a third on the way. This is just one of many flashblacks that we miss in screenwriter Justin Haythe’s adaptation. While abortion is a touchy subject in any genre, or timeframe, it is especially so in the 1950s – but their previous decision is vital to understanding how Frank and April have ended up where they are.
Revolutionary Road does not end in a beautiful reconciliation between April and Frank. Their final fight reveals that April no longer loves Frank – and Frank wishes she’d aborted the baby. They’d debated an at-home abortion for weeks in the book (only for days in the movie)but the days clicked by, and by the time the final fight came around, they’d reached the point of what seemed to be no return. April calmly and cleanly botches the procedure at home, and accidentally escapes the grim storybook life. Frank is left behind with the house and two children – and you really couldn’t tell if Frank was more upset about the loss of April or the new responsibilities that irrevocably change his complacent lifestyle.
Revolutionary Road reminds us that behind the bright exterior, every family has a darker side. Inside each of us, a revolution is brewing.