Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Picket Fence

I had the hardest time writing this post. The thing is, I cannot isolate myself from Revolutionary Road. When I read this novel, written by Richard Yates, I could see myself in Frank Wheeler. This story is about broken promises, and unfulfilled dreams. The reason this story is unique because it is an anti-thesis of a typical coming of age tale.

Marianne Williamson said that our deepest fear is not realizing, we are insufficient, but coming in terms with our true potential. If we know we are intelligent and have the potential of achieving whatever we put our mind to, then we really have no excuse to fail.

Revolutionary Road took away the blind-faith that I would be happy in the end. It made me realize that sometimes even the most gifted, and blessed people are not happy in life. People like Frank and April Wheeler, who have everything going for them. Frank Wheeler is intelligent, attractive, and is married to a beautiful woman, with two kids. He earns a good living at a job he hates, where he does not really have to apply himself. He is financially well-off, and is living in a beautiful suburban house. His wife, April Wheeler, gets drawn to Frank because he has new ideals. He is mysterious and he has travelled the world. Whereas, April has not been anywhere. She took acting classes, and believed she could have been an excellent actress, if she had not gotten married and had Frank's two kids. But this false belief gets shattered when her local theater performance is declared mediocre by her suburban neighbours.

Together the couple ends up having this life which neither of them had expected. They find themselves getting lost behind the mundanity of white picket fenced suburbia. They are unhappy because the novelty that brought them closer is missing. They come to realize, neither of them is as unexceptional as the other thought they were. They get this grand idea to move to Europe where they could finally amount to something spectacular, out of the ordinary. This Old World fascination is akin to what many members of the Lost Generation felt, including Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The reader or viewer is left to wonder, are these characters so lost because they got thrown into the circumstances they didn't expect? Both of them had hopes that they were beyond the simple and monochromatic lifestyle that one would expect from a husband, a wife, and parents of two children. The other question is, are these two characters "exceptional" because they are daring to be different, or are they flawed and foolishly idealistic because they want something they can't have? Perhaps, they should have tested their true potential before they got married.

In terms of the cinematic characterization, one thing I didn't like in the movie was the fact that April's character seemed more confused and lost than Frank's. April was shown to make more unrealistic and idealistic choices than Frank. Now that we are on the subject, let me discuss the movie a bit more. My favourite part of the movie was the beginning. April and Frank are shown walking down a hallway under ceiling lights, walking parallel to each other, but not right beside each other. I don't know if that makes sense, but to me I thought it was an effective way to set the premise of the story. In terms of acting, I am still angry with the fact that neither Leo DiCaprio nor Kate Winslet got nominated for their roles. They transpired Richard Yates words through their acting, with their body language and facial expressions. Both of these actors have the power to reach out of the screen and somehow move me with their performances. There are not that many actors I can say that for.

I was ready to hate the movie, because I never like film adaptations. But, the movie ended up helping my understanding of the novel and its author. For instance, for some reason I saw Richard Yates in Howard Givings, who turns off his hearing-aid because he doesn't want to hear anything negative about the Wheelers. I think, Yates felt sorry for the Wheelers, after all, the Wheelers are the embodiment of our worst fears and moments of self-doubt. We are afraid to be stuck in a job we don't like, or in a marriage that only seems perfect from the outside. Furthermore, Yates also included us in his story. We are shown both as the ordinary Campbells (more about them in a few minutes), and John Givings. Yates entrusted John Givings to ask the Wheelers our questions. John Givings screams and scolds the Wheelers for us.

Okay now something about the Campbells. Yates used this couple as a foil to highlight the Wheelers's flaws. Where the Wheelers are dreaming about moving to Paris, the Campbells are busy looking after their kids. Where Frank is dreaming about quitting his job, Shep Campbell is lusting after Frank's wife, April. See how simple and ordinary Shep's dreams are (!). At the end of the day, the question is would Shep prefer a wife who is like April or like his own wife, Milly. Milly is not as beautiful as April, but she is an excellent mother, and caregiver.

The other theme that had my mind going was manliness. April thinks that since Frank did not amount to her first reaction of him, he is incapable of carrying through and completely finishing a task. Even in the instances, when he raises his hand to hit her but holds back last minute, and does not follow through. She sees his failure to physically harm her as his inability to be a man. She actually says something along the lines that how Frank is not even man enough to harm her. Frank compensates for his un-maniliness by sleeping with a co-worker.

I would strongly suggest anyone out there who's reading this post to read the book. It will change the way you look at life and relationships. Too often we hold back emotions and resort to silences when just simple sentences and words would have been the best option. Too often we take life for granted. We take ourselves for granted.


Shak said...

I've not seen the film myself but generally it seems that people are just not excited about raising a family and building a home anymore. They don't see it as an achievement. This is ironic considering how many single people there are out there (it's obviously not an easy thing to do).

My sympathies lie with April in this story though, since she didn't get to do the things she wanted before she was single. But Frank, well he should have been ready to accept the mundanity of life.

I've often been accused of being a potentially boring husband because all I want in life is to support my family and raise my kids. I don't mind working the 9-5 and staying in with the people I love - in fact it's something I'm looking forward to. That's not to say I wouldn't want to do stuff too, but in terms of goals I don't really have any; or at least don't care what they'll be as long as I'm around family when they transpire.

Maria Sondule said...

This movie would be prefect for me!! I feel the exact same way as April and Frank (though I'm not about to move to Europe...)
This review is very good. I enjoy it's frankness and the way to describe the plot without giving too much away. I wish I could've stolen the idea out of your head for English class...

C. Louis Wolfe said...

Wow- VERY well written review. Well done! I must be one of the few who've not yet seen this bleak movie. Despite my life being somewhat bleak, I still really want to see this! :-)

changetheworld360 said...

First thing: this is an excellent review, a perfect mix of your thoughts with the film's themes! Well done! =D
I second a lot of what you said about the film, both the strengths and the flaws.
"Both of these actors have the power to reach out of the screen and somehow move me with their performances. There are not that many actors I can say that for."
Right on. I couldn't have said it any better myself. Somehow, with truly great actors, the screen is never a barrier between them and the audience, and that is certainly reflected here.
Great review. I know you always compliment my reviews, but I really think you need to give yourself more credit!

Zany said...


I would strongly recommend this movie. I find that people rush into marriage, and forget to realize that there is a difference between a pre-marital relationship, and marriage. Marriage requires more effort and most importantly maturity. Love alone cannot gurantee marital bliss. A couple needs to be on the same page, in terms of their long term goals.


Thanks. I know, you can't watch the movie because it's rated R, but read the novel if you get a chance.

C. Louis,

Thanks for your comment. I agree, this movie is very bleak, but I find the story morbidly realistic. Couples like the Wheelers do exist, we just choose to ignore their presence amongst us. For our own selfish reasons. After all, we want to believe in the "happily ever after", and hope to have that eternal happiness one day.


Thanks; your comment means a lot. Afterall, if it wasn't for your constant insistence, I probably wouldn't have written this review :).