Like many, this story begins with a young couple that falls in love, marries, has children, and finds a house in the suburbs. The husband, Frank, takes a job he hates and is ‘too talented’ for and his wife April feels trapped and bored in her role as suburban housewife. Sounds typical, right?
Wrong. Most other stories have frustrating but likeable characters who end up sticking it to the man or living the life they always imagined upon an enlightening/ empowering experience. Lester Burnham of American Beauty fits this bill well. In Revolutionary Road, nearly everyone is despicable, blind, and completely lacking in courage. The one man who sees clearly the world Frank and April find themselves in is John Givings, a recently released psychiatric patient and former math professor. Here are a couple of his more powerful insights:
In speaking about the suburban way of life, he says, "Hopeless emptiness. Now you've said it. Plenty of people are onto the emptiness, but it takes real guts to see the hopelessness."
Then, in an argument with Frank about April's second (surprise) pregnancy and why Frank took a promotion at a job he hates instead of moving his family to Paris to start over as he had planned, Givings remarks, "I wouldn't be surprised if you knocked her up on purpose, just so you could spend the rest of your life hiding behind that maternity dress."
Unfortunately, Givings sees only ugliness, so much so that he is completely incapable of finding a role in society. Herein lies the underlying theme of the movie: There is no alternative to a seemingly absurd world. While one leaves the film convinced about the futility of suburban married life as an end in itself, a deeper angst comes from the film’s intentional failure to articulate an alternative. I left asking myself, “If no this, then what?”
It’s a tough pill to swallow but, once taken, I think it unearths our deepest insecurities as young American hopefuls.