February issue 2009
Suffocation in Suburbia
Imagine for a moment that the Titanic never sank. That Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet safely made it to the shore, got married and moved to the suburbs. Ten years later, he is stuck in a mind-numbing job and she craves excitement. Sam Mendes’ latest film Revolutionary Road portrays a sad ending to the romance of Titanic. It is so unsparing in its depiction of fear, loathing and ennui, it will make the viewer thankful that the damn boat hit that iceberg after all.
Set in 1950s suburban hell, Revolutionary Road stars DiCaprio and Winslet as a couple bored with life. DiCaprio is tired of his meaningless paper-pushing job and Winslet, equally bored with her duties as a housewife, wants to move to Paris to ignite an excitement their dreary lives have thus far been without. DiCaprio agrees but is offered a promotion just as they are about to take flight. His new job will be equally pointless, but at a higher pay.
What follows is predictable but far from banal. DiCaprio decides to stay put — a decision that is met with never-disguised fury by an acidic Winslet. The rest of the movie traces their volatility, anger and disgust. Cigarettes are smoked with fury and glass after glass of martini consumed. Both are shown to be shallow liars and adulterers with nary a redeeming feature. As is entirely appropriate, Revolutionary Road hurtles towards a gruesomely unhappy ending.
Sam Mendes’ debut film, American Beauty, which seems almost cheerful by comparison, dealt with the suburban angst of a bored middle-aged couple. Given that Revolutionary Road has the same plot, one can deduce that Mendes hates the suburbs and those who dwell there. What makes Revolutionary Road a superior film is that Mendes has ratcheted up the tension and in casting DiCaprio and Winslet, has given two of the finest actors of this generation a chance to break free and show a rage and angst few directors have allowed them to express.
Revolutionary Road is about two people in pain, unable to break out of their claustrophobia. It can be difficult to watch a movie so laced with unsavoury bitterness, but the fine acting helps in overcoming a script loaded with dialogue that is alternately too over-the-top or too bland. Ultimately, the dark beauty of Revolutionary Road will hold you prisoner — much the way the suburbs hold our ill-fated lovers captive.
Nadir Hassan is a Pakistan-based journalist and assistant editor at Newsline.