I expected this movie’s characters to come across as paper dolls, an effete outsider’s best guess at what a doomed suburban family looks like. And I have to say, after the first fight scene, outside the car at the rest stop, I was bracing for a very stage-y script and three hours of unconvincing sparks (for the convincing kind of stage-y sparks between husband and wife, check out Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf).
But eventually those sparks started a fire. My best guess is that the movie was shot roughly in sequence, because the longer the film ran, the more convincing DiCaprio and Winslet’s pain became. By the end, I was weeping. This movie hurts, and keeps hurting.
The older I get, the less advice I feel I can give for friends having relationship issues–real couples seem infinitely varied, with zero rules about what absolutely can and cannot work out between two people. Our lives and loves weren’t made to be redundant. Sometimes we’d love to write off this or that relationship–of ours, or that we’ve learned of secondhand–as doomed from the start, or intrinsically wrongheaded. Heck, we’ll even write off entire categories of relationship as hopeless–an idealist-pragmatist pairing, or homosexual pairings, or a May-December romance, or an interfaith marriage–we pretend we can avoid pain with a few simple rules. We pretend that if we pay close enough attention to how relationships fail, we’ll figure out the secret to eternal romantic bliss. Doing so is easier. Doing so helps us grieve, and avoid grief. Revolutionary Road has no patience for such shortcuts. A character tells another she hates him, then that of course she does not. Both times, she’s sincere. Repeatedly, characters choose both of contradictory options, until one option closes irreversibly. We like to believe a different series of choices would have resulted in less grief. Not necessarily. Perhaps the grief isn’t meant to be fled from. Perhaps it’s just meant to be shared and borne. The film’s final shot is of a husband turning off his hearing aid so he doesn’t have to hear his wife write off the story’s tragic central couple as failing to meet several of her criteria for a nice family. He would rather mourn them than write them off, even if that means pain that won’t fade. Are we brave enough to do likewise?