Revolutionary Road is incredibly moving, but not in a good way. April and Frank Wheeler (Winslet and DiCaprio) live in a picture perfect street, living the American dream in the optimistic and prosperous 1950s. Behind the curtains, they struggle that they have not achieved all that they had dreamed. April and Frank put up facades to their neighbours and friends, while their marriage teeters towards self-destruction.
The film is skilfully and manipulatively written and both DiCaprio and Winslet bring their A-game to some of the worst things that two people could say and do to each other without causing physical harm: harsh language, manipulation, lying, bitterness, unfaithfulness, fits of rage.
In this way, Road stands almost antithetical to the other time DiCaprio and Winslet teamed up: in Titanic. Not that the relationship in Titanic was anything like ideal, but it presented a couple so swept up in their love (or lust) for each other that they would do anything to be together. In Revolutionary Road there is barely anything keeping them together except perhaps the need to save face.
In the end, Frank and April’s friend Howard (the realtor’s husband) just wants to forget about the failed marriage and dreams and turns down his hearing aid as his wife laments Frank and April. And after nearly two hours of emotional violence, I felt like joining him!
Perhaps one of the reasons why Revolutionary Road hit me so hard was that my wife and I watched it soon after becoming engaged. We were excited, riding a wave of joy and looking forward to starting life together. So much of this movie was the opposite of what we hoped for our own marriage, and the opposite of what I imagine most people want for their lives; not because April and Frank never achieved their dreams, but because they allowed their disappointment over what they didn’t have to destroy what they actually did have, and in the worst possible way. When love, peace, forgiveness, and self-sacrifice are absent, we can create a living hell for ourselves.
At the heart of the tragedy of Revolutionary Road was the Wheelers’ lack of contentment. It’s okay to want to do great and fun things with your life but how you go about your life, as ‘Road‘ shows, is much more significant. When your dreams fall apart, contentedness will keep you from falling apart.
For Christians at least, contentedness begins with
- knowing whose you are – out of his mercy and grace, God bought you with Jesus; you belong to Him;
- not comparing your life with others – God has brought you to where you are;
- doing what God wants you to do – God’s priority is to make you more like Christ, growing in maturity and love for others.
Practically, loving others means putting the interests of others ahead of our own in our relationships and in all of life. Just as Jesus did (Philippians 2). That would be a revolutionary road to walk.