Revolutionary Road

Is it possible to be content living a life that consists primarily of work which one dislikes and days filled with rote tasks? Is it possible to break away from this life? These are questions that Frank and April Wheeler are faced with in director Sam Mendes’s (American Beauty) latest film, Revolutionary Road.

The couple, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslett, gets married, have kids, and move into a house in the suburbs. (The story, set in the 1950s, is based on a book by Richard Yates.) They soon find themselves unhappy in their typical, middle class, American life. Frank finds himself in the same position as his father, something he hoped would never happen. He goes to work, one of many in the herd, all dressed and behaving exactly alike. April plays the role of the housewife who spends her days unfulfilled, preparing dinner and folding clothes.

They come up with a plan to escape and begin a life that they truly desire. Frank dreams of "feeling alive," while April believes they will finally be "special." Unfortunately, they receive little support from their co-workers, neighbors, and community. The two, once admired and respected by their friends, are now unrealistic dreamers who are simply not practical. The Wheelers seem to threaten those who have conformed. Those who know them seem to feel jealous and upset that they are now forced to reflect upon their own insufficient lives. The fact that their community does not welcome their decision, along with other important factors, eventually takes its toll on the courageous couple. The one person who does understand the Wheelers turns out to be a mentally ill acquaintance named John, played by Michael Shannon, who can relate to the feelings of "emptiness and hopelessness" that Frank and April are experiencing.

This terrific performance by Shannon leads the film down a path that would certainly catch the interest of the late sociologist and psychoanalyst Erich Fromm. In his book The Sane Society, Fromm explained how his definition of insane differed from those offered in the mainstream. Fromm disagrees with the widely held belief that a person is insane if she/he is unlike others and unable to fit into her/his society. He writes, "The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues, the fact that they share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths, and the fact that millions of people share the same forms of mental pathology does not make these people sane." Fromm believes a sane society must satisfy the needs of a person, which our culture fails to accomplish in his opinion. Simply because a person is unable to accept this flawed society, driven by greed and consumerism, does not make them mentally ill. It’s as if Michael Shannon’s character was created with Fromm in mind.

Revolutionary Road doesn’t have many laughs. You won’t find any action or adventure. However, you will find great performances, thought-provoking ideas, and a film that provides the viewer an opportunity to take a critical look at our society. It may even inspire you to find the strength to chase the life you truly deserve. I highly recommend taking the time to watch this story of a struggle to break free.       


Mark Schroeder is from Michigan. He would like to thank Professor Alan Epstein at Oakland University. (NOTE: This article was incorrectly attributed previously to a different Mark Schroder, an Associate Professor of Philosophy at USC; we apologize for the error.)