Sunday, January 11, 2009

My take on Revolutionary Road and marriage

Have you ever wondered what kind of life the Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio characters would've had if he hadn't died in Titanic? Well, Revolutionary Road provides one scenario. In fact, in this "what if" version, even the Kathy Bates character remains in their lives - there is a bit of a cast reunion in this film. I think Leonardo has finally developed a man's frame, whereas he was still boyish looking in Titanic and didn't quite match up with Kate's womanly curves. This pairing was much more plausible.

"Love is temporary insanity curable by marriage." - Ambrose Bierce

I read several reviews that didn't paint too favorable a picture of the movie. Nonetheless, I've never been one to let a critic keep me from seeing a flick, especially if it's by a director I like, like Sam Mendes. My favorite movie of his is American Beauty. There are some similarities in these two movies: "Hopeless emptiness" in and surrounding marriage. Revolutionary Road is much darker and gloomier, but I'm thinking that is because it's mainly set in an earlier time, sometime in the mid-fifties.

At first glance, the story looks like one of maybe a mismatched couple who argue a lot, got married too young, and can't realize alternatives exist from their tormented, suffocating relationship. The viewer feels uncomfortable and just wants the arguing to stop. You can't help imagining yourself in the situation and the choice(s) you'd make. To me, Choice is one of the main themes in the movie, and the main focus of this blog post.

"All our final decisions are made in a state of mind that is not going to last.” - Marcel Proust

Marriage. Definitely an institution one enters into by choice (hopefully). You make the decision as an individual, part of which you seemingly lose upon entry. No longer do all of the decisions you make just affect you, a lot also affects your spouse. Hopefully, in healthy relationships, decisions that affect the couple are made together, each given equal amount of weight. But what happens if one has more control or makes decisions without the other's consent and it directly impacts the other person? A lot of that happens in this movie, some of which I think is due to the time period (mid-fifties, women were homemakers, men were the breadwinners and decision makers). What if one feels controlled by the relationship? It's sort of a suffocating feeling - no room to breathe and be yourself. Panic can set in and a slippery slope of bad feelings, emotions, thoughts and action take over. Not fun!

“The one who loves the least, controls the relationship.” - Dr. Robert Anthony

Kate Winslet's character, April Wheeler, is a stay-at-home mother of two. She is a knockout compared to other wives and married to a handsome and successful man, Frank Wheeler. The Wheelers are the ideal couple in the neighborhood. The neighbors look longingly upon the couple, never suspecting what might be going on behind closed doors. April gave up her dream of being an actress once she became pregnant, married and moved into a quaint house in a quaint neighborhood. Furniture was bought, drapes were hung, one child came, then another. Day in, day out, same thing, over and over and over again. This had become April's life.

Likewise, Frank was underemployed and also in a rut. He took the train to work, sat, smoked and complained about "the machine" with his buddies. Bound by his responsibilities, Frank felt hopeless. April felt empty. Neither were happy. I don't think they were in love with each other anymore, but they also didn't wish the other any harm. They were more in habit than in love. Habits of hopeless emptiness created a need that only something external of themselves (individually and as a couple) could fulfill, some kind of something that lets them feel - truly feel - human, desired, sexual, autonomous.

“A thought, even a possibility, can shatter and transform us” - Friedrich Nietzsche

For a moment, hope meets that need. The couple decide to move to Paris. With enough money to support themselves for six months, they'll be able to find a place to live and settle into their new, exciting lives - the lives each of them has always wanted. Frank would study, or write, or do whatever he wanted. April would work - something she ached to do. During this hopeful time everything seemed better. Smiling happened daily. The couple shared hugs, touches, made love and had spontaneous passionate sex in the kitchen. This hopefulness, however, was short lived. Within a few weeks, April discovers she's pregnant and Frank gets offered a promotion. Choices have presented themselves and decisions have to be made, life-altering decisions.

What follows are actions both feel compelled to do. Each make independent decisions that directly affect each other's lives. I will stop here as to not spoil the movie for those who have not seen it.

“Life is never easy for those who dream.” - Robert James Waller

Marriage is difficult. Creating a strong and solid marriage while also trying to retain one's sense of self is tricky business. I don't know the secret to a strong successful marriage, but I do know what not to do.

1. Don't try to control anyone other than yourself. Doing so is a waste of time and your partner will resent you. In the end, you cannot control other people's behavior but you can control your reaction to their behavior.

2. Practice the Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

3. Don't try to change your partner into your idea of him or her. Accept your partner for who she, or he, is. It's more than likely that your partner is exactly the same as when you entered the relationship. What may have changed is your idea of what you want in a partner. Trying to change your partner into something he or she is not will destroy both of you, and your relationship. Accept that your expectations may have changed and act accordingly. If your partner has in fact changed, then accept that and decide on how to proceed.

4. Don't lose your sense of self. Remember that your partner fell in love with you, not with what he wanted you to change into after marriage (or, at least I hope this isn't the case), and vice versa.

5. Don't expect your partner to behave badly.

6. Don't allow things to fester.

7. Don't depend on your partner to make you happy. You are responsible for your own happiness. When you're happy, your partner will want to share in that happiness, creating even more happiness.

8. Don't focus on the negative. If problems exist, seek to solve them. If they cannot be resolved, decide if you can live with it or not and act accordingly.

9. Don't lose yourself. If you feel as though you are giving up much of who you are just to stay in the relationship, then it might be time reevaluate.

10. Don't forget that you always have a choice, in every situation.

I'd like to recommend a book: Viktor Frankl's ,
Man's Search for Meaning. Frankl, a physician by trade, was a concentration camp survivor and never forgot that he had choices, even if it was as simple as to how he reacted to being beaten by Nazis. I know closing this blog with that book recommendation sounds very depressing, but it's actually not a depressing book. It's one of courage and strength.


Margie Willbanks said...

Haven't read your whole response but I did appreciate your top 10 relationship tips and your reference to Frankl.

Tessa said...

Paula, I'm a bit too bleary eyed and tired to be writing to you, here on this public forum, but heck I gotta tell you...I really enjoyed your review of "Revolutionary Road"! I like that you interspersed quotes throughout it too.

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