Freeze Frame #151: Revolutionary Road

I was watching Revolutionary Road on TV and just realized something: the film is a few scenes too long.

Consider the absolutely wrenching sequence the day after the major blow-out between the Wheelers. The blow-out itself is the culmination of a lot of pent-up frustration, catalyzed in part by some ruthless truth-telling by their supposedly insane dinner guest, John Givings.

To be honest with you, I found much of the dialogue in these scenes pretty… I guess the word I am looking for is stagey. Something not quite natural about its cadences. The actors all did an amazing job of delivering the lines, but I couldn’t help but feel that it might have worked better, had the director not spent so much of his time doing theatre.

None of these problems apply, however, to what happens on the following day. Frank comes down for breakfast and finds a completely subdued April in the kitchen. She seems to take an interest in his job, tells him to take pride in it, assures him that she doesn’t hate him… he doesn’t know what to make of it, but some instinct tells him not to look a gift horse in the mouth. Without that instinct, maybe he might have listened more carefully to what she wasn’t saying. I suppose we all see what we want to see.

After he leaves, she gives herself the freedom to break down. Then she makes a phone call to her neighbour who is minding the kids. She asks her to tell the children that… after all that has happened, it seems like she finds herself questioning her own love for them. Her neighbour, who is blissfully unaware of the turmoil raging on the other end of the phone, completes the thought in traditional fashion and assures her that she will tell the children. Throughout that conversation, you only see April’s side — not only does it keep the focus on what is important, it also serves as a statement on what we take for granted.

Now, our experience of watching countless films tells us that, whenever a major character passes on that kind of message to his/her children, something bad is going to happen. Sure enough, April gets a tub of hot water ready and prepares to abort her baby. I watch with growing dread as she carries the water up the stairs, lays out a couple of towels on the bathroom floor and slips out of her skirt. Then she closes the door, thank heavens.

I still cannot get over how powerful that entire sequence is, starting with the scene at the breakfast table. Winslet is fantastic in her restraint, trusting our intelligence to fill in what is required.

And the Mendes spoils it all by telling us what happens next, and how Frank and the others react. These scenes are well-written and acted, no doubt. But that is besides the point. Sometimes, we don’t need to know.

After having spoken so eloquently through the things left unsaid, could the film not have left a few more things out?


12 thoughts on “Freeze Frame #151: Revolutionary Road

  1. Revolutionary Rode says:

    (Summa oru race horse per vechukalaam nu thonithu, adhaan.)

    Inna man nee, *indha* scene-a pottu ippidi ennoda raw-and-just-recovering insides-a marupadiyum “awash in industrial strength H2S04” stage ku kondu vandhu vittuta.

    Ippo naan The Reader paatha maadhiri thaan. (Appo ve sonnen illa… itha nenacha atha paakka mudiyaadhu nu..)

  2. I was constantly aware of the stagey-ness but I thoroughly enjoyed it nevertheless.
    The ‘after’ scenes were impressive :

    a) The neighbours discussing the Wheelers with guests- the husband not being able to deal with it as well as his wife
    b) and the last scene where the landlord tunes out his hearing-aid as Kathy Bates summarizes the Wheelers.

    The reactions of people to even to something as ‘extreme’ as that, the mad scramble for balance I felt, was important enough to be shown than left to our inference. The impact of the incident on screen may lead atleast some to think an impact of comparable magnitude will be felt by others in the story, and in some way things may not simply continue to be. That would be deceptive.

  3. RR> Happy to help! Everyone needs a good mire in despond now and then 😀

    dagalti>> I completely agree with you on how well the ‘after’ scenes were done. A lot of it was very beautifully done. Having said that, I felt that the film would’ve been much more powerful if those scenes hadn’t been there, and we were left with the image of April Wheeler preparing to abort her unborn child.

    • RR says:

      “Happy to help!” – Ah what would this Fe male do without “Happy” to help?

      And I have a feeling you’ll find it eminently believable when I recount that getting off work last night, I saw a “karuppu vandi” (how ceremonial!) pull up alongside my car in the parking lot; it was one of those “Merry Maids”-style cleaning services vans, with “Happy Planet Cleaners – because we love our earth” painted on its side, in green.

      Go bio”degradable” cleaning!!, says the clogs expert Roto-Rooter. 😀

  4. Banno says:

    To be honest, I only remember the scene where Kate Winslet goes up with the tub of water. I guess my mind let go of the superfluous. 🙂

  5. RR says:

    Thallu thallu, yaar adhu Kathy Bates nu sonnadhu? Aha, dagalti saar! Vango vango. 😀

    Totally agree with everything you said about the impressions left by the “after” scenes… “the mad scramble for balance” is exactly it. (Although your last two sentences, I didn’t get. Can you simplify?)

    Apparom vandhu unga Kasparov piece la comment adikkaren.

    Unga ‘Contented Reader’,

  6. ramsu, excuse the space-hogging that follows.

    //Although your last two sentences, I didn’t get. Can you simplify?)//

    மூலம்: The impact of the incident on screen may lead atleast some to think an impact of comparable magnitude will be felt by others in the story, and in some way things may not simply continue to be. That would be deceptive.

    உரை: Something like a 20 varusham munnAdi flashback dominating our consciousness as it happened a minute back. But that won’t be the case for those on screen now.

    The abortion impacts us because to us the Wheelers are the people we have invested a lot in when watching the movie. That is the focal point of our memory of the film. But the neighbours and landlord and others have to go about their lives and can’t afford to let this dominate their memory (as it does ours).

    If the film had ended there it is possible that we can consider that atleast someone may have been permanently affected by the abortion. But people find a way to move on, the incident is brushed aside either comfortably (Milly), uncomfortably (Shepard), scrambling rationalizations (Kathy Bates), there is no sensible way to react to people’s reactions (tuning off of hearing aid).

    That is how it has to be for those who for them. To leave us with even the slighest hope/optimism that they the abortion would be the focal point in their lives too, would be deceptive.

    All this thaazhmaiyAna karuthu proceeds from my general preference for resolution (even if it is – in fact particularly if it is – life goes on) when open endedness enable (among others) a reading that runs counter to what was built up in the film.

    • RR says:

      “excuse the space-hogging” – excuse kekkanuma enna? Unga Wodehouse universe-la thaan pun-ny ellaam parakardhu sagajamaachey. 😀

  7. dagalti>> You make a lot of very good points. The reactions do convey something important. However, I think there is a certain degree of open-endedness even in the way these are portrayed. The closing scenes can be interpreted in more than one way.

    Milly and Shep, for instance. We see a certain kind of relationship there, but consider this: Shep says he doesn’t want to talk about the Wheelers any more, and Milly says okay. They go back inside the house, the very picture of a happy couple. But is that all there is to it?

    Someone who had seen the Wheelers from a distance before it imploded spectacularly in the end, might have had an entirely different view of what their relationship was like. Should we apply the same skepticism when we view this other couple? I wonder if that is the point Sam Mendes is trying to make there. With Kathy Bates and her husband, the point in perhaps more obvious in the way the husband tunes out what the wife is saying.

    Having said all that, the reason why I like open endings is that it allows me to wonder about what happens afterwards. I might reach a different conclusion from what the maker intended, but I have feeling that anything but the most simplistic of narrations runs this risk anyway. The Rashomon Effect applied to movie-watching, if you will 🙂

  8. RR says:

    dagalti saar, thanks for explaining – I’m able to better grasp the point you were trying to make earlier.

    You’re implying (and I agree) that there are two kinds of audiences to the goings on at the Wheeler’s: Us, the Active Participants, who are clued into every regimen governing their relationship, from the second the movie unfolds, versus Them — the neighbors, the Passive Participants, in the sense, they have their own lives to tend to (hence no inclination to invest as much time and attention in the Wheelers as we are won’t to).

    And you are saying that if the movie had ended where Ramsu had wanted it to, then we (the Active Participants) are left uneasily harboring the illusion that there is a few among the Passive Participants who would partake in *our* degree of devastation. But evidently, that is NOT the case. The PPs are “shown” as having moved on (or in the process of moving on), but (as Ramsu notes above), have they really??

    And therein lies the beauty, imo, of Sam Mendes killing two birds with one stone: (1) He leaves “open-endedness” seekers (like Ramsu)with enough to wonder/ponder (courtesy Passive Participant reactions — though it seems to me that Ramsu (much like me) didn’t even realize the *extent* of his wonderings in that department, until *this* discussion), and (2) resolution seekers such as yourself, dagalti saar, he leaves with the feeling of sort-of contentment because there’s nothing (y)our ilk dislikes more than being left dawdling in deception.

  9. RR/ramsu I don’t think Milly and Shep ‘moved on’. But they can’t help trying to. Self-deception is one huge lifelong struggle.

    Permit my vanity a digressive quote: In the heated exchanges between Ambedkar and Gandhi regarding the former’s famous essay ‘Annihilation of Caste’, there is one awesome line that has clung to my memory

    “The Mahatma has a childlike simplicity in everything, and has a child’s capacity for self-deception”

    In adulthood self-deception is a huge struggle. It does not even afford one the simple (more conveniently portrayable) dichotomy of showing a different face than what one feels. It is the messing up of what one feels itself. Because it is about what one allows oneself to feel, while censuring and confining oneself to certain confines is a lifelong tussle.

    Emptiness and hopelessness where not visible to the Wheelers. They just gave it expression, when the others new better than to do so thus make it a horse in the living room.

    So it is not as if Milly herself is comfortable about what happened. But is perhaps tuning her presentation to the guests to the ‘acceptable norm’. The mundane makes inordinate demands on our time and attention.What Paris ? There is no Paris. “We’ll always have Paris” refers to a past.

    I am not talking about a simple ending. I was only talking about “showing” the complexity than leaving it to inference. Anyway, each to his own wonly.

    Milly is the character that appealed the most to me. The scene where she is crying and Shep’s puzzled is brilliant. I wasn’t puzzled at all. I could understand perfectly even if I may not be able to explain it well: One can characterize it as the pain in seeing April express something that was hers too. She experiences the discomfort that April was going to demonstrate the possibilities is too much to bear. That Shep is in agreement with her is reassuring. Or is it ? Is it even something that she can express to him ?

    In Husbands and Wives, Mia Farrow’s distraught and furious about Syndey Pollack-Judy Davis splitting up. Later Judy Davis offers offers the psychoanalytic diagnosis that this was because they were doing something, Farrow didn’t work up the courage to. You can’t simplify people so pithily but there is something to it. Milly’s portrayal is more *real*.

    Okay…this is what happens when I ramble, I end up with sacrilege…badmouthing ummAchi Woody

    • RR says:

      Have you ever wondered about your (assumed) name, “Dagalti”? I have no idea what it stands for or is modeled after, but I LOVE that it encompasses both a bus route and an alternate identity. Here’s how:


      (Aside: Chennai la “41G” route bus irrukka? Enga pogudhu adhu?)

      “The mundane makes inordinate demands on our time and attention.What Paris? There is no Paris.” A truer truism, there isn’t.

      “I am not talking about a simple ending. I was only talking about showing the complexity than leaving it to inference.” Agree. Though I’m very much the Mahatma in that I tend to want to simplify the heck out of just about everything. 😀

      LOL@ ummachi Woody! And welcome to the club where the only pre-requisite is the ability to *feel*… with every fiber of your being.

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