Sunday, 8 February 2009

revolutionary road (d. mendes, w.justin haythe)

Article 1. Wo sind die kinder?

Towards the end of the film, the last time the Wheelers will see one another, after their long night of the soul, April decides to pretend for the benefit of Frank, and makes him breakfast. She says something along the lines of - 'I sent the kids away, as I thought you'd like to have a quiet breakfast before your big day'. At which point one is tempted to scream: What kids! Admittedly their two children have been glimpsed, upon occasion. But miraculously, every time the Wheelers have one of their bust-ups (frequently) or invite the all-seeing mad man round for lunch (twice) or need to go out - the kids vanish. Who looks after them? Where do they go? Why are they so conveniently absent? The reason this seems important is that this is a film seeking to capture a raw emotional honesty - it could be argued its the whole premise and raison d'etre for the making of the movie - but right there you have this massive child shaped gap, suggesting a void at the heart of all this truth, a lack of emotional honesty. There's one very good dramatic reason for absenting the children so much: the movie strives to ensure that the audience retains sympathy for the Wheelers, in particular April, in spite of the nasty way they act towards one another. If the audience were to glimpse the suffering their actions imparted to their children, their sympathy quotient would plummet.

Article 2. Paradise Lost involves losing a paradise.

The film opens with a roadside argument. It feels as though this will be a pivotal moment. The rot has set in and the slide towards marital disintegration has begun. This is fair enough. Except that, within the context of the film, it's not a pivotal moment. Because the audience is never shown what has been lost. We're asked to buy into the notion that the Wheelers possessed some unique, Fitzgeraldian glow, without being given any evidence for it. (If there is any template for Revolutionary Road the movie, not the book which I haven't read, it's surely  Tender is The Night, which endows the Divers with a similar, although articulated mystique.) A few fragmentary flashbacks aside, the narrative dwells exclusively in the section of the arc that has crossed the yardarm. In effect, what this means is that an audience's real reason for accepting the (vital) premise that these characters have something magical about them (which they lose) is the fact they're played by very famous and beautiful people. Which is a bit of a trick, when all's said and done - the conceit being that because these very famous and beautiful people are so special, then the Wheelers must be too. 

Article 3: The Meta-narrative. 

This is a bit more discursive. Mendes has been the key overseer over recent decades in the evolution of a kind of boutique theatre, initiated at the Donmar, his highly successful London HQ, a product of its late-Thatcher, Blairite era. This has seen the creation of a meticulously cast and packaged brand of theatre, which takes calculated risks to create an expensive cultural product, consumed avariciously by its affluent consumers. A couple of years ago Mendes quit the Donmar, in part to exercise his ambitions to make movies, in part, one likes to think, because he recognised that what he was doing there was, in a way, creatively bankrupt. An exercise in capitalism as much as theatre. In this sense, Mendes was, within the meta-narrative of the film, Frank Wheeler. Around the time he quit he also hooked up with Winslet, who is April within the meta-narrative as well as the film. Winslet, a partner whose filmic cultural framework offers Mendes the opportunity for redemption. It comes as no surprise that much of the film becomes an exercise in Mendes capturing Winslet, luminescent, tragic, striving towards a broader personal frontier, striving to get to Paris. The raw emotional honesty Revolutionary Road seeks to capture is testament to their brave new creative world. However, just as it's harder for a rich man to get to heaven than not enjoy the sight of Kidman taking her clothes off on the Donmar stage, the last place to go in search of raw emotional truth-telling is Hollywood. Where the very budgets themselves conspire to wrap your truths in a tasteful package of well-framed shots with excessive amounts of extras. No matter how desperately hand-held it all gets towards the conclusion. Hollywood cannot offer the Wheelers cinematic redemption. There's only one place to go for that, but you have to be able to speak the language. And that's Paris.

My friend told me in the pub after watching the film that if you're on facebook you can poke Godard. Maybe Sam should give him a nudge and see if that spawns the missing children.

No comments: