Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Wow. For a minute, I've been really interested by popular culture's current fascination in post-WWII era Americana. Shows like Mad Men and others, the current trends in fashion, the election, all of it hearkens back to this time that, in retrospect, has become quintessential America, the very essence of what fulfilling the American Dream was supposed to mean. Yet, wrought within and throughout these tangential fascinations is one much more deviant: an intimately intense obsession with the fissures crossing to and fro along the surface of the American ideal. It is the simultaneous recognition of the farce that is relying on the promise of an abstraction as something to hope for in reality. (Still there? Hope I didn't lose you...)
In essence, collectively America has spent much of my lifetime looking back at itself and, in the end, has settled on mid-20th century America as the beginning of the end and the end of the beginning. It is a time for which we can be proud of ourselves and our accomplishments. There were stable 2-parent households and safe neighborhoods. Schools were places of learning and dinner was on the table at 6. But beneath it all is the most sinister desire by us today to acknowledge that unhappiness was rampant back then too. That the most powerful, the most stable, the stalwart and exemplary, struggled to maintain themselves and their image even to the point of emotional and psychological implosion. That America could not escape its escapist mentality because it was founded upon the very principle. (Mayflower, anyone?)
And so with that, enters Revolutionary Road. It is a story that captures beautifully through dialogue this ever present tension, before we as a nation had even recognized it as such. "It's awful to not be able to do what it is that you want to do," says Kate Winslet's character, assured of her own accuracy. It's a uniquely American sentiment created by us and propagated as a new truth, like wi-fi, that this nation that has spoiled itself to the point where it trusts that desire and necessity are synonymous. You're stuck writing copy all day when you really wanted to be a poet gallivanting through Europe? That must really suck, and you know what, it's not fair. Americans may not be the only ones who think like that, but they durn sure were the first ones to make it acceptable.
"Maybe we are running," DiCaprio's character says after denying that he wasn't. "We're running from the hopeless emptiness of the whole life here, right?" He and his wife have been walking through the woods with the son of an older couple nearby who is clinically "loony." The loony man stops. "Now you've said it," he grins. "Plenty people are onto the emptiness, but... it takes real guts to see the hopelessness. Wow."
Indeed. It's this unique brand of irony that courses its way throughout the movie like gravy or pancake syrup on a plate. The movie is based on the book of the same name, written in 1962. I plan on reading it, but you know how that goes. It's definitely not a feel good movie though, so don't go if you just need to get out the house, cuz you might just wish you'd kept your behind indoors after such a depressing flick. It's a doozy, but it's a great one.