Go with a smile!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Revolutionary Road

I watched “Revolutionary Road”. Earlier on I blogged about how “American Beauty” was a high point for Sam Mendes, and he never really made a film as good at “American Beauty”. I think that is still true. If Sam Mendes only excels in his “suburbia is hell” type of movie, then I’m afraid that he’s got a rather limited range. Or maybe his movie is no longer to my taste. Or maybe, most plausibly, the real hero of “American Beauty” is Alan Ball, the screenwriter.

This is by no means a bad movie, but I agree with a lot of reviewers who say that there’s too much quarrelling and shouting going on. How the novel manages to be an acknowledged masterpiece is somewhat beyond me, but I might read it 1 day. (Well – 500 page novel? Goddamn…)

As usual, everything looks immaculate. As usual, it’s the old “rotten exterior beneath the shiny surface” thing. But it’s ceased to be surprising. “American Beauty” was good because it was very cathartic. It was almost a release. When I saw the first part, I thought, “Oh no, this is going to be the same old ‘Ice Storm’ piece of shit where everybody suffers passively.” But it was not. Lester Burnham stood up, fought against his own spiritual death, and won. It was a movie much like my favourite Kurosawa movie, “Ikiru”, where a civil servant could have continued being a non-entity, yet chose to do 1 meaningful thing before he died, against the odds. In both movies (spoiler), the hero, after saving himself from a spiritual death, and after burning briefly and brightly, so much so that you know that his spiritual rebirth is unsustainable, quite reasonably ends up dying.

In this movie, however, we take the other decision. (spoiler again). The hero could have chosen to do “something interesting, something meaningful” with his life, but in the end didn’t, and his wife more or less commits suicide in her great disappointment.

The book for the movie was actually written in the 50s, so it was a novel about contemporary society. It actually came out a few months before the beatniks became nationally prominent. So it came out at a time when people were sick of being conformists, and a lot of social norms were beginning to be questioned. Unless you understand how staid and stifling the 50s were, you can’t understand why the 60s were such a shock.

And that’s why the Maths PhD nerd was such an important person. A certified madman, he was the only one who dispensed with the social niceties, cut to the chase, and spelt it out what it was all about. A little too brusquely, actually.

Probably that was why “Revolutionary Road” was so – you know – revolutionary. Because it anticipated the 60s, when people would be going to Paris in droves, when it was no longer such a crazy idea. You had to understand that all these people were only 10 years earlier than the era of the hippies, although Richard Yates himself probably didn’t know it yet.

This was before “finding yourself” was such a hip idea. It’s an era of the Organisation Man, where you just had to be crazy to throw away a career, because it set you up for life. Myself, I thought that all these culture wars between the hipsters who had to “find themselves” through spiritual enlightenment, and the straight laced top executive Organisation Men was just a fiction until I witnessed an “organisation man” pass a sardonic comment to a hipster about the latter going to India to “find himself”, as though it were the stupidest thing in the world. (It’s not. I sympathise with the hipster.) Fortunately, the sole privilege of being a geek is that you can blend in equally well with the hipsters or the organisation men, because nobody really knows what you stand for.

In the end, Leonardo DiCaprio turn out to be a “The Man” that everybody in the 60s would love to hate. (“Stick it to the man, man!”) A male chauvinist pig, who relied on his sucking up to the bosses to gather affirmation about his superior place in society. When I was young, I would look at these people with unbridled levels of contempt. I would imagine that they were all sensitive and neurotic psychological wrecks deep down inside. Now that I’m older and more circumspect, I have to admit that many of these organisation men are actually quite sane.

I suppose that growing old and finding out that you are actually quite ordinary after all is quite crushing, and I’m guessing that a lot of the merit in Richard Yate’s novel is about how this suffocation comes about. (I’m also a little biased here: I always think that authors who write about depressing people are somewhat screwed up and unable to come to terms with their own life. Well Richard Yates seems like a troubled guy to me.)

And that movie strikes a chord with me. I might be already dead, you know, in the “American Beauty” sense.

A few weeks ago, we received the sad news that Kate Winslet and Sam Mendes are no longer a couple. Some people have talked about the “Best Actor” curse, where actors or actresses, right after they win the “Best Actor” prize, leave their partners. People always jump to the conclusion that winning the “Best Actor” is bad for your relationship.

I disagree. What I think is that one day, the “best actor” gets a movie role that he thinks is going to give him the award. Then comes the punishing ordeal of giving it all you’ve got for the award. The “best actor”’s partner will have to make the requisite sacrifices, and stands in the shadows. Naturally, she is not pleased. But the couple maintains a united front for the sake of not giving the “best actor” a bad image (after all, “best actors” are voted on by “the academy” and you have to watch your public image in the run-up to the Oscar.) Maybe you even have to go and make the rounds and do some schmoozing to enhance your chances – after all, for most winners of “best actor”, this is a once in a lifetime event.

Or plausibly, any one of a few million things could have gone wrong with the relationship around that time. Including Sam Mendes having to film Kate Winslet in a movie (it was Kate Winslet’s idea to do this movie, according to most accounts) where she fucks 2 different people right in front of his camera. Never mind that the sex is simulated. That would probably constitute the most powerful cold shower known to men.

But they stay together – until shortly after the “best actor” is won (never mind that Kate Winslet didn’t win the Best Actress for “Revolutionary Road”, but “The Reader”). Then the Raison D’etre for staying together disappears.


Blogger Nat said...

The stats are misleading. It is bad sampling actually. How often do marriages last in Hollywood anyway. It just turns out that some of the failed marriages happen to include best actor winners. I guess the numbers are statistically no different between Oscar winners and others. The myth is made up by the media :)

Incidentally, I liked RR. Wonderful movie, got to be among the top 3 movies I watched the year before.

9:22 AM

Blogger 7-8 said...

OK, if you were to talk about the statement "Hollywood marriages tend to end when one of the parties wins a best actor award" then it is not statistically significant. If you were to say, "many best actors get divorced after winning their awards" then there's more grounds to it. And also not only is it a question of whether they divorced, but when they divorced: ie right after the award.

Well nice to know you liked the movie.

2:06 PM

Blogger Nat said...

of course. Nothing better than watching Kate Winslet doing the old in-out in-out in the front (titanic was the backseat) of a car :D

4:02 PM

Blogger 7-8 said...

Well there was the front of the car in this one, and the kitchen too - the latter was probably the most important scene in the movie.

But compare that to her hot and sweaty and nekkid stuff on Titanic, you can imagine why Titanic was a box office champ and not this one.

4:20 PM


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