Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

February 9, 2009

In Defense of the Suburbs (from Revolutionary Road)

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 1:40 pm

Poor Kate Winslet she’s had to appear in two films this year which portray her as living in a concentration camp. In one it was literal–in The Reader she was a concentration camp guard, although we don’t see her locking women and children into a burning church so as to “keep order”; we only see her after the war in prison, learning that reading is fun! (see my further thoughts about “The Worst Holocaust Movie Ever Made” here.

But in Revolutionary Road her husband Sam Mendes, the British director, portrays her as the prisoner of what Mendes clearly views as another, metaphorical kind of concentration camp: the American suburbs of the 50s.

It’s of a piece, though more vicious, than his portrayal of the American suburbs in American Beauty. Just missing that torn plastic bag of beauty that distinguished that disdainful attack on American suburbia.

If it weren’t such a waste of such great actors this latest simpleminded, simplistic attack on the suburbs (They’re boring! People are conformist! They have no souls! When they’re not merely stupid they’re grotesque looking!) wouldn’t be worth paying attention to. What a daring, bold statement to attack the suburbs at this late date. Maybe back in its antiquated day Richard Yates’ novel Revolutionary Road was revolutionary. But the movie Mendes made of it seems not merely past its sell-by date in its vinegary sourness, but utterly lacking in originality–as dull, conformist, and soulless as its supposed subject.

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43 Comments »

  1. Sometimes after walking from the cinema, you have certain feelings about the film you just saw, but you are not able to name it. Mamet cited Stanislavsky, who pinpointed this reaction with “oh my goodness, oh sweet Lord, what a, it was just… let’s have a cup of coffee.” That’s exactly what I felt after “Revolutionary Road”. Your short and sharp review of that phony ‘problem play’ relieved me from that drag. You accomplished in 3 minutes of reading time, maestro.

    Comment by Michal Wnuk — February 9, 2009 @ 2:22 pm | Reply

  2. disdain for humanity is right–how right you are? but Buttafucco Falstaff? More like Pompey, I’d say, and his Mistress Overdone. (Who’s more overdone than Amy with three made for TV movies, more than a couple of late night tv sketches, and at least two books?)

    Comment by blog nerd — February 9, 2009 @ 3:44 pm | Reply

  3. Lately I’ve been working my way through Seinfeld seasons. There is a great early episode where Jerry buys an expensive suede jacket then goes to meet Elaine’s father, who is played Lawrence Tierney, the gruff patriarch mobster from Reservoir Dogs. Tierney is impossibly intimidating and puts Jerry down constantly.

    I mention this because, as it happens, the episode was out of the screenwriter’s life. Larry David, the Seinfeld writer, had dated Richard Yates’s daughter and “enjoyed” an evening with Yates pretty much as portrayed on the Seinfeld episode.

    Yates came off as a real macho bastard with contempt for nearly everyone.

    Comment by huxley — February 9, 2009 @ 5:38 pm | Reply

  4. I had a somewhat different reading of the Yates novel. To me, it wasn’t about the “souless suburbs”. It was about a incompatible couple who considered themselves to be more intelligent, more special, than they actually were. The Leo character, for instance, was actually quite happy toiling away at an unexceptional job in the city and coming home at the end of the day to his wife and kids in suburbia. The Kate character, however, seemed to be severely damaged–whether bipolar or suffering the effects of post-partum depression it’s hard to say. Whatever her mental disorder–and it was clear she had one, hence her cockamanie plan to decamp to France–the author made it clear that she had been severely damaged by her horrible childhood. The tragedy here is that neither of these two have the maturity and self-awareness(the husband has some, while the wife has none) to figure out how to navigate effectively through life–a tragedy borne of their internal deficiencies, not suburbia’s.

    Comment by scaramouche — February 10, 2009 @ 6:41 am | Reply

  5. Cheever’s “The Wapshot Scandal” is a surreal string of beads, connecting one surreal suburban freakout to another ad nauseum. I must confess having moved to a wooden hill above the suburbs three years ago that the suburban behavior of my neighbors is nervewracking. They ignore the nature around them , live in their cars, and avoid any kind of intimacy whatsoever. I get more companionship from the hawks, crows and deer, all of which my neighbors detest.

    Comment by charlie finch — February 10, 2009 @ 9:08 am | Reply

  6. […] Read the entire piece here. […]

    Pingback by Pajamas Media » Defending the ‘Burbs (From Revolutionary Road) — February 10, 2009 @ 9:55 am | Reply

  7. I grew up in the suburbs and I think that for adults it is every bit as drab, dull and awful as it’s usually portrayed. Conformity and boredom abound. Where community fights can break out over a sticker on a mailbox.

    But it’s a great place to raise children. Suburbs tend to concentrate children in a small area, but there is some open space and enough safety that they can move about with some freedom. And other kids and controlled freedom about among the most important things kids can have.

    But Zippy the Pinhead and all the other wierdness? I take them as proof of the emptiness of the suburbs, not the opposite. Boredom makes the mind do strange things.

    Comment by tim maguire — February 10, 2009 @ 10:34 am | Reply

  8. You were expecting accuracy in a film? Do you expect the truth from NYT? Wanna buy a bridge?

    Comment by Self-hating Boomer — February 10, 2009 @ 11:08 am | Reply

  9. I’m not typically one to criticize Hollywood for being out of touch with reality (isn’t that why we like the movies?), but Revolutionary Road had me wondering why anyone would choose this moment to put out a movie that seems to repudiate the very things that Americans are desperately trying to keep from losing. As Scaramouche points out above, it’s credible (and more interesting) to read the book as a critique of a couple who seems incapable of entering psychological adulthood — of accepting that childhood dreams (such as living in France) might have to take a backseat to earning a living and raising a family.

    The movie seems to leave that subtext on the cutting room floor, focusing instead on the couple’s inability to make reality out of their fairly unrealistic fantasies. I can’t help but wonder what “regular” Americans, who largely live in communities like that depicted in the movie, must think. Their jobs, houses and families are at risk due to the economic crisis. Why would anyone want to watch the self-indulgent melodrama on display in Revolutionary Road in such a time and place?

    Comment by tom1066 — February 10, 2009 @ 12:22 pm | Reply

  10. Could not agree with your comments more. Also liked your analogy to “American Beauty”. There were two of the most anti-American movies of the last generation. To Kate’s character all I can say is, “Grow up. Life is made of hard choices and you did not do so bad.”

    Comment by NeoCon — February 10, 2009 @ 12:32 pm | Reply

  11. Scaramouche: To me, it wasn’t about the “souless suburbs”. It was about a incompatible couple who considered themselves to be more intelligent, more special, than they actually were.

    You may not be far wrong there; apparently, Yates’ original, tongue-half-in-cheek title for the novel was The Bulls__t Artists. To me, it seems to imply that he didn’t intend the reader to sympathize with his protagonists.

    Comment by Jake Was Here — February 10, 2009 @ 1:21 pm | Reply

  12. One man’s drab, boring, dull and non-exciting life is another man’s quiet, stable, secure and happy life.

    Living through or fighting in a war can change the way one feels about all that edginess and excitement. That’s why I came home to a quiet piece of land in a small town suburb instead of the all night ruckus and rowdiness of the city.

    The world should be big enough to allow to each his own, without some trying to force everyone not like them to change.

    Comment by Michael O'Brien — February 10, 2009 @ 1:53 pm | Reply

  13. Most interesting comment thread I’ve read in a while. (seriously) Someone I like very much told me that the movie was highly flawed but worthwhile and your collective comments and differences in interpretations means that now I will have to see the movie to judge for myself.

    Comment by Patty — February 10, 2009 @ 2:04 pm | Reply

  14. As a kid from 1950s Crown Heights in Brooklyn I used to bicycle out to Long Island thru the suburbs of Queens and Nassau County. They seemed like magical places, dreamed about living in one of those areas when I grew up. Felt like my Italian ancestors coming to America. In the mid 50s many of our neigbors were starting to make enough money for that dream to come true and did so. It took me 28 years as a Marine for the dream to to come true also. Don’t regret it and I count my blessings every day As Harry Golden’s book about life in new York: “Only In America!”

    Comment by Bill Bruni — February 10, 2009 @ 2:07 pm | Reply

  15. When American Beauty came out I had a dissident thought, as it won numerous awards and received near-universal acclaim from critics and the glitterati. If an *American* went to England, and tried to shop around a first movie about what jerks middle-class English people were, would he be able to even get the flick cast, let alone actually be allowed to film it? Anyone who thinks he would is an idiot. But we, with our incredible inferiority complex, gave him Oscars and a multi-million dollar career. He of course casts his British wife as an American, alongside Leo. The result is what you’d expect: another bunch of hoi polloi looking down on the rest of us with disdain and scorn, because we don’t understand how boring our mundane, meaningless little lives are.

    Speaking of Winslet playing an American, why has no one commented on the number of British, Australian, Irish etc. actors playing Americans in movies? When Renee Zellweger played the title character in Bridget Jones’ Diary, Britain went ballistic because an American shouldn’t be allowed to play the part of an English person. Americans, however, have an inferiority complex, and directors get their chops by casting foreign actors as Americans without anyone noticing. This has led to a wave of British and associated actors being cast in American TV shows and movies without any complaints. Russell Crowe and Daniel Day-Lewis have made careers out of acting the parts of various Americans in movies. When there’s a new show I like on TV with an American character, if I see the actor on a talk show later and he *doesn’t* have an accent I’m more surprised than when he does. Of course, the British have rules to prevent this sort of thing from happening in their country, and of course we couldn’t enforce similar rules here. The true annoyance for me is when there’s a show like “The Riches” with Minnie Driver and Eddie Izzard (both British) playing Americans from Louisiana, and they don’t even bother with regional accents, really. Izzard can’t even manage the flat mid-western accent most English actors adopt for any American character, anywhere. But of course he must be a good actor; he’s English! And Mendes must have insight into American banality; he’s English too.

    Comment by DavidN — February 10, 2009 @ 2:45 pm | Reply

  16. Out of curiosity — how is Yates’s writing, content aside, of Rev Road?

    Comment by huxley — February 10, 2009 @ 3:00 pm | Reply

  17. This is what Hollyweird is really about. Attacking the Family is an all out war.

    Why? Because, it is G-d ordained. To Hollyweird there is no G-d; Therefore, love yourself as G-d. Just like Lucifer.

    Comment by Leatherneck — February 10, 2009 @ 3:36 pm | Reply

  18. Scaramouche, I think you are dead on.
    The novel, and especially the movie are about narcissism, and how destructive the “need” to be special to be unique is. Yates may have said other things about his intent, but he was a great bullshit artist, and he knew exactly what intelligentsia wanted to hear.
    How one can look at this film and see hatred of the suburbs I fail to see, It is really about bohemian narcissism. Neither character is given much sympathy at all, but when Frank sees the home abortion kit, he clearly has a rather weak, and unrecognized epiphany, but still a fundamental one. His whole definition of insanity as an incapability of loving is rather profound (and pretty much a textbook description of borderline personality disorder) The whole work, both novel and movie are about April’s projected narcissism and Frank’s weakness, and the story is completely designed to show how it destroys both of them.

    In no way is it an attack on suburbia,

    Comment by Roy — February 10, 2009 @ 3:48 pm | Reply

  19. Suburbia doesn’t really deserve its depiction as a bleak hellhole. As tim maguire says, suburbs are about raising a family. There are urban areas that are fine for raising a family, certainly. (such as Chicago’s Far Southwest Side or the Northwest Side) However, suburbs are designed for family life first and foremost. If you don’t want a family, especially not a large family, urban life will be much more your speed, but for raising a big family the suburbs are where its at.

    Comment by OmegaPaladin — February 10, 2009 @ 4:08 pm | Reply

  20. I moved to your link about your book on Hitler, “Explaining Hitler,” which I have (in hardcover) in my collection…The most unsatisfying aspect of that book was your short-shrifting the Munich Post story… It is too bad that those newspapers are not digitized on the ‘net. And since you are the writer who has done most of the work on these people, why don’t you write a book about Fritz Gerlach et al.?

    Comment by heathermc — February 10, 2009 @ 4:28 pm | Reply

  21. One of my fondest memories is of my little 6 year-old sister and a herd of other kids on metal skates whizzing by at warp speed on the beautiful, only-in-suburbia, smooth sidewalk that wrapped in a continuous loop around our block. They were exhilarated and tireless and rolled on for hours, taking breaks to sit in yards and chatter. Dirt roads can’t do that. Not that country and other countries aren’t fine, but suburbia is as Tim McGuire said above, a good place to raise kids. Typical of many self-absorbed adolts to make it all about themselves.

    Comment by Marka in the Keys — February 10, 2009 @ 5:20 pm | Reply

  22. I also grew up in burbs, The French Quarter, I lived in Japan & the center of the center in New Orleans again living is not the neighborood it is the state of mind. As much as I love the Quarter it was still a neighborhood. If I did some I wasn’t supposed my mother heard about just as fast as when we lived in the burbs. You & you only can make the place you live different. And if your are not comfortable being differnt from your neighbors than you are not a rebel. When you have to go to work at the same time everpay,bills on the same time, see the same people you are conforming so it all a state of mind

    Comment by juliet — February 10, 2009 @ 6:41 pm | Reply

  23. Maybe people live in the ‘burbs because they don’t want to pay $1,000,000 for a condo where you can smell your neighbor’s farts?

    Comment by Pee Wee Herman, Community Organizer — February 10, 2009 @ 7:14 pm | Reply

  24. The suburbs are by their very nature a sideshow to the life of the cities they surround. The cookie-cutter houses are a depressing sight when seen from the air, laid out in uniform fields of rectangles, filled with similarly uniform family units.

    Conformity and boredom in the suburbs balance an equal and opposite amount of diversity and excitement in cities. Suburbs have no real public space for culture to develop – each home an inviolable unit, divided and segregated from identical neighbors. Creativity or culture develops as an alternative to the crushing boredom of conformity and isolation.

    What is really funny is the desire to defend the suburbs from being portrayed on film.

    …not to see the wonders of human nature seething in the diners of Long Island for instance is simply sad.

    We each see the wonders of human nature in our own way. This film is a piece of fiction – and no doubt it is based on an experience of suburbia different from your own. The unexamined suburban life is not worth living.

    Peace.

    DS

    Comment by David S — February 10, 2009 @ 11:41 pm | Reply

  25. Suburban living is peaceful. I’ll take green space over concrete any day.

    Comment by KansasGirl — February 11, 2009 @ 2:02 am | Reply

  26. I look back at old family videos when I was a kid and my parents lived in the burbs…riding our bikes in the middle of the street, road hockey, pool parties with the neighbours kids…all wonderful memories that children need in their formative years. Now I live in a small apartment in a crowded city. What I wouldn’t give to go back for just one day…..

    Comment by Laura — February 11, 2009 @ 9:34 am | Reply

  27. We moderns don’t appreciate what we have, and that, I’m afraid, may lead to us losing it all very soon.

    The suburbs—and, by implication—American culture—are souless, heartless, bland, conforming?

    As opposed to what?

    Life in some totalitarian society, run by the secret police, where the penalty for speaking out is a lot worse than simply being ostracized, or shunned?

    Life in one of those simple, agrarian, tribal societies so beloved of the Greens, with no books, no technology, no entertainment other than what you can cook up for yourself, which usually means tribal rituals, getting drunk and gossiping about your neighbors—not to mention the physical hardships of living under such a system.

    Or, you could live in a big, glamorous city, with its attendant crime and crowding, and, as somebody else here said, pay gazillions of dollars to live in a crackerbox, with your neighbors (who will probably not be artsy, interesting types) constantly in your face?

    Look at history: evidence suggests that boredom was as prevalent, and souless as rampant, in Medieval castles, as well the villages. No books; they drank to excess and gambled, to while away the time. Conformity? Why, it is well known that G-d has ordained men to serve in various stations of life. Whether you’re a serf or a noble, get with the program, because you can’t just walk away from your ordained role in life.

    It used to be in America that large houses, with pleasant gardens and kitchens, were the perogative of the wealthy. Less exalted folk lived in tenements, or boarding houses, and they did a lot of their eating at saloons that served “free” lunches, or they ate whatever slop the landlady of their boarding house dished up, if they had mealtime priviliges.

    The rise of the suburbs, after WWII, allowed many Americans to actually get a taste of the sort of leisured, comfortable life that, up until then, only a select few could enjoy. Naturally, Hollywood, with its Marxist sympathies, doesn’t like this at all. I suspect it would really like to see all those “common” people, enjoying life in the surburbs, brought down, so they’ll start listening to their artistic and sensitive “betters”, and stop being so independent. Desperate people want fearless leaders to help them. Happy, free ones don’t need them.

    Comment by TalkinKamel — February 11, 2009 @ 9:37 am | Reply

  28. I probably won’t see the movie. Younger friends (all under 35) seem to be drawn to this film, I believe for other reasons. The Leo/Kate obsession (wishing their spouse was more like them, joining Facebook groups that worship them) is one and the other is the willingness to accept a movie as ‘truth’ about the subject and not being able to be objective about it. Often times we are drawn into something that we relate to, and that is a red flag here. I saw ‘Grand Torino’ and thought it’s raw simple portrayal to life more believable and worthy of praise.

    Comment by LizBert — February 11, 2009 @ 11:30 am | Reply

  29. Funny. I never found my neighbors in the suburbs to be “identical.” And we lived on the ground, surrounded by trees, meandering sidewalks, parks, and trails, rather than a couple of thousand feet in the air looking down on the suburban developments.

    I managed to grow up in an L.A. suburb, go off to UC Berkeley for school, live my wild youth in San Francisco, go to law school back in L.A, marry and raise a family in a different suburb of L.A. In that same latter suburb, we raised three kids. They followed pretty much the same patterns as my wife and me. One is a major player in the computer software engineering field (with a BA in Middle East Studies?!), another an independent costume designer for the stage and studios with a BA in Fine Arts, and the third a court officer for child protective services with a BA in Sociology (and starting law school soon). All three live in the suburbs, work in the cities. I left the legal field to go back into retail jewelry management in San Francisco, and my [now] ex-wife is an executive with a major insurance company. None of us are famous, and so what? We’re happy, well-rounded, educated and sociable.

    That was a long way of saying the cities and the suburbs both have their good and bad points. But Hollywood finds only bad in the suburbs, and glorifies the cities even when it handles urban gang warfare. One need not be exclusively “city” or “suburb.” In America, at least, it’s probably a very good idea to have some of each. And the two complement each other.

    There aren’t a lot of educational, business and cultural centers in most suburbs. Likewise, there aren’t a lot of safe places in the cities to let your kids run, play, chase their dogs, get a good basic education and ride their bicycles. And finally, I have often felt more isolated in a city surrounded by hundreds of thousands of total strangers than I ever felt in a suburb surrounded by a few neighbors. The Hollywood and urban elitists need to learn those lessons. Oh, and now that I’m single with grown kids, I’m living in the heart of a big city where I am, in my current incarnation, perfectly happy.

    Comment by LawhawkSF — February 11, 2009 @ 11:37 am | Reply

  30. don’t waste your time

    its terrible

    Comment by ma — February 12, 2009 @ 12:25 pm | Reply

  31. The Silent man is such a easy target. The one who pays is always singled out for ridicule. Ask Not For Whom the Bell Tolls. Hollywood propagandists are the glamorous useful idiots.

    Comment by imaCapitalist2 — February 12, 2009 @ 1:46 pm | Reply

  32. “But the movie Mendes made of it seems not merely past its sell-by date in its vinegary sourness, but utterly lacking in originality–as dull, conformist, and soulless as its supposed subject.”

    Exactly the qualities that will probably earn the film many Academy Awards. This film is the film equivalent of paint-by-numbers; it hits all the right numbers required to sway the Hollywood-types who vote for those stupid statues.

    Comment by Dennis — February 12, 2009 @ 7:41 pm | Reply

  33. I fail to see were those people decrying the suburbs are accurate, especially David S. who sounds about as inaccurate as it gets. I grew up in the Jersey suburbs and lived there until I was 20 when i joined the Navy. These people seem to focus on how the suburbs look and not the people there. I had a great time in the burbs. My friends where white, black, asian and everyone lived there to raise kids. Sounds like some people have a hard time with places that are excellent for raising kids. People from the cities have a pomposity that is really off putting. The freaks from NYC “discovered” my suburb and destroyed with their attitudes and “cityness”. It was a laid back place, now, its got NY attitude. Those people can shove it. I hold on to the memories I had of life in suburbia.

    Comment by Richard Cook — February 13, 2009 @ 5:51 am | Reply

  34. “The rise of the suburbs, after WWII, allowed many Americans to actually get a taste of the sort of leisured, comfortable life that, up until then, only a select few could enjoy. Naturally, Hollywood, with its Marxist sympathies, doesn’t like this at all. I suspect it would really like to see all those “common” people, enjoying life in the surburbs, brought down, so they’ll start listening to their artistic and sensitive “betters”, and stop being so independent. ”

    TalkinKamel, you hit the nail on the head. Here’s what really pisses the Left off about Leavittown: it took so much of America’s populations out from under their thumbs! How dare those people be able to have some property of their own, and be able to fix up their houses the way they want to, and be able to just jump in their cars and go places whenever they feel like it! Those are all privileges that should be reserved for the left-wing elite!

    I have an old Popular Mechanics issue from 1968. In it, there’s an article about the leftist utopian housing development. It’s one very large high-rise of very small units of multi-generational family housing, one room per adult. There’s a small commons area whose use is strictly regulated. Refrigerators and freezers are restricted so as to prohibit stocking up on food; the idea is that residents should shop for groceries each day. There are no restraunts. The best part: access to transportation is prohibited for most residents. At a given time of the morning, everyone boards a train that takes them all to the industrial complex where all of the jobs are, and the train takes them back to the housing development each day. Individual ownership of vehicles of any kind is prohibited. The article brags that an ordinary-class person will be out of their township only twice in their lives: when they are brought home from the hospital as babies, and when their bodies are hauled off to the cemetary. Travel is reserved for VIPs only.

    Comment by Cousin Dave — February 13, 2009 @ 3:08 pm | Reply

  35. Why are the eurotrash still picking apart American culture when their own is in dire attention more than our own?? Can you imagine an American filmmaker making a movie about racial violence in Oldham? 99.5% of Americans don’t even know or care where Oldham is. My advise to the euros: Get a life!

    Comment by Martin S. — February 13, 2009 @ 3:24 pm | Reply

  36. 15. DavidN:

    I agree with you completely. Read my comment above. But one of the reasons why so many brits and aussies have to play Americans is because no one cares about brits and aussies. What kinda of a career would these people have if they only played their own countrymen? Few british and even fewer australian films make much money–the british films may recieve tons of accolades from the hollywood antiAmerican snobs, but at the box office it’s a different story. The film “Australia” was one of the biggest flops in film history, not just in the United States but in australia. The world is focused exclusively on the United States, digging for dirt wherever they can find it. This has been going on for decades. They are blind to their own sins, which can explain why American seem to mosey along while the rest of the world stagnates. The Left Wing love affair with hating the United States is tremendously lucrative. They won’t give it up so readily.

    Comment by Martin S. — February 13, 2009 @ 3:30 pm | Reply

  37. The more the anti-American crowd finds to criticize about life in the USA, the more I’m certain we Americans have it right. The greatest tributes come from those who constantly critique.

    Comment by D. Papaccio — February 13, 2009 @ 3:34 pm | Reply

  38. It seems the rhetoric attacks against the United States from Europe are only increasing as opposed to decreasing post-Nov. 4. I think it was French philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy who said after Obama’s election that the “anti-American machine” (as he phrased it), though temporarily damaged, will come back stronger than ever. In other words, the more the United States refutes the words of its haters, the harder the haters have to come out punching.

    Comment by Heather Rhyn of Provo, Utah (a devilish suburb full of Mormons--even more horrible!) — February 13, 2009 @ 3:51 pm | Reply

  39. Before I moved to Westchester I got besotted on stuff like Helen Hayes and Charlie MacArthur living in Nyack, Cheever in Ossining, William Maxwell in Bedford. I might as well have moved to the Ozarks for Westchester is nothing but hicks and 45 minutes from Broadway!

    Comment by charlie finch — February 13, 2009 @ 4:44 pm | Reply

  40. I think the reason why the Left has always had such a strong disdain for the suburbs is because 1) they represent the middle class which the Left has always detested, and 2) they represent progress which the Left hates even more.

    Comment by Michael I. — February 13, 2009 @ 5:05 pm | Reply

  41. I, too, grew up in the suburbs – Westchester – and would like to take issue with the notion (#7) that it’s a “great place to raise kids.”

    Well, maybe that statement is technically true. Maybe it’s a great place to raise them (i.e., from the parent’s point of view). But as a kid struggling to come of age there, it was vapid, repressive and demoralizing.

    For many, perhaps the comfort and safety are sufficient. And, clearly, one needs only a little motivation and there is plenty of stimulation to be found in the world.

    Except that’s not what’s happening. Kids are driving around and going shopping and watching television.

    RR is bang-on about “American Beauty” and “Revolutionary Road.” They have all the moral authority of some of the exploitation anti-Vietnam movies that came out in the 80s. Didn’t take a lot of courage to make them, either.

    I’m realizing now there is a much better “suburbs” movie than either of those. For a long time I thought of it mostly as a “coming of age” movie. But it’s clearly both. In a small way, it’s right up there with “Rebel Without a Cause.”

    I highly recommend: “Pump Up the Volume” as a much better investigation of this phenomenon.

    Comment by Ed — February 15, 2009 @ 1:11 pm | Reply

  42. I didn’t come away from this movie as being anti-suburban per say. The suburbs didn’t make the two main characters unhappy. If the two main characters were in a city they would be equally unhappy. If the two main characters actually went to Paris they would eventually be unhappy. This movie is taking place right now. So many people think they are so much better than than where they are in life.

    I thought it was a good point that someone made a while back about how this was a poor time to release this movie. I can see people looking at the main characters with utter disdain, as they struggle to keep their suburban lifestyle afloat under a horrible economy. So many people are losing their jobs right now, and to see a character completely take a good job for granted is frustrating. But therein lies the point humans are restless, and when the total truth is exposed it can be pretty fatalistic and ugly, even in what seem to be the best of times.

    For all intensive purposes the two main characters in Revolutionary Road were doing well, but they were not doing extraordinary. There are many people I have met who have had extraordinary intellects or skills, and many of them are having a very hard time in life. These people have an intense anomie, and are extremely unhappy, some have even developed mental disorders through drug use, and emotional stress. I believe this happens more now than in the 1950s for a variety of reasons having to do with the economy, and a cultural change. However in the 1950s people acted like everything was OK because psychologically most people wanted desperately for everything to be OK. People raising families in the 1950s lived through great uncertainty and instability. Probably even more so than today people felt a great deal of guilt because of their natural human restlessness.

    The suburbs are not a great place to raise a family if both the parents are miserable, neither is the city, or anywhere. Clearly the two main characters were utterly shitty parents as they were completely self absorbed. You have to sacrifice to raise a family, and you have to come to terms with it or else you will screw up your kids. What the main characters failed to realize is that even though you have limitations you can still do extraordinary things. People’s lives do not end when they become parents.

    I really believe that this movie gets a lot of flack because it looks at a lot of relationship issues with brutal honesty. This movie made me reflect on my own life. I believe people make these pot shots about the movie tearing down the 1950s because they don’t want to look at what it really tears down… The human relationship, and the feeling of being stuck and utterly normal.

    I raise a child in a city, and grew up in the suburbs. Kids are kids wherever they are. We have a park and a school right across the street.

    Comment by Kenny — February 16, 2009 @ 10:20 pm | Reply


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