Friday, January 02, 2009
"Reservation Road": DiCaprio and Kate Winslet face off again, a decade after "Titanic"; (Oops! that's "Revolutionary Road"!)
We all remember a lean, boyish, earthy Leonardo DiCaprio wooing the socialite played by Kate Winslet in (the not quite a Harlequin romance) epic Titanic (“this is it!”); and, one could say, DiCaprio’s alter soul is resurrected to continue the relationship as an “old married couple” (that is, each about 30) in the 1950s in Sam Mendes’s new film “Revolutionary Road”. The film, made by Dreamworks and BBC and distributed as an “arthouse” release by Paramount Vantage, is more “American Beauty” than “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” although the latter is what I expected. Although photographed in widescreen Arri, it runs like a stageplay, almost with a touch of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf” (which I remember seeing in Lawrence Kansas in the 60s). The movie is based on the novel by Richard Yates and the screenplay adaptation is by Justin Haythe.
DiCaprio is definitely a grown man when he makes movies about the environment (“The 11th Hour”, in a league with “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Planet in Peril”) but not so much here, at least when it comes to matters of bod. His chin is a bit too thick, he’s got love handles, and he chain smokes, but so do all the other male characters in this film. (That’s depressing, but that’s the 50s.)
The movie-play is genuinely funny. The sold out show tonight in a large auditorium at Landmark’s E-Street in Washington was laughing at the most serious lines. “I want to feel” conformist Frank Wheeler says, as he and April contemplate really giving it all up and going to Paris, where he becomes house husband and she thinks secretaries make good money. (Frank's "wanting to feel" would contradict a masculine personality; in purely psychological terms, it seems that April is the masculine personality in the marriage to me; no wonder Frank hates his job.) She was ahead of Betty Friedan in line, I think. But what shreds their marriage is the “MP” son of her realtor, played by Kathy Bates who (almost out of Stephen King) acts almost like a witch ready to sell haunted real estate in Connecticut (I think the filming was actually done in the UK). The son John Givings, played by Michael Shannon, is supposed to have a PhD in mathematics; he just needs help (nothing to be ashamed of, mind you, as was the mantra for “psychiatric help” in the 50s) conforming. He has this way of blurting out the brutal truth whenever he visits the Wheelers with his parents (while on pass from the hospital). The first time, he says, “so to have all this you stay in a job you don’t like”. I don’t know if he has Aspergers, or fits the DRG criteria for “schizoid personality” – it’s fun to diagnose the character, but not so easy to diagnose the Wheelers. He sees through everything, and reminds conventionally married people that they need to keep up the façade of social support (requiring silent acquiescence of the unsocialized) to make it worth staying together.
The haggard John Givings character -- the stereotyped "subjective feminine" with plenty of compulsiveness and sadism -- does indeed emulate me during those bad old days at NIH in 1962 (discussed on my main blog; start with Nov. 28, 2006); I tend to be the person to "attack" others with "the truth" and make them uncomfortable with involuntary but hidden co-dependencies. Maybe these blogs accomplish the same thing; they're just a lot more civilized.
In the end, we do have a tragedy. Let’s say that Michael Wheeler (DiCaprio) resents April’s desire to control her own body about the most personal things. Abortions are illegal, and there’s no Vera Drake around to help her, or is there. The psychology comes right out of George Gilder’s book “Men and Marriage” (1986).
The scenes at Wheeler’s job at “Knox Industries” are interesting. He has a cubicle with no computer but a black rotary phone. He is a manipulator and salesman, not a thinker. Although Knox is supposed to be in Toledo, it sounds like a fictitious analogue of IBM, as they are talking about making computers (with vacuum tubes, mind you).
There was a film in 2007 from Focus Features, directed by Terry George, with a similar title, “Reservation Road”. It had the provocative premise of a lawyer running from a hit-run accident (in which a young musician dies) and then forced to work with the victim while hiding his guilt.