Can Love Survive?

In Revolutionary Road Frank and April, in an effort to break out of their rut, decide to move to Paris

In Revolutionary Road Frank and April, in an effort to break out of their rut, decide to move to Paris to get away from what Frank calls “the hopeless emptiness of everything in this country”—the 1950s equivalent of the contemporary New Yorker’s desire to chuck it all away for an apple farm in Vermont, a little coffee shop in Buffalo or a ranch in Montana. “When it looked like there was a possibility of a McCain-Palin presidency, there was some talk about France,” laughed Mr. Haythe, the screenwriter. “You don’t have to pretend to being opposed to gay marriage or guns, or the death penalty. Even if you’re unattractive, you’re attractive in Paris.”

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But for Frank and April, Paris is more than an ‘escape from the rat race’ fantasy. It’s a last-ditch effort to become the people they always were so sure they would be.

“I think the country and society makes a promise to its people at a very early age that anything is possible,” said Mr. Mendes. “A country that promises can kill people with possibility and potential. Can kill people with the constantly dangled carrot of, life should be better. Life could be better. You deserve more. You are entitled to more.” Mr. Mendes pointed to a moment in the film when April realizes she’s no different than her neighbors. “If you’re good-looking, the world promises you something, and then you lose your looks,” Mr. Mendes continued. “If you’re talented enough to get into a top university but then don’t manage to get the job you want, the world has led you to believe that you are an X when in fact you are Y. At one point, we feel so superior to the people around us, but we’re exactly the same. Everyone is sitting in their own house feeling superior. It’s a very modern idea, that somehow you are the lead character in your own film of your life. But in everyone else’s, you are way in the back and your face is obscured by shadow.”

“There are huge numbers of people who say to themselves, if it wasn’t for this, this and this, I’d be leading this whole other kind of life,” said Mr. Haythe. “And the drumbeat for women to have children is still really strong. There’s this sense of musical chairs; if you don’t get one when the music stops, there’s this anxiety so you grab a chair before the music stops and then you have to live with that person for the rest of your life. For all it’s 1950s-ness, Revolutionary Road is as resonant in 2008 as ever.” 

Mr. Mendes echoed Mr. Haythe. “What struck me about the book when I read it was that there was this immense canvas early on in the story—the streets of N.Y.C. and Grand Central Station, amateur plays and theatrics and these roads of suburbia and the lawns and sprinklers, but gradually, bit by bit, everything was stripped away until it was just a man and a woman slugging it out. Period was forgotten, era was forgotten, community was forgotten, and it was really just a man and a woman, and by inference all men and women.”

In other words, we all, despite our city ZIP codes and subway-riding ways, live on Revolutionary Road. The good news? For some of us, there may still be time to move.

Can Love Survive?