50’s American Suburban Malaise and Inner Scripts – An Analysis of ‘Revolutionary Road’

26 Aug

WARNING – SPOILERS

Revolutionary Road-synopsis

revolutionary road

Frank (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) and April (played by Kate Winslet) are a seemingly enviable couple, good looking, charming and living the American dream. But the whole construct of their suburbian life is falling apart at the seams, and it is questionable as to whether it was based on anything solid in the first place.
When April and Frank first meet, she has graduated from acting school and he ‘hasn’t figured out what he wants to do yet’. Fast forward ten years, and he is working in the same company as his father worked (ironically named ‘Knox’, for he never seems to be able to escape it) in a job he is indifferent to, and she, having failed in her acting career (perhaps not due to lack of talent, however) is a playing house in their pretty little suburban house, which borders the more and the less desireable part of Conneticut.
The movie is carefully crafted, sensitively acted and leaves you pondering over whether the middle class of America in the 50’s was all that it seemed. It also examines the nature of relationships.
On deeper analysis, Revolutionary Road is a movie that deals with scripts and scripting. All of us, to one extent or another act according to an inner script. The script could be a product of our education, our upbringing, trauma from our past or any number of things. But the more we try to distance ourselves from our script the more we become entangled in it. As an actress, April does not own a script, and this is why being tied down to traditions and expectations drives her to distraction. She finds the life of a fifties American housewife (although she excells at it) soul destroying because her dream (her script) always drove her towards wanting more (‘We were supposed to be special, Frank’). When she meets Frank, she is drawn to him because he too, at the outset, seems ‘scriptless’.
However, as years go on, Frank is moving towards the script of his father, and the more he tries to run away from it (he writes a careless letter to a company which is deemed as a ‘stroke of genius’ and is rewarded with a big promotion), he cannot contemplate his wife aborting their unborn child, and it is hinted, that although he hated his father, he is in many ways just like him (could it be that his father had affairs also?).
This helps explain why whenever he attempts to understand why April is mad with him she asks him to ‘just stop talking’, because their scripts are so incompatible. Whenever he attempts to solve a conflict, he resorts to his inner script, instead of moving to a new one, and thus sounding more and more like the people he claims to hate.
During the short period of time when the Wheelers agree to run away to Paris (representing freedom and an unscripted life) both Frank and April succeed in departing from their script. When they tell their friends and colleagues, the result is speechlessness and incomprehension. It is as if the script, the ‘chatter’ has been broken.
Hence in the final scene, when she has resigned herself to the fact that she cannot live with the script that has been imposed upon her, they act like two bad actors who’ve been given parts. But the difference is, he wants to believe that she has changed, and is happy about his ‘swell breakfast’

a nicer breakfast
The ‘bard’ of the movie is John Givings, a brilliant but mentally disturbed mathematician, and the son of the Givings’ neighbors. He is the only person who actually speaks plainly to couple, without the censorship of what is socially acceptable or not. Initially the Wheelers find him refreshing, but when the plans to run away to Paris have been shelved by Frank, he is seen by Frank as a threat. Givings, as a mental patient is unscripted, and thus free to speak the truth, despite the efforts of his parents to rein him in and distract him.
For most of the characters in the movie, language is not a means of real communication or closeness. Each dialogue leads them to become more disassociated, rather than reaching any rapprochement. This is really because their language is simply utterances from their script (or lack of it).
However, being unscripted is not necessarily a solution to the malaise of the characters in the film. In many ways, marriage is a form of entrapment for April, and in her final attempt to escape impending motherhood, she unwittingly causes her own death. Her impetuousness and his domineering character mean that no middle ground can ever be found. Nor does being unscripted give John Givings any appeal to the viewer, his is simply tortured and miserable.

Thus viewers do not prefer one character over another. Perhaps the key is in the final scene, when the Mr. Givings Senior turns down his hearing aid in order to stop listening to the monologue of his wife. We can choose to hear the script we wish, and understand which script is false. If Frank had understood that his wife’s stilted script in their final scene was actually a cry for help, the events of the story might have unfolded differently.

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It’s the road that makes it worthwhile, man; not the bloody destination!

30 Jun

There seems to be some confusion as to what makes life worthwhile. It seems that with the doors open to unlimited travel, fun, gourmet food, sex, you name it, people have lost sight of what it means to curb their desires and simply wait. When I was growing up, there were options that were simply closed of to people without means. Elegant clothing, travel to exotic destinations and sex when you wanted it were simply not within the scope of a person with average means. So people dreamed, they saved, they waited.

It seems that the catchword nowadays is why do I need to wait if I can have it all now? This is a very problematic attitude. A person can max out on their credit card to get the latest and greatest and deal with the responsibility of their purchase later. Instant gratification is here and it’s not just up for grabs, it’s the norm.

As a consequence, adulthood, which, in my definition is the stage when you start taking responsibility for others (not to be confused with physical maturity) can be postponed almost indefinitely. Because part and parcel of adulthood is the act of pushing off your need for gratification in order to prioritize; this could be saving up for a house, or having children, or making a career move which involves a low-paid trainee-ship to being with.

Apparently nowadays people who want to marry will do so regardless of whether they can afford their own place or not. An extended engagement while they save up is unheard of.

Or adults will continue to pursue childlike fantasies at the expense of their children. It could even be as simple as preferring to play a game on their smartphone to interacting with their small children.

Someone once told me that when you are waiting for a bus for ages and ages, the moment of ultimate euphoria does not occur when you get on the bus, but when you see the long-awaited bus approaching.

We need to realize that true pleasure doesn’t come from having the goal in our hands, but by feeling that we are approaching it. If we constantly seek instant gratification, our desires will become harder and harder to satisfy. It is the struggle for the goal that makes the goal worthwhile.

We seem to have forgotten that the reason why we’re put on this earth is to grow. And growing takes hard work. And sacrifice.

Technology Rules?

17 Aug

This was a topic I gave to my undergraduate English students as a task for an English immersion class. This piece is so direct it is shocking. I’m happy that someone has decided to make a change, but what about the mass of us who are still plugged in?

 

Technology Rules?

(a written assignment by one of my undergraduate students)

I shun technology because I have watched my mother become addicted to it. She is unable to drive, drink coffee or even sit and talk to her own (adult) children without whatsapping at the same time. When I was young, I didn’t notice that that was a problem; I thought she was busy working. However, then I left home and whenever she came to visit, wherever I was, she was using her phone and we couldn’t have a real conversation.

My mother exhibits signs of perpetual loneliness; she always seems like she would prefer to be somewhere else and with someone else rather than with me. But then I came to the understanding that we all are like this; we meet with friends and family, but at the same time we send texts to others saying ‘See you!’

Technology has made us autistic. We don’t look at the view, we take a picture, we don’t call to ask ‘How are you?” , we send a text message. Maybe we rind it harder to look each other in the eye than before. Loneliness and boredom during social events are escalating.

My mom is an example of this addiction. She has become lonelier as time has gone by, but she doesn’t understand that Whatsapp is the disease and not the cure. Sharing every moment, view or thought of life every second prevents deep and long conversations that make us feel closer together and not just staying abreast of each others’ lives.

So I want you, the reader to rest assured that I will never get into this situation. I have made a pledge to myself with the following rules:

  • I don’t use a smartphone while I’m waiting for someone or a bus: I need to stare into space, read or imagine things.
  • When I am with friends or family my phone is on mute in my bag and my mind and soul are set to communicate.
  • If I have nothing to do I will not use the computer or phone for distraction (there is always something to read, paint, play with or clean

I follow these three rules to make my day more productive,  sociable and creative. As a result,   I have time to keep a diary of dreams and thoughts that I muse on at the bus station, to paint and to spend with my partner.

I wish my mother would take at least one rule from this list upon herself, it would change her life for good.

Moletai and a poem

30 Aug

Having read an incredibly powerful piece written by a Lithuanian from the town of Molotai who tries to come to terms with his town’s dark history (read it, it’s worth it!) I wrote a poem about national conscience and the holocaust.

Here it is:

How do you clean the blood?

 

How do you clean  the blood?

That’s congealed

Under  fingernails

Between teeth

Lodged in a soul

Smudged in the crevices

Of a conscience

That denies its own existence?

 

Do you pinch your nostrils

At the rotten stench

Fasten blinkers

And  vainly blacken the etched image

Of bodies piled in a pit?

Or speak empty words

To seemingly quieten the screams

That seep into your dreams?

 

Do you delude yourselves

That years going by will cleanse

That darkening stain

Of blood

That feeds the roots of virgin trees?

 

Do you dream that forgetfulness forgives?

The Tainted Grain

20 Apr

There is a Rebbe Nachman story that has come to my mind many times in the past few years. This year, looking at the Pesach madness and feeling myself both drawn towards it and repelled by it at the same time, I think again about this story. It goes as follows:

The king’s star gazer saw that the grain harvested that year was tainted. Anyone who would eat from it would became insane. “What can we do?” said the king. “It is not possible to destroy the crop for we do not have enough grain stored to feed the entire population.”

“Perhaps,” said the star gazer, “we should set aside enough grain for ourselves. At least that way we could maintain our sanity.” The king replied, “If we do that, we’ll be considered crazy. If everyone behaves one way and we behave differently, we’ll be considered the not normal ones.

“Rather,” said the king, “I suggest that we too eat from the crop, like everyone else. However, to remind ourselves that we are not normal, we will make a mark on our foreheads. Even if we are insane, whenever we look at each other, we will remember that we are insane!”

We are limited by this world. We see our reality through the spectacles of time, place, emotion and the limitations of these concepts. We long for things we know will bring us no true happiness and satisfaction, we fear what we should embrace (death) and embrace what we should fear (disconnection from God). We are really part of this madness in some way or another and we’re helpless. We see the linear rather than the infinite and we constantly blind ourselves to God’s constant presence and messages. This crazy world is our madness that we will be afflicted with until the day we die.

Is there anything we can do to prevent the affliction? Not much. But those stickers on our brow, the reminder of what we once lost and what we ought to have may serve to gently prod us into questioning the reality we live in.

Yes, we’re mad too, in our own way. But at least we know it.

 

 

It’s Time to Come Clean

16 Apr

I’ve lived with religion in some way or another for most of my life. Whether it is a bit of tradition here, or a bit of fundamentalism there, I’ve incorporated religiousness into my life in one way or another, hoping that being with God would come along with it. I guess it’s like investing in an expensive oven in the hope that one day  you’ll be a gourmet chef. One is not really connected with the other at all.

Now I know that it’s not religion that I want, it’s God.

Yes, religion is a place of belonging, community, ‘good feeling’, order, predictability, support and the safety of having someone, somewhere, who will answer your questions for you. It’s a really safe place.

The decision to leave this cocooned environment is fraught with danger, doubt, isolation and loneliness. Religious people can’t get you….you were ‘there’….how can you go without? And when you try to explain to them….well, hate to break it to you, my friends, but the more I got into religion the less I saw God and I want God in my life. No, my friends, I don’t want ‘your God’, who is static and rigid, who cowers behind those who crave power and insubordination, who is mute and blind. My God, is the God who knows me and understands me, whose love for me is something that is all-encompasssing, a God who resides inside my heart and guides me in a quiet voice….This God of mine speaks a universal language and doesn’t require a power hierarchy.

Yes, I’ve got my beliefs and my mission statement sorted out. But coming clean when it comes to everything religiosity entails (especially when you are surrounded by it) is the harder part.

This year I will not be participating in a ‘rabbinical’ Pesach Seder as such. And this is not an easy thing.

When the whole world (or so it seems), secular and religious alike participates in  this family ceremony (which isn’t such a terrible ceremony when you come to think of it; full of fun and stories and togetherness and remembering our roots in Egypt) and you decide that this, albeit pleasant is so far from ‘real’ that you can no longer partake in it, you’ve made a strong statement.

One could argue, who cares? Participate, play the part, include yourself in the community and keep your private thoughts to yourself! Yet thought and action have to connect- surely doing one thing and thinking another is falsity personified. And God is there, this is after all about Him and us! How can we possibly ever hear what God (yes, the God who speaks to us, day after day) has to say on the matter of the exodus when we just continue to do our own thing, rabbiting from prayer books and feeling good about our religious accomplishments, from preparing the right charoset to staying up all night debating rabbinical sayings?

No, this isn’t me any more, it doesn’t reflect my beliefs, it doesn’t reflect who I am.

Yes, what will be for me, as everyone sits down for their national religious ceremony is nebulous. Maybe there isn’t an alternative ‘seder night’ at all. Maybe one hour sitting in God’s presence with quiet and peace is enough, or maybe more is required. Yes, it’s a vacuum in a sense. A vacuum that could cause those who feel as I do to run to the warm embrace of tradition and religiousness simply to escape the  loneliness of questioning.

But I’ve come clean. I’m not living the life of others. I want God. This God is not the God of others, He’s mine and I’ve got to trust Him to show me what celebrating the exodus is really like.

 

 

 

 

 

The Banality of Adjectives

22 Mar

Today I observed two interactions that disturbed me a lot. In one, a video of kids parading their Purim costumes  was shared with a colleague on whatsapp, to which she responded ‘incredible!’. In another, another Purim shot was shared, also on whatsapp with a family member of someone’s children dressed up in pretty ordinary looking costumes. The response was ‘fantastic!’.

These reactions were inappropriate, out of context and thoroughly exaggerated. So what, you say, why should I care? Well, if a plastic ninja outfit is ‘fantastic’, and teens dressed as butterflies are ‘incredible’, then what adjectives would you use to describe the warm orange glow of a sunset, the view while perched on a mountain in  the Himalayas, watching an egg hatch or a rare butterfly open its wings? Are these wonders of Creation simply ‘very fantastic’ or ‘extremely incredible’?

It might even be worse than that. It might be that language has ceased to serve its function. A person no longer has the lexicon by which to truly appreciate that which is appreciable.

You might say it’s me. So, what. Speech is free, it’s your problem.

Yes, I have a problem with inappropriate and banale adjectives. Is it simply because I love language and its precision? Partly yes but mostly not.

The ability to communicate ideas, stories, hopes and dreams is something that separates us from animals. Yes, animals communicate, but not in the way we do. Our distinctly human souls are embedded in the language we speak and I feel our language should express this.

Notice how I added the ‘I feel’. Perhaps that is the key to using and not abusing language, as I illustrated above. Rather than taking superlatives and sprinkling them at will, like chocolate chips and brown sugar, maybe we should start to personalize the way we perceive the world. Perhaps we should qualify our adjectives with ‘I feel’ or ‘This makes me think….’ or ‘In my opinion, this is….’ That actually might be quite interesting.

In the opinion of a  person, who doesn’t have experience to reference from, a bite of a fast food hamburger is ‘fantastic’. So he or she should state ‘This Mcd’s hamburger, in my opinion, tastes fantastic.’ That is OK by me. It’s your opinion and not mine. You’re not attempting to color the world with your superficial brush. You just wish to show me your interpretation of the world through your eyes. I can dig that.

How does this connect to Godliness. Well, God’s word is the word of silence. The highest ideal we can achieve  is  an intimate understanding of Him and His world, where no words, no adjectives or superlatives are necessary. When we stand at God’s feet and contemplate his glory, we cannot help but be filled with it…that feeling that no words can really justify….but where ‘awe’ and ‘wonder’ come to mind.

For God just ‘is’ and so too, is his  awesome and wonderful world. (And no adjectives are really necessary).