Revolutionary Road (2008)

Published: Aug 25, 2009 |Updated: Sep 13, 2023


Revolutionary Road tells the story of the American couple April and Frank Wheeler, two dreamers whose lives have reached a dead end. They have made too many compromises, kept too many truths unexpressed, and now the conformity of 1950s suburbia have become a prison. Frank hates his job and yearns for deeper meaning in life, and April feels trapped at home. One day, April hatches the idea to leave everything behind and go to Paris, one last chance to stretch for the life that was promised them. But is Frank brave enough to embrace the life he always longed for?

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Genre Drama
Production year 2008
Director Sam Mendes
Male actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Shannon

Lives of quiet desperation

Introducing the Wheelers

The premiere of April’s new play has just ended and Frank looks disappointed as he moves to get her backstage. She sits there crying, her once great dreams of becoming a professional actress having just crashed. She’s a failure now, performing in a mediocre piece of amateur theatre. Frank, on his side of things, has his own share of worries. He hates his job, thinks he is a pathetic clone of his father, and wonders what the meaning of it all is. Life wasn’t meant to be this way for the Wheelers.

Driving home from the theatre, Frank invites April to talk about her distress, but the experience of having her life’s aspirations crumble is too fresh for her, and she resists. Frank, as so many men do, pushes her to open up, with the notion that he is serving her in doing so. But Frank does not know enough about women in general or his own wife in particular to understand that such tactics are forfeit. It goes awry and the ensuing chaos culminates with April’s deeply wounding questioning of Frank’s manhood. The happy life they had envisioned seems far off now.

Escaping lives of quiet desperation

For the Wheelers, life has devolved into a rote existence of make-believe. According to most people’s standards the Wheelers are a success: two beautiful children, a charming house on a hill, a stable household. But they aren’t like others. Or at least, they didn’t want to be. They were meant to be different. Frank wanted to feel things – everything – deeply. That’s what drew April to him in the first place, his deep emotional sensibilities and his yearning for truth. Now he feels nothing; he has numbed himself by suppressing his inner yearnings for too long.

Terrified of the life that awaits her, April comes up with the idea to go to Paris, a city Frank has fond memories of from his tour of duty in WWII. Frank never felt as alive as in the war, he enthusiastically tells April in one scene after Frank accepts her invitation. “This is it,” he reminisces. “This is the truth.” He lights up with the fires of passion as he reminds us that the Masculine finds true meaning only in living life on the edge of comfort and security. That is where the Masculine thrives, where its inner truths are uncovered from the murky waters of the unconscious.

With a way out in sight, everything turns around for Frank and April and their lives take on the exuberant shine of passion and hope. The people around them – friends and colleagues – react with disbelief and deny them any sort of recognition for their bravery in following their truth. Instead, they consider them to be unrealistic and naive, as is to be expected from the silent majority of people who live their lives inside cotton-clad cocoons of comfort and security. The one exception is the alleged headcase John, son of their estate-agent friend Helen.

Like with so many other films I’ve looked at for this site, Revolutionary Road forces us to consider what madness really is. “Plenty of people are onto the emptiness,” John says in a flash of wisdom, “but it takes real guts to realize the hopelessness.” April and Frank are puzzled that the only person who seems to understand them is certifiably insane. April reflects on this with these words: “If being crazy means living life as if it really matters, I don’t care if I’m completely insane!”

This right here is incredibly profound and I invite you to pause here to investigate closely what John and April are onto. Are you ready to live a life of insanity?

Collapsing back into the cocoon

Frank has regained his passion and true creativity and does some stellar work for the Knox corporation. This catches the eye of CEO Bart Pollack, who has greater things in store for him. When Frank inquires with Bart about his father, a life long employee for Knox, Bart cannot remember him. He clearly didn’t leave an impression, being just one of the many faceless drones of corporate America. Frank tells Bart he’s going away, and that he cannot accept his fine offer. Bart reminds Frank that he only gets a few opportunities in life, and that he must grab them by the balls if he is to avoid becoming second rate.

So Frank changes his mind. He decides to stay, to grab those balls. It’s a mistake, and deep down he knows it. For going to Paris was the scarier choice, the one that shone bright with the radiance of truth. Taking Bart up on his offer required some pretty tiny balls. Paris required major cojones. Often in life, the scarier path is the path of truth.

April knows all is lost, and she enters a state of despair. Her husband is a coward, a little man who lets others conduct his life for him. April was so close, but now Frank’s fear has ended all hope. Frank tries to convince her that they can be happy without going to Paris, but of course it’s a lie. For it was never about Paris, it was about taking a chance of life, to tread bravely down the path less traveled. Instead, Frank slips on the shoes of the corporate drone and forfeits his soul to the hope that meaning can be found in the safe pursuits of the meaningless.

It’s about serving the world

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, it has been said. I think it must also be paved with good careers. Frank chose career over truth, fear over love, and the consequences are dramatic. The climactic scenes are to be studied, for they show how a weak man responds when he is called on his shit by his woman. April enters her dark feminine rage and lets it rip. To most men, this is insanity, but to a mature man, it is a welcome display of nature’s feminine power through the vessel of a woman.

But Frank has just retired his manhood, and he cannot weather her storms. For April, life crumbled when she realized she would never know a husband who had the integrity and strength to do what he was destined for. The pain of having her husband commit this ultimate betrayal of his potential is too much for her. What happens then will not be disclosed here.

Frank failed to ask the questions, “What destiny am I here to fulfill? How can I serve the world perfectly in my pursuit of what I was born to do?” These questions raise the bar. Let Revolutionary Road remind you that playing it small and safe in life is hurting yourself, your loved ones, and the entire world. What’s at stake here is life itself. And taking a chance on life requires big cojones.

I suggest you watch Revolutionary Road with your woman. It may turn out to be quite a journey. Find out about your journey to Paris that you never took. Talk about what taking it now could do for your relationship.

Powerful ideas from Revolutionary Road

  • Thinking you are special is not enough. You must live as if you're special. Heck, man, you are!
  • A life of comfort and security is a life of profound hopelessness.
  • Living your truth will make you crazy in the eyes of those who don't.
  • Don't let others define what is the brave and right thing to do. Only you know.
  • Welcome a woman's rage as a gift of love.
  • Don't push a woman to pour her soul out to you. Give her your love and life your integrity, and all will be revealed in due time.
  • Men's truth come online when living life on the edge.
  • Never let go of your dreams. You have to try and make them reality. Otherwise you will die not having given it your best shot.

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