So what do a couple of people like you have to run away from?â€ (John, Revolutionary Road)
Discuss the theme of escape and/ or escapism as it relates to representations of everyday life in Revolutionary Road.
Sam Mendesâ€™s movie titled â€˜Revolutionary Roadâ€™ examines routine and routineness, which makes people go to great lengths in order to escape it and enjoy freedom within a structured society. This movie is a fitting representation of the dynamics of daily life that make one feel manacled to societal expectations, standards, domination, structure, repetitiveness and direction. Through the movie, Mendes delves into the ideas of escapism and escape via its two key characters. The first is the movieâ€™s male protagonist, Frank Wheeler, who, although, terrified of change, is simultaneously not entirely satisfied with routine life and wishes to escape it. In the movie, the escapism concept has been utilized to express Frankâ€™s fulfillment of his need to escape. The other key character is the movieâ€™s female protagonist, April Wheeler, who also feels suffocated by her daily routine, and wishes to lead a different, independent life.
Several instances within the movie serve to express the â€˜escapismâ€™ idea. The movie reveals how monotonous routine activities and tasks cause Frank and April to attempt to seek solace in interludes in their routine. They attempt to find relief in an assortment of entertainment and leisure activities and bank on fantasies in their attempt at avoiding the real world. Frank wishes to traverse the limitations of his suburban personal and work life. In the words of Ben Highmore, an employee â€œcraves a sharp breakâ€ or compensation; leisure activities and entertainment serve as a welcome distraction from everyday life. The above remark is a strong indication of the escapism concept inherent in the movie. [footnoteRef:1] Frankâ€™s job is described by Frank himself as being the dullest possible job ever. This indicates his boredom and dissatisfaction with it[footnoteRef:2]. He feels trapped in his role â€“ the movie aptly illustrates this in Frankâ€™s obscurity among innumerable other workers surrounding him, who follow an identical direction, dress in identical uniforms, carry out identical work tasks with machines, and go over an identical routine day after day. Such a job fails to provide any stimulation to Frank, who perceives society to be nothing but a huge, obscene â€œdelusionâ€. However, when he considers leaving it all behind, the great risk involved serves to terrify and deter him.[footnoteRef:3] His qualms come to the surface whenever April attempts to talk him into jumping ship to a job better suited to his interests. She claims that once he quits his existing job, he will have the time to identify and follow his dream freely. His qualms are overpowered by her keenness.[footnoteRef:4] Nevertheless, as the movie proceeds, audiences see Frank choosing to accept a promotion at the same company, giving up his dream of escaping to Paris to seek a satisfying job better suited to his interests. Frank finds solace only in fantasizing escape but when it comes to actually doing so, he is not as eager as his wife. He merely humors his wife and is not as serious about moving to Paris as she is. [1: Lefebvre, â€œWork and Leisure In Everyday Lifeâ€,233] [2: Mendes, Revolutionary Road] [3: Ibid ] [4: ibid]
April clearly suffers the most because of the Wheelersâ€™ dull, repetitive everyday life. The previously lively April has become an empty shell, a victim burdened by responsibilities and duties utterly uninteresting to her; thus, she aims at escaping this monotony and leading a free life. According to Lefebvre, females are most affected by the routine life theyâ€™re subject to. The above fact is evident all through the course of the movie. April, forced to carry out the tasks of a typical suburban homemaker, feels trapped at home.[footnoteRef:5] One scene within the movie that portrays Aprilâ€™s desire to flee is when she gazes longingly beyond her home, where she is stuck with the conventional household chores of cooking, cleaning, and bringing up her two children. She yearns for the freedom that lies beyond home. The above scene expresses her struggle with societal gender norms. [5: Lefebvre, â€œthe everyday and the everydayness,â€ 10]
Mendes has effectively demonstrated societal gender norms through his typical conformist characters. However, he clearly demonstrates the fact that certain individuals, though outwardly behaving in line with societal standards and expectations, actually face an internal struggle. April, for instance, mechanically carries out the activities a typical suburban homemaker would and such a drab life takes its toll on her, but Frank doesnâ€™t appear to struggle as much with his conventional work life. Lefebvre states that societal norms usually get so ingrained into femalesâ€™ minds that they barely have critical thoughts regarding them.[footnoteRef:6] April, however, is different and one scene, in particular, reveals her realization of the dreary life she is leading and how stifling it is: When she is emptying out her trash can, she pauses for a while, studying the remaining housewives doing the exact same thing and reflecting on how dull their life is. At this point, she becomes distressingly conscious of her everyday routineâ€™s monotony. One can call to mind Rita Felskiâ€™s definition of everyday life: it is a routine activity of living through oneâ€™s daily existence without paying conscious attention to it.[footnoteRef:7] The sudden realization breaks down Aprilâ€™s strength and resolve to conform. She experiences an intense urge to escape. A telling statement of hers is â€œHow do you break free without breaking apart?â€ [6: Ibid ] [7: Felski, â€œDoing time : feminist theory and postmodern cultureâ€. 94]
Via the movieâ€™s setting of suburban Connecticut, Mendes has effectively demonstrated the construction of the everyday, portraying a culture regulated by social norms. Change is hard, and any attempt at escaping or non- conformance with societal expectations is scorned upon. Shep and Milly Campbell reflect typical societal attitudes towards anybody attempting to escape routine life by rejecting Frank and Aprilâ€™s idea of shifting to Paris. They are first rendered speechless by the news, and subsequently laugh it off. Shep raises doubts regarding Frankâ€™s masculinity when he is told that April would work and support the household while Frank would stay home and reflect on what career he is interested in pursuing. He frankly expresses his feelings on the â€˜absurdityâ€™ of the Wheelersâ€™ decision. As the Wheelers attempt to escape routineness and lead a new life in Europe against socially accepted gender roles, this change is considered foreign. Highmore, who defines the everyday as a collection of functions linking systems, contends that changing the routine threatens structured societies.[footnoteRef:8] [8: Lefebvre, â€œthe everyday and the everydayness,â€ 10]
To sum up, Revolutionary Road examines the importance communities give to the everyday and how this, simultaneously, causes people to develop feelings of dissatisfaction and bitterness with their routine life. Although the Wheelers realize that their misery can only end if they escape the clutches of routine life, their suburban community dislikes and shuns their idea. April as well as Frank undergo internal and external hardship when attempting to escape. Mendes has, through this movie, effectively demonstrates how ideas like escaping and escapism pose challenges to society; this leads society to not easily accept change or any ideas that arenâ€™t in line with the established norm.
Felski, Rita. Doing Time : Feminist Theory and Postmodern Culture. New York: NYU Press, 2000
Lefebvre, Henri, and Christine Levich. “The Everyday and Everydayness.” Yale French Studies, no. 73 (1987): 7-11. doi:10.2307/2930193.