I haven’t seen the film yet. I love Leo and Kate, but my love for Richard Yates’ novel is even stronger and I’m not sure any movie can do it justice.
Revolutionary Road is about two people trapped in an American dream they never wanted. Frank Wheeler has a good corporate job that he hates. April is trying not to go mad with boredom as a suburban housewife and mother. Frank and April always dreamed of greatness, expected greatness. Instead they are stuck in mediocrity that is just too comfortable to escape from.
Anyone who has felt stifled in Corporate America will identify with Yates’ descriptions of Frank’s office purgatory:
“At first glance, all the upper floors of the Knox Building looked alike. Each was a big open room, ablaze with fluorescent ceiling lights, that had been divided into a maze of aisles and cubicles by shoulder-high partitions. The upper panels of these dividers, waist to shoulder, were made of thick unframed plate glass that was slightly corrugated to achieve a blue-white semi-transparency; and the overall effect of this, to a man getting off the elevator and looking out across the room, was that of a wide indoor lake in which swimmers far and near were moving, some making steady headway, some treading water, others seen in the act of breaking to the surface or going under, and many submerged, their faces loosened into wavering pink blurs as they drowned at their desks.”
Frank Wheeler feels above all of this dreariness. After all, he has no intention of staying. He has bigger plans (though no clue what they are as yet). But when his wife April proposes abandoning their stiflingly comfortable life to take off for Paris with their two children, Frank is afraid to walk away. After all, corporate life wasn’t so bad:
“It was his bright, dry, daily ordeal, his personal measure of tedium. It had taught him new ways of spacing out the hours of the day — almost time to go down for coffee; almost time to go out for lunch; almost time to go home — and he had come to rely on these desolate wastes of time between pleasures as an invalid comes to rely on the certainty of recurring pain.”
You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens to Frank and April. Richard Yates is an extraordinary writer. And whatever the strengths of the film, it cannot possibly capture the dark and brutal brilliance of his prose. Yates was inspired by his personal experience as a publicity writer for the Remington Rand Corporation in the 1950s. Remington Rand was an early American computer company (also known for selling pistols and typewriters), probably much like Knox Business Machines, where Frank Wheeler toils his life away.
It’s amazing how much 1950’s corporate life resembles today’s corporate life. Today, we just have more technology, longer days, and no job security. In those days, escaping from Corporate America was like walking away from a sure thing. Now there are no guarantees — which makes work life more challenging in many ways, but also makes the corporate trap a little bit less seductive.