Whoops! Wrong picture!

Apologies to Nicholas, who I’ve just discovered has already reviewed this film. But I know he’ll be consoled by the knowledge that readers will appreciate his wisdom and sobriety all the more when contrasted with my naive gushings.

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I saw Angelina Jolie in The Changeling, and Meryl Streep in Doubt. Their performances were convincing, and I’m sure they’re superb techicians, masters of their craft, and all that.

But Kate Winslet deserved her best actress Oscar. Not that I’ve seen The Reader yet, and I’m sure she’ll be terrific in that as well. But she deserved it for her part in Revolutionary Road, if nothing else. Winslet doesn’t just portray a character — she invents her, lives her, and brings you on board for a gut-wrenching raft ride down the white-water canyon of her story. She did this with April Wheeler, anyway, and I expect the same will prove true of her performace as Hanna Schmitz.

For that matter, unlike Nicholas, I would have given Revolutionary Road the Best Picture award. I’ll leave it to the exports on Academy politics to explain why neither film nor actress even got nominated.

I saw Slum Dog Billionaire, and have no complaints. It was a ripping yarn; it had sumptuous cinematography; it had any number of ingenious touches. No one would begrudge it a Best Picture Oscar. I’m sure I’ll happily watch it on video once or twice again. But for all that, it won’t be a film that haunts the rest of my days.

Revolutionary Road is not fun to watch. It’s the antithesis of a feel good story, but I’ll gladly take a film that grabs me by the hair and shakes me violently, over a slick entertainmant package like Slumdog Billionaire. It’s a harrowing and depressing tale, and might even be unbearable if you know exactly what’s coming. However, in good measure, harrowing and depressing stories are vital to the soul, and when they are done as truly and observantly as this, they are worth the pain — especially if you don’t know exactly what’s coming. It’s a brutal indictment of our vain dreams, a visceral portrayal of raw psyches grinding against each other until they bleed, a stark depiction of human souls exposed, aching and ultimately alone in a callous universe.

I didn’t quite understand why the film rattled me so much until I realised, walking back around Circular Quay from the Dendy, that it retold Madame Bovary, a volcano of a book which had now erupted again after thirty years of dormancy.

Later I learned that Richard Yates admired Flaubert, but from what I’ve read of the novel, it seems clear that the April of the novel is a less sympathetic than Emma Bovary:

Even Fitzgerald, with Flaubert the writer Yates most consciously modeled himself upon, always expressed tenderness toward his troubled characters. Yates isn’t interested in expressing tenderness. His characters are doomed, and he leaves it at that.

According to James Wood in the New Yorker:

Revolutionary Road is a brilliant rewriting of Madame Bovary, with one signal differenceat the end of Flauberts novel, both Emma and Charles Bovary lose, because she commits suicide and her dull husband is utterly bereft. In Yatess savage inversion, the wife loses but the dull husband secretly wins: though deprived of wife and children, he prospers at work, and finally secures for himself the safe, settled world that his wife died trying to dislodge.

The film is faithful to the book in that regard. Nonetheless, I suspect that the film is more like Flaubert than the book — or perhaps it’s Revolutionary Road as Fitzgerald would have written it. Unfortunately, I can’t settle the issue. The film prompted a spate of reviews — first of the book (notably this one by Christopher Hitchens, but here’s another), later of the film (see Nicholas’s links) — but I haven’t come across one that was able to compare the one with the other. Yates is long dead, but I’d be fascinated to know what his biographer Blake Bailey (who here tells the fascinating story of the movie rights) thought when he saw the film incarnate.

So I’ve given away the fact that I hadn’t read the book, again. I’m glad I hadn’t, even if this is to concede that I’m more pig than Socrates. Most books trade to some extent on surprise. We read our favourites over and over again, and might even enjoy them more on each reading, but it’s in the nature of surprises that you only enjoy them first time around.

But I plan to do it the other way around with The Reader (which is easy, because the book is short).

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[…] well made. The acting was impressive, especially by young David Kross — I was confirmed in my hypothesis that Kate Winslett deserved her Oscar first and foremost for Revolutionary […]