Desperate Housewife Syndrome
What producers and critics have marked as a “romance/drama” was one of the best horror films of 2008, perhaps surpassing that year’s “Saw V” in torture violence. A bone-chilling depiction of the dynamics of white suburban couples in the 50s and the struggles of white suburban women during the time, Justin Haythe’s 2008 Revolutionary Road does a phenomenal job at providing viewers with a visual aide of what Betty Fredian in her book The Feminine Mystique said to be “the problem that has no name.” Fredian asserted that the symptoms of neurosis, anxiety, and depression suburban white women endured post-war were linked to… well… men. Their personhoods were stripped from them as they were caretakers of their kids, homes, and husbands. This “feminine mystique” was the by-product of the new culture of feminity. Women were expected to find a passion for homemaking, baby-bearing, and serving their husbands. The idea was that femininity was void of independence and centered around men. The result was the making of thousands of desperate homemakers.
Fredian concluded that the depression and neurosis were attributed to the stunted life these women were living. They were unsatisfied, unfulfilled, and had no means to express these feelings without sounding like a “psychotic bitch”. A psychotic bitch who needed to be medicated because who wouldn’t want to be a footstool for a 30-year-old man and two kids? These sentiments were primarily accepted by white America to set-up and fulfill what they were to call the nuclear family, the “All -American” family. In this bubble that worked as an echo chamber that to strive for the feminine mystique that would ultimately lead to their death*(make an explanation).
Now for the movie:
In the film, Leonardo DiCaprio plays Frank Wheeler, a violent tempered man whose insecurities of his manhood and future lead him to live a life that he swore he was too different to live.
Have you ever seen the episode of Fairly Odd Parents with the pixies? They all wear grey hats, grey suits and are the most mundane and devious creatures in the fairy world? Frank becomes an ill-mannered pixie.
His wife, April Wheeler, played by Kate Winslet, starts as a bright-eyed, ambitious young woman that feens to experience the world beyond the one she is continuously presented with. April ends the movie as what Frank would call “a shell of a woman.”
Pretending for Men
The story begins with your usual love sequence. Boy meets Girl at a party, boy shows Girl the time of her life, boy makes Girl fall in love with some small aspect of himself that he does not plan to develop any further and his potential to be something he will never be. Simple math.
Frank Wheeler is an aspiring dreamer who, well, dreams of living the life of wanderlust. Awed by his imagination, April becomes captivated by the idea of following Frank’s dreams of a mystified Parisian life and creating an ethereal world that is impervious to the struggle of what is post-war America. Both Leo and Kate display the same lustfulness they did in their break-out roles as Jack and Rose in the 1997 film Titanic. One can only hope that the movie ends in a break-out flash-mob in Paris led by both actors, something very LaLa-Landish. And if you were to believe this just off their stellar performance at the beginning of the movie, then you must be a hopeless romantic. Emphasis on “hopeless.”
What proceeds the few minutes of “crazy, stupid love” is a scene of Frank embarrassed by his wife’s attempt at finding her personhood through anything away from what was the confines of her new suburban home. An actor for town plays. Frank goes to the fitting room to see a weeping April. What is set to be a pep-talk and warm embrace turns to be a back-handed compliment that only assuages his need for her to stop being anything else but his house pet. April and Frank begin to drive home, and this is where the violence increases. April asks for the conversation of what happened at the play not to happen, and Frank denies her every right to that peace. The argument goes from her lousy acting to a punch missing her right cheek and him almost breaking his knuckles against the car.
We now get to see the new Frank. The dreamer boy act has dissipated, and it is now time for him to play his role in white suburbia, even if that means compromising the integrity April thought he had.
The horror intensifies when we see how suffocating, isolating, and deadly it is to allow your life to be in the hands of a man. And all we hear April say throughout the movie is, “can we not talk…”. It is this peace that she begs for and is never afforded that strikes fear in my heart. With Justin Haythes’s direction, scenes show a setting beyond just a small house on a hill, but the world of white suburbanites lived after the war.
April continues to play-house for the man she thought would never want to. Pretending to love the life he created for them while hoping he could act, just for one second, to hate it just as much as she does. And we do see glimpses of Frank’s hate for his life, but of course, his coping mechanisms are cheating, lying, and throwing tantrums at his wife.
Alas, during the midpoint of the movie, we see Frank’s “old self” start to pear through when April suggests that they take their dream of Paris seriously. A flame that was once their glue is reignited. His potential that she insists is being held back by his desk job is finally back, and she can feel her freedom coming back.
And then he stops pretending.
His insecurities of who he is, who he should be, and who he would be in Paris take the best of him, and he cowers behind his desk job. Using different reasons, all being April’s fault, he stops pretending to be the man of her dreams, again.
In the end, April can no longer pretend for Frank either; or herself.
The NOT So Desperate Housewife
While watching the film now, it’s almost impossible for me not to draw parallels to David Fincher’s 2014 white-feminist Zillenial cult-classic film Gone Girl. Frank Wheeler and Gone Girl’s male antagonist Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) both fall short on their promises to the women they lured into their pathetic lives. Franks promises of eccentricity and ambition with his creative and eccentric April; Nick’s promises of being the “cool-guy” to Amy’s (Rosamund Pike)“cool girl” ended with only the women holding up their end of the bargain. Unfortunately, unlike Amy’s carefully and calculated escape due to Nick’s absentness and the time this movie is set in, April is suffocated by Frank’s need to throw his ramblings of aggressive nothings at her on an everyday basis. It almost feels as though his stifling arguments are purposeful. April pleads for silence so she can “think” multiple times throughout the film. Think about what? Amy’s freedom to think allowed her to avenge her dying soul, while April’s confinement led her to free herself the only way she knew how.
Cishtero-patriarchy makes it so that attaching one’s self to a man always ends in the compromising of one’s self. The trick for maximum survival is that you have to remind them who you are and who they are. Gone Girl’s “cool-girl Amy” and the “specialness” that Helen Givings saw in April were the selves that came into the relationships with their respective partner, who they thought to be their equals at the time they met. But it was when their men revealed that they were too weak, too self-centered, and very inadequate to keep their promise of at least pretending to be who they once were is that leads these women down the paths they take. Whereas Amy can remind Nick of their oaths of “crazy, stupid, love,” with her well thought out scheme, April falls victim to the deal gone bad. Amy was the psychotic bitch that was unhappy with the suburban life she never signed up for with the man she also never signed up for and killed that “cool-girl” self, as Nick killed his; and framed him for it. She wanted everyone to know that Nick Dunne killed her, as he did drive her to. And when she came back as the suburban housewife he forced her into, she took from him the last bit of life he had in him — a not so desperate housewife. The tale of a woman who loses herself in a relationship with a man while being tied to his potential is one that always ends in death; the death of the mind, death of the body, and death of the soul.
Justin Haythe’s Revolutionary Road is no different. We are taken down a gruesome road of April’s end.