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Melissa Silverstein Headshot

Feminism & Revolutionary Road

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Revolutionary Road is a tough movie for a woman who grew up after the women's movement of the 1970s to watch, but after watching it a couple of times I actually think that it should be required watching for all young women who think that feminism is irrelevant. (Disclaimer, I am a consultant to the studio and organized a blogger screening for the film.)

The film tells the story of April and Frank Wheeler living the post World War Two "American dream" that morphs into the American nightmare. It is the era described in the Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan the book that articulated for women the "problem with no name" which Kate Winslet read while preparing for her role as April. She stated in an interview: "It was the era of prescription medication, you know, and women really starting to believe ...Maybe I'm crazy, because I don't want this life, I think there's something wrong with me.'" (The Guardian)

April and Frank were was supposed to be different. But they weren't. They were exactly the same as everyone on their boring suburban street and that's what was driving them both crazy. But the thing is that Frank had options and choices and given the fact that it is 1955, April did not. Frank went into the city everyday on the train with lots of other men to their boring jobs and April was stuck at home.

She had no choices, no options.

A scene that really shows April's suffocation is when she takes out the garbage cans and positions them perfectly on the curb. She then looks up and sees all the other garbage cans perfectly positioned on the curbs up and down the street. Her face at seeing all the cans, the disbelief that this has become her life is palpable. Juxtapose that with the scene of Frank standing on the train smoking and breathing in the fresh air and the suburbs fly by. He's free, she's in a box.

April wants out and does her best to get herself and her family out but Frank, who can't perceive the depths of her unhappiness because each day he escapes to his office and his lunches with the guys and his affair with a young woman who works in the office, is not in the same place. When April finds out she is pregnant for the third time it sends her over the edge. She knows that if she has another baby she is never, ever, getting out and she can't bear it. Women took abortion decisions into their hands in the days before it became legal, and April performs a DIY abortion which leads to devastating consequences.

Winslet shows that she is the greatest actress of her generation in her portrayal of April Wheeler. She is able to raise Leonardo DiCaprio's performance to another level and he should be thanking her for all his glowing notices. April is a real feminist hero as the film's director Sam Mendes (and Winslet's husband) said in an interview about the film. "She's the only person in the movie that is big enough to face the truth. You know well this is not a movie about a woman who wants to go to Paris. It's a movie about a woman who wants her life back and can still remember the dreams she once had and is finally wakening up, which a lot of people do in their 30s and 40s, who go, 'How did I get here? This is not what I wanted." (LA Times)

Revolutionary Road shows what life was like for women before feminism. It's an important history lesson from the not too distant past. Watch it and read The Feminine Mystique and be thankful that there was a feminist movement or who knows what life would be like now.

Originally posted on: Women & Hollywood