Saturday, January 10, 2009

Revolutionary Road

I have no desire to see the movie Revolutionary Road, but I've had to watch the trailer several times now--I've seen more movies than average recently (Marley And Me, Frost/Nixon, Doubt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Milk) and the trailer has gone before each one of them.

The reason I don't want to see the movie is because Revolutionary Road's trailer basically tells you the conflict, and then shows you nothing but that conflict for the whole movie. And it's not a conflict I'm particularly interested in.

The conflict appears to be "should you do what you want selfishly, or should you try to fit in to society and play by its rules." On the one hand is the hedonistic, enjoyment mode of thought, and the other side is your responsibility to your family as a husband, as a father, as a neighbor.

And then I realized that in two other movies (neither of which I was particularly interested in) I saw this storyline emerge again. One was one I had been dragged to against my will: Marley and Me, and the other was one that I kept looking over while my parents were watching, The Bucket List.

In Marley And Me we're introduced to a new family; a sexy high-powered reporteress, a sexy low-powered reporter who becomes a columnist, their dog (the worst dog in the world, apparently), and eventually their three children. As soon as the children start arriving, the reporteress suddenly transforms into a hysterical, over-stressed stay-at-home mom who resents being shackled to her children. The husband, meanwhile, finds his job less and less rewarding as time goes on--especially when they move to a nicer part of the country and he takes a "good job" which apparently he finds to be grinding and boring after having desired it for most of the movie.

In The Bucket List, a terminally ill older man decides he doesn't want to spend the last few months of his life with his wife, and decides to go traipsing off doing amazing things he never got to do in life with another terminally ill older man. By the end, he realizes he should be with his wife because he really loves her, so he ends the trip and goes home to die, happy, with his family.

The reason I find these stories somewhat boring, I suppose, is because it doesn't ring true with my family or how I was brought up. They set up this conflict: responsibility versus enjoyment. But the way I was brought up, responsibility brings enjoyment. My mother is a smart woman with a masters in educational psychology, but she has been a homemaker raising three children. But not once has she ever seemed to resent being at home, resent the work, or anything of the sort: in fact, she takes joy from being my mother.

Of course, that's not a prescription. If you're not someone who takes joy from stay-at-home motherhood (or stay-at-home fatherhood) then you shouldn't do it. But my point is that I learned that responsibility does not have to be a joyless burden. In fact, my mother was at great pains to teach me to find joy in performing a job excellently.

I worked at Regal Entertainment for a while as a concessions person, and before that at as a cashier for another retail group. And while the long hours, short breaks, and (most of all) less than happy customers were a constant wear, there was a certain pride I took from being there on time, from doing my job well, from being someone the management could trust to do a job well. So there were times where I was happy with my job--when we got done early because I'd come up with a time-saving strategy, or when a difficult customer left me happier than when they came.

So I'm not interested in these conflicts often because I can't separate myself from irritation that the characters can't find a way to make the demands of the world around them fit into their own joys and personal sensibility.

On the other hand, this thread in art is a thoroughly predictable one: it is the impact of the 1950s societally-based excellence and the 1960s permissive counter-revolution hitting head to head. We don't want to isolate ourselves from our work, our community; but we don't want to isolate ourselves from ourselves. That's always going to be the tension. So, I'm not saying it's not a fitting subject. Just, personally, I'm interested in the fact that I see these stories and am universally not interested in that conflict.

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