Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates (1961)
Revolutionary Road directed by Sam Mendes (2008)
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This is a 1950’s suburban drama about a married couple, Frank and April Wheeler, who are in a rut. Until April comes up with the idea to move to Paris, and this plan rejuvenates their love for each other and their love for life.
I have actually watched this movie and read this book before; I saw the movie in 2008 soon after it came out and read the book afterwards. I’m sure I had watched the movie a second time at some point, but it’s been at least ten years since I had seen it last. Even so, I still remembered this movie so clearly all these years later.
Back when I read the book and saw the movie the first time I was in my teens, so it was interesting to return to it now that I am in my early 30’s and am married. I still found it both to be very powerful and compelling. I’m not sure who I related to more when I was a teen, but at this point in my life I could see myself in both Frank and April at different times.
I loved this book and would highly recommend it. It was Yates debut novel and I was impressed when I learned that! It was such an immersive experience. It is told in third person but is mostly from Frank’s perspective. Although we get things from Shepp and Helen Givings view as well. We only get one scene from April’s view and while I wish we had more from her; at the same time it made the section with her feel more powerful since throughout the book we hadn’t seen her thoughts until that moment.
This would be a great book to read for a book club or to recommend to others because there is so much to discuss. You have the situation between Frank and April, but there are a lot of other themes going on that are interesting to think about.
While Frank and April’s situation is unique in some ways, in a larger sense they are going through something pretty universal. And I think anyone who has been in long term relationship with a partner they live with, can relate at least to some extent to the drama that goes on between them at times as well as the individual desires they have.
As I said, I saw a bit of myself in both Frank and April, and as I was reading, I was just so in the moment. It wasn’t until after when I was reading others reviews for the book people were saying how both were so selfish and unlikeable. Then I was like, huh, yeah I guess they were unlikeable in a way. I think Yates put you in their shoes in such a way that in hindsight I can see they were both selfish, but in the moment, I could see to an extent where each was coming from.
I loved this movie in 2008 and I love it now. The casting is perfect. Of course, you have DiCaprio and Winslet together for the second time, both being in Titanic about 10 years prior. Kathy Bates is also in this and she too had been in Titanic. Michael Shannon is amazing as John Givings and was nominated for an Oscar. Winslet was also nominated for various awards for her role.
Mendes, the director, was actually married to Winslet at the time but they ended up divorcing in 2010 after seven years of being together.
But I read that Winslet and DiCaprio were so at ease working together and had a lot of fun, sometimes having too much fun and making the dramatic scenes difficult to film (specifically the breakfast scene at the end). Since they knew each other so well they also knew they could push each other and get the best out of each performance because their chemistry just elevated each of their performances.
I have covered quite a lot of DiCaprio movies here-The Revenant true story, Catch Me If You Can book vs movie, What’s Eating Gilbert Grapes Book vs Movie, Shutter Island book vs movie. Partly because I think he is an amazing actor, but also because he just happens to have been in a lot of movies that are based on books! Despite all the ones I have done, there are still more of his I could do in the future! (I’m looking at you, Great Gatsby).
At the end of the day, I highly recommend both book and movie! The book is so gripping, and the movie is basically a perfect adaptation.
From here on out there will be spoilers for both the book and the movie!
Before moving to the suburbs
The movie opens with Frank and April meeting at a party. She says she is going to be an actress, and he says he is a longshoreman and will soon be working the nightshift in a cafeteria. When asked what he actually wants to do, he basically says he doesn’t know yet.
This is in the book as well, but we see much more from their time together. We hear how ever since he was a kid, Frank had grand ideas and wanted to become something more than his father who just worked in a cubicle his whole life.
Others are also impressed with Frank, the book reading, “…talks that would often end in a general murmur of agreement, accompanied by a significant tapping of temples, that old Wheeler really had it. All he would ever need, it was said, was the time and the freedom to find himself. Various ultimate careers were predicted for him, the consensus being that his work would lie somewhere “in the humanities” if not precisely in the arts—it would, at any rate, be something that called for a long and steadfast dedication—and that it would involve his early and permanent withdrawal to Europe, which he often described as the only part of the world worth living…”
However, early on in their marriage they are living in the city when April becomes pregnant unexpectedly. She later tells him she knows a girl who gave herself an abortion and as long as it is done before 12 weeks it is totally safe. She informs him she already bought what she needs to perform the procedure, but Frank is angry that she already went this far in the plan without even including him. “Even as he filled his lungs for shouting he knew it wasn’t the idea itself that repelled him—the idea itself, God knew, was more than a little attractive—it was that she had done all this on her own, in secret, had sought out the girl and obtained the facts and bought the rubber syringe and rehearsed the speech; that if she’d thought about him at all it was only as a possible hitch in the scheme, a source of tiresome objections that would have to be cleared up and disposed of if the thing were to be carried out with maximum efficiency. That was the intolerable part of it; that was what enriched his voice with a tremor of outrage…”
In the end, they keep the baby and he asks a friend about what needing a job but says he wants a really boring office job; one that he couldn’t possibly stay at for long because it would be so boring and dumb. The friend includes Knox Business Solutions on the list and Frank decides to apply there because that is where his father worked. He gets the job without even needing to mention his father’s name.
Of course, Frank ends up working there for longer than he planned and seven years later he is still there.
When their second child is two, they decide to move to the suburbs and real estate agent Helen Givings shows them a house on Revolutionary Road which they fall in love with.
In the movie, during a fight April says that they had one child, and then a second to prove that the first one wasn’t a mistake. This line is in the book as well, but it was actually part of Frank’s thoughts, not something April says. And in the book, we learn that their first child was indeed a mistake.
Something we don’t see in the movie at all is April’s childhood. She was raised by her aunt but would be moved around from one family member to another. She saw her parents on occasion, both had gone their separate ways but would visit her here and there.
When April first tells him of her childhood the book reads, ““Jesus,” Frank said on first hearing these facts… (though he wasn’t quite sure at the time, as he hung and shook his head, whether what he felt was sorrow for the unhappiness of the story or envy because it was so much more dramatic a story than his own).”
Frank thinks that because April never had a good mother role model is why she seems to struggle to be a mother herself. There is even this whole section part way through the book where he says that he read women who want to get rid of their pregnancy have a form of penis envy and it has to do with them wanting to be a man. He also says that every little girl wants to be a boy, but that with a positive mother role model, they begin to embrace being a female.
In book and movie April is part of a theater production put on by the town. In the movie we just see that the play was a failure and that is it. In the book, we see that their final dress rehearsal actually went really well. April was amazing, and her performance seemed to elevate the performances of those around her. On opening night though, the leading man was sick and the director had to step in at the last minute. No one informed the audience though, and this change in casting caused people to be flustered and the bad acting on the part of the director also caused others, including April, to struggle in their parts.
In book and movie, Frank had planned to say something more encouraging to her in the dressing room, but in the movie, he is thrown off by her appearing behind him and in the book he is thrown off just by how she looks and he ends up saying, “Well that wasn’t exactly a triumph was it.”
On the way home they get in a huge argument. In the book, we see that they had huge arguments all throughout their marriage and it seems to be a habit they are in. It also seems like April often doesn’t want to talk, but Frank keeps pushing the issue and they both explode.
In the book, the Sunday after the play they have their neighbors, Shepp and Millie Campbell over. Things have been tense with them all weekend, and this evening isn’t much different. Frank talks at length, thinking he sounds so impressive about how ridiculous people are, yet when he is done no one seems to respond positively.
Millie though shares that she heard Helen Givings has a son in a mental institution. They all gather closer at this gossip and it helps the evening feel more interesting.
The following Monday is Frank’s 30th birthday and while at work he eyes a woman named Maureen and decides he is going to attempt to have sex with her.
In the book we learn he had drunkenly kissed her at the Christmas party a few months before.
He ends up taking her out, going back to her place and they have sex.
In book and movie this stops after this first day but picks up again later in the story. In the book, we see that he goes to her place one afternoon and she is cooking him dinner and appears totally naked. He then tells her they need to talk and he ends things with her. Prior to this, her roommate had caught him outside and expressed her concern about Maureen and that Frank shouldn’t be dragging her along, making Maureen think he loves her. Frank is very rude to her and is pleased with himself before going in and breaking things off. (He had planned on breaking up with her even before the seeing the roommate and then Maureen being naked by the way.)
Going to Paris
When Frank comes home the night of his birthday and April apologizes for the weekend and makes a nice dinner for him.
Later that night, she tells him they have six months of savings, plus the money they can make selling the house and that they can move to Paris. She can get a job doing secretarial work at a government agency and he can stay home and use the time to try and find himself and to decide what he wants to do with his life.
He is hesitant at first, but in the end he agrees. This plan to move to Paris invigorates them and renews their love for each other. She tells him how the other night with the Campbell’s she couldn’t stand what he was saying because he was talking like they were better than other people when in reality they were exactly like those people they made fun of. They had become another cog in the machine, living life exactly like everyone else. The movie has a lot of great scenes that show the conformity of the time and we see everyone doing the same thing at the same time. After they decide to move to Paris, we get a scene where all the men are in a sea of going to work, but Frank is standing still, just looking out. Visually showing us that he is not longer like everyone else around him.
In the book and movie people think it’s weird they will be up and moving to Paris and they also balk at the idea of April being the one brining in the income until Frank decides what he wants to do.
Millie and Shepp
Their closest friends are neighbors Millie and Shepp. We get segments from Shepp’s perspective and one night April and Frank come over and we are in his view and we learn that he is in love with April. We also see him looking at his sons watching tv and he feels a sudden revulsion for his own children. The movie shows this when he tries to engage with his kids watching tv and they ignore him.
He see’s his wife getting ready before the visit and in the movie he comments, is that what you’re going to wear? Whereas in the book he leans to kiss her and notices a smell she has and passively asks if she wants to shower but she declines. So, we see he is unhappy with his wife and children, and that he is in love with April. We get a bit more backstory on him in the book, but I’ll skip over that.
So April and Frank come over and tell them they are going to Paris.
In the movie, we see Millie and Shepp later that evening and Shepp tells Millie he thinks moving to Paris is immature. Millie is visibly relieved to hear him say this and agrees. She starts to cry and he comforts her. In the book we also hear them talk about how it is an unrealistic plan but I don’t think Shepp goes to comfort Millie. In fact, while in bed that night he knows she wants him to make a gesture or something, but he knows if he does she will start to cry and he doesn’t feel like dealing with that.
In the book and movie, I think the reason Millie is emotional about this is because the Wheelers are always talking as if they are superior, but the Campbells and everyone else can see that they are really just like everyone else. But with them going to Paris, Frank and April not only looking better than Millie and Shepp, but now they actually are superior because they are being different, it makes Millie feel even more self-conscious than she already was. I don’t think she herself wants to more to Europe, but I think she is unhappy with feeling less than.
In the book, Helen comes over one evening to ask the Wheelers if her son could come over sometime and meet them. They already know about her son, but act as though they don’t. She tells them he has been institutionalized, but the doctor thinks some interaction with other people would help him. They agree and she is relieved. However, they then tell her they will be putting the house on the market because they are moving away in the fall.
When she comes home, she starts to feel unhappy and begins crying, the book reading, “She cried because she’d had such high, high hopes about the Wheelers tonight and now she was terribly, terribly, terribly disappointed. She cried because she was fifty-six years old and her feet were ugly and swollen and horrible; she cried because none of the girls had liked her at school and none of the boys had liked her later; she cried because Howard Givings was the only man who’d ever asked her to marry him, and because she’d done it, and because her only child was insane.”
In the movie she is just with April when she asks about John coming over, and in the movie April doesn’t say anything about moving to Paris. In the movie it is once John is there, they Frank says they are moving.
In book and movie, they have an open conversation with John about how they agree that this whole schtick of a life that is forced on people is as hopeless as John finds it. Frank says they want out of the “empty hopelessness”. They really connect with John, and after the three of them talk separate they then go in to eat along with Mr. and Mrs. Givings and the three of them reminisce about old radio shows they used to watch.
The movie has the scene play out very close to the book but it cuts the scene of them reminiscing on radio shows.
In both, after John leaves, Frank and April talk about how he is the first person who seems to get that they are talking about. Since he is “crazy” they say how if it takes being crazy to want a better life, then so be it.
After the night they decide to do Paris, the next day at work Frank actually gets a lot done. During their talk April had commented how it wasn’t right he has to work like a dog at a job he can’t stand. The truth is though, he barley does any work at all and basically shuts his brain off when he is at work. He feels guilty she thinks he works hard, so he actually works at finishing this brochure that is wanted of him.
A week or so later, the big boss wants to see him because he is impressed with the brochure. So much so, that he wants Frank to do more projects like this, he would be given a promotion, and a pay raise.
When he tells April she doesn’t think twice about it because she is so set on Paris and Frank, too, kind of plays it off like he isn’t actually interested.
The boss does say how talking this job would be a good tribute to his father, who had worked for Knox for like 30 years and yet had nothing to show for it and wasn’t remembered.
Shortly after the visit with John and the change at work, April tells Frank she is pregnant. She is desperate to leave though and says she can do the at home procedure. In the book, she refers to the friend she talked about seven years prior and how if done within 12 weeks it’s safe. In the movie, this is something that had never come up before in their relationship.
Frank would rather stay and thinks that with their new job with better pay, maybe they could live a happy life like they want while staying here. “After all, Parisians aren’t the only ones capable of living fulfilling lives.”
April wants to stick to Paris though. They are at the ten week period and have two weeks to make a choice.
In the book Frank thinks of these two weeks as a campaign as he uses different tactics to “win”. In the book we read, “…he would feel a certain distaste with himself for having to resort to such methods—and, very obscurely, with her as well, for being so easily swayed by them. What kind of kid stuff was this? But these attacks of conscience were quickly allayed: all was fair in love and war; and besides, wasn’t she all too capable of playing the same game? Hadn’t she pulled out everything in her own bag of tricks last month, to seduce him into the Europe plan? All right, then. Maybe it was sort of ludicrous; maybe it wasn’t the healthiest way for grown people to behave, but that was a question they could take up later. There was too much at stake to worry about such things now.”
In book and movie while they are arguing, April says how she’s already had two kids, doesn’t that count for something? Frank is disgusted by her phrasing, and in the book, he says well if you want to get into numbers, you’ve been pregnant three times April and twice you have wanted to get rid of it. This isn’t in the movie; he instead gets angry and accuses her of probably wanting to rid get of their first two kids as well.
Before long, they are at 12 weeks and it is decided they are going to stay.
Being with Shepp
The Campbells and the Wheelers go out one night and Mille gets sick and wants to go home but the Campbell’s car is blocked in. April says Frank can take Millie home, and she and Shepp will wait for the car to move.
In the movie she is clearly depressed about having to stay and talks to Shepp about it, how she didn’t “want out”, she “wanted in”. In the book she also talks about her childhood and how she never had fun. Though when he asks her about vacations, she says she never had fun then either so she couldn’t blame the boarding school for her unhappiness, nor her aunts, but that is must just be a problem with herself.
The two of them then dance and in both they end up having sex in the car. In both, he tells her he loves her, but in the movie, April dismisses it. In the book, she tells him that she doesn’t know him. He’s like what do you mean, you know me. She says she doesn’t know him, but even if she did it wouldn’t matter because she doesn’t know herself.
John Givings second visit
In the book, John actually visits three times. The first time is the one I talked about, the second time in the book he talks about needing a lawyer and telling the story of threatening his mom with the coffee table. He keeps on about this, and so the Givings leave. This second visit is combined into the first visit in the movie.
But in both, the last visit with John Givings happens while April and Frank are having a fight. While there, it comes up that they are no longer going to Paris and John digs into what the real reason is. He decides it wasn’t on April’s end, because she’s too tough and wouldn’t have given up on the idea. He then says it must be Frank’s fault. This tense scene ends when the Givings rush John out, but before leaving he says he sure as hell is glad he’s not that kid as he points at April’s belly.
About this scene in the movie, Winslet is incredible for this entire movie, but her stoney expression throughout this scene was amazing. Michael Shannon was also just perfect. I don’t want to leave out Bates either, because she is perfect in her role.
Anyway, after this they continue their fight and she tells him she hates him and doesn’t think she ever loved him. He tells her that she should have gotten rid of the baby while she had the chance.
Also, before the Givings came over, he tells April about the affair but says it’s over now. She asks him why he even bothered to tell her and this is when she first tells him she doesn’t love him and therefore doesn’t care who he sleeps with. DiCaprio is fantastic in this movie, but this was another scene where Winslet was incredible. The way she perfectly says the line, “That’s right, I don’t care. F— who you like.”
April not knowing who she is
One thing I think the book shows more so than the movie is April feeling like she doesn’t know herself anymore. After their big fight she stays up all night and she sees Frank sleeping and, in that moment, knows she doesn’t actually hate him, but also knows she doesn’t love him. He was a boy who made me laugh and was fun to kiss and that’s where it should have ended. A section from the book when we are in her perspective reads, “And all because, in a sentimentally lonely time long ago, she had found it easy and agreeable to believe whatever this one particular boy felt like saying, and to repay him for that pleasure by telling easy, agreeable lies of her own, until each was saying what the other most wanted to hear—until he was saying “I love you” and she was saying “Really, I mean it; you’re the most interesting person I’ve ever met.”…and the next thing you knew all honesty, all truth, was as far away and glimmering, as hopelessly unattainable as the world of the golden people. Then you discovered you were working at life the way the Laurel Players worked at The Petrified Forest…—earnest and sloppy and full of pretension and all wrong; you found you were saying yes when you meant no, and “We’ve got to be together in this thing” when you meant the very opposite; then you were breathing gasoline as if it were flowers and abandoning yourself to a delirium of love under the weight of a clumsy, grunting, red-faced man you didn’t even like—Shepp Campbell!—and then you were face to face, in total darkness, with the knowledge that you didn’t know who you were. And how could anyone else be blamed for that?”
Ugh, such a powerful passage!
In book we know she has stayed up all night thinking and writing different letters to Frank only to burn them all up.
In the morning, as seen in book and movie, Frank is up for work because he has a big meeting that day. April is up and makes him breakfast and asks him about his work sincerely. He used to hate being asked about his job, insisting it was the least interesting thing about him. Yet, here, he seems to have embraced it and tells April about it. At the end of the meal, he tells her how nice this was and asks if she actually hates him to which she says no she doesn’t hate him.
Frank then drives off and as April finishes up the morning chores, she then gets ready to get rid of the baby. In the book she is 14 weeks, whereas in the movie she is just one day over 12 weeks. She is very orderly and in the book, we see she puts the number for the hospital beside the phone. The book then reads, “But she needed no more advice and no more instruction. She was calm and quiet now with knowing what she had always known, what neither her parents nor Aunt Claire nor Frank nor anyone else had ever had to teach her: that if you wanted to do something absolutely honest, something true, it always turned out to be a thing that had to be done alone.”
We then cut to Millie, Helen, and Shepp hearing about what has happened. In the movie though, we see her leave the bathroom and go in the living room. She starts to bleed, and then she goes to the phone and calls the hospital. Again, Winslet is incredible here.
In the book she also had left Frank a note which said, “Whatever happens, this isn’t your fault.”
In both, she isn’t wanting to kill herself, because if she had wanted that why would she have called the hospital. But obviously she was aware of the risks and I am sure when they were in the hospital trying to save her, I would guess she was ready to let go and pass on.
The book tells us about the night after the hospital as well as when Frank came back to sell the house.
We then hear that the two kids live with Frank’s older brother and his family and Frank lives in the city but sees the kids on weekends. In the movie it seems the kids still live with Frank.
We go to the following spring and Millie and Shepp are having over the new owners of the Wheeler home and Millie is telling them about the Wheelers. Shepp is thinking how he hates that she still talks about them and now that the emotion has faded, she makes the telling even more dramatic and he sees she relishes the attention she gets by telling it. She then says how the experience brought he and Shepp close and says, right honey? To which he agrees. Internally he thinks how that isn’t a lie either. He is grateful to Millie because she is predictable and because hse is still here, unlike April who was unpredictable and is no longer there.
In the movie we see Millie talking to the new owners about the Wheelers, and Shepp then goes outside. Millie follows and asks if he is okay. He tells her he doesn’t want to talk about the Wheelers anymore and she agrees and say they won’t. They then walk back to the house with their arms around each other.
In the movie they made Shepp and Millie a more likeable couple and even though Shepp had been in love with April and we know he thought his wife mundane in comparison, they still have those two moments where they are closer than those counterpart moments in the book.
In the very end of book and movie we see Helen talking to her husband. She says how much she likes the new owners of Revolutionary Road and how they are the first decent people to live there. The husband is like, well except the Wheelers. To which she says she never liked them much and then complains about them. The husband though turns his hearing aid off and her voice drowns out.
In the book we also learn that they start seeing John only at the institution after the last Wheeler visit. They start seeing him once a week, but as the months go on, the visits become more and more sparce and he is basically forgotten in there.
A big thing in this book is the conformity of the time and the predictability of life. Frank and April hate the conformity and feel the two of them are different and special. Even when Frank gets his office job, he still thinks of himself as different and better because he didn’t get the job to be serious and instead just thinks it’s funny he’s working at the same place his old man was at.
There is something admittedly different about the Wheelers in that they are eye catching and charismatic. But before the Paris plan, April realizes that they talk as if they are better than others, when really, they are exactly the same and there is nothing special about them because they haven’t done anything different that would make them special.
A line from when they would talk with Millie and Shepp reads, “They would all agree, and the happy implication was that they alone, the four of them, were painfully alive in a drugged and dying culture.”
When they decide to go to Paris, they actually are different and that is why the Campbell’s and Helen Givings is upset by it. There is comfort in the predictability, and the Wheelers are not conforming and being predictable.
When the move is canceled, people are reassured that the Wheeler’s are indeed no better than anyone else and are stuck living the same lives as the rest of them are.
The name of the road they live on is even called “Revolutionary” and John makes a joke calling them the revolutionaries on Wheeler Road. A revolutionary is someone who starts a big change in the world and that is what April and Frank wanted to do.
John Givings represents the truth, so it is meaningful that in the end he is forgotten in an institution.
Helen Givings was a character I had a lot of sympathy for, but in the end, we see that she is a fair-weather friend kind of person and turns on the Wheelers. We also see that her husband doesn’t seem to like her.
In the book we get a couple short segments from the Wheeler’s daughter perspective. When they tell her they aren’t going to Paris she is trying to read them to know what kind of reaction to give them. I thought this was interesting because she is learning to not be honest and rather give people around her what they want-which is what April said she did with Frank, not being honest and just saying what she knew he wanted to hear.
Book vs Movie
I absolutely love both and gave both book and movie 4 stars, or maybe it was 4.5. I gave both the same rating though. I like the insight the book gives us, but the movie is fantastic. Mendes actually filmed scene showing us each of their childhoods but decide to cut it because he felt it made both Frank and April too sympathetic. I know I praised Winslet a lot, but Dicaprio was also amazing and gives a genuine performance.
The dialogue from the movie is almost all taken completely from the book. There are scenes the movie left out, but very few that were added and seriously like nearly 100% is just taken right from the page. Winslet and DiCaprio really bring the scenes to life in such an authentic, real way.
I really don’t know which one wins because I love them both! The book is amazing, and I am tempted to say the book wins because it was so engrossing. But so was the movie! While watching it I never picked up my phone because I was just glued to the screen!