Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Generation X's "Revolutionary Road"

Growing up sucks. Ask any teenager or anyone about their teenage years. Growing older sucks, too. Ask anyone working at a crappy job they feel they can’t quit (if they still have a job). Responsibility, life-planning or whatever you call it, catches up with most of us, sooner or later. Admirably, many of us “buck up” when responsibility comes calling, get that sucky job that puts bread on the table, buy the cookie-cutter house in a gingerbread neighborhood and raise a family in a more or less normal fashion. I’m not that type of guy. I also discovered many friends who despise this part of adulthood as well. I’m certain many of our parents may have had similar feelings, but “Generation X” is being dragged into this part of life kicking and screaming.

“Revolutionary Road”, the powerful film by Sam Mendes, can be seen as an allegory of the internal struggles experienced by “Gen Xers” as we enter middle age. Although the film is set in the 1950’s, it is less about the setting than the two leads played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. The actors, both “Gen Xers” are in top form as Frank and April Wheeler, a couple struggling to accept their mundane existence. April is a failed actress, who loathes the traditional housewife role. Frank is an office worker whose work depresses him so much he has affairs to feel alive. April devises a plan to move to Paris, where she will become the breadwinner and Frank will have time to figure out what he wants to do with his life, a dilemma very much associated with Generation X. Many of us still have no idea what we really want out of life, except to not become a robotic tool.

Frank is liberated by the concept of Paris, begins taking more risks at his job, which ironically results in a promotion. April starts packing up their things and starts planning the move. The couple becomes enthralled with the idea of escaping “Revolutionary Road” until a life-changing incident shatters their dream and their relationship falls apart. Reality collides with fantasy and they are forced to confront the realization that they may just be like everybody else, confined to the normal life embraced by their neighbors. Of course, there is no “normal”, only a perception of what it is or is not, depending on your point of view. A safe reality is a safe existence. If we refuse to embrace this fake reality, is the real world too much to accept?

Who made these rules anyway? Do we really have to forgo our dreams (even if we don’t know what they are), pull a veil over ourselves and deny an unknown future which lies ahead of us? It is safe to settle in to an aura of comfortableness, turn off the reckless noise in our ears with the fa├žade that reality has forced our lives into mediocrity. Like Frank and April, Generation X is not accepting the system they grew up loathing and ridiculing.

Sam Mendes leaves Frank and April’s young children out of their conflict and almost out of “Revolutionary Road”. The few scenes with the children are happy ones. It is important to portray that they love their children but not the lifestyle they fell they must lead. As a father, I find it hard to be the uber-parent who throws their child a Chuck E Cheese birthday party. I don’t see myself bringing a crock-pot of hotdish to the next potluck. Doritos and cheese dip, maybe, or some derivative like Sun Chips and ranch dip. I just can’t succumb to the idea that I need to make food to impress people. I’m not making punch. It’s 2-liters of Mountain Dew, plastic cups and a bag of ice. What’s so wrong with that? I’d rather be in a mosh pit at First Avenue than spend five hours at a fundraiser. Please note all fundraising persons: I’m never buying candles. EVER. Candles burn down houses. “Nuff said. I know I’m not alone with these sentiments. Generation X does not hate parenting, just the stereotypes and stigmas associated with it. We love our kids, but we’re not shopping for them en masse at “Baby Gap.” We’re just as likely to buy them Misfits onesies and little Chuck Taylor’s. It may not be the anti-conformity envisioned by Kurdt Cobain, but a little rebellion goes a long way in your thirties. Unlike Cobain, we’re still here, still complaining about music, still in the middle of the mosh pit and still looking for that extra-cool find at the garage sale.

It doesn’t matter how you live your life or how anyone expects you to live it, by all means – love it. There are many Frank and April Wheelers out there, maybe even next door. Maybe you can see the struggle in their eyes and disposition. Maybe you can see them in the mirror. If you do, put your kids in the mirror instead. If you do nothing else in life, make sure your children are happy. Many of those Chuck E Cheese, Baby Gap parents truly love the life they lead and I admire them for it. Whether you’re happiest bringing your family to the mall or the flea market, remember you only live once. Stick around and enjoy the cheese dip.

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