Read the Book. See the Movie. Read the Book.
It would be easy to say that Revolutionary Road, both the novel by Richard Yates and the recent film from Sam Mendes, is a story about the American Dream, and how it is nothing more than a dream. I’m sure many intelligent movie reviewers have said so. But April Wheeler, played by Kate Winslet, would argue otherwise. The story, from her point of view, is about the tragedy of fulfilling the American dream – about what happens when individuals meet its standards of production and material consumption. Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) and April settle in the suburbs of New York in the post-WWII economic boom and discover that life is hollow, uncomplicated, and uninteresting. Through a series of troubling and violent fights, revealing visits from a madman (naturally the wisest of all the characters), and a tragic act rarely rivaled in contemporary literature or film, April and Frank show us the deadly cost of idolatry. Their lives are spent consuming their careers, their companions, and their culture until the only things left to consume are their own selves.
We’ve been reading through the Book of Judges in some of our young adults small groups. The people of God, fresh out of Egypt and the wilderness, take the land of Canaan half-heartedly and do not obey God in eliminating all the false gods of the land. Idolatry is so prevalent in this newly acquired territory that the reader caught unawares might suspect he was reading about 20th century suburban America. God had brought the Israelites out of Egypt and had helped them conquer plenty of land – what more did they need him for? But they shunned the very God that sustained them and began to crumble under lesser tribes and nations who had already been scattered.
Athanasius, in his little book On the Incarnation, says that man was not merely broken after the fall, but disappearing. Whatever had been human before the fall began dissipating like vapor. By turning away from God who sustained his very being, man began to become less than human, such that his own existence as a good and created being was called into question. We see it in Judges, and we see it in the stories our culture tells about itself. Idolatry, while promising us that we will be more powerful, emotionally secure, more perfect, indeed, more human, really effects the opposite. It severs us from the source of life and makes us less recognizable as human beings. We begin to disappear, our achievements and acquisitions being substituted for who we are and how we spend our time.
It’s hard to see a way out, at least any way out we could take ourselves. Revolutionary Road, for all of its merits as a novel (especially) and a film, ends without a single hint of “redemption.” It seems as hopeless as the Israelites are in Judges, even after they’ve been delivered for the seventh, eighth, ninth time. But as Athanasius muses in his little book, what would happen if God became Man? What if the true Judge revealed himself to his people? What would happen if the things that had been undone began to be remade?
What if God had been there all along?