The new issue of Philosophy Now magazine (Sept./Oct. 09) is available. The issue is dedicated to existentialism, and in it you’ll find my review of Revolutionary Road, the film, mostly, but also Richard Yates’ incredible novel, which I couldn’t resist talking about as well.
I’ve copied in the first few paragraphs here, and I encourage you to buy the magazine. There are a number of terrific articles for all of us parlor existentialists to enjoy. It’s a great issue.
Subscribe to Philosophy Now, one of the coolest magazines in the universe!
Nick DiChario asks if it’s existential, or just depressing.
All April Wheeler wants is for her husband Frank to shut up. Chances are you’ve felt a similar frustration. You suffer a setback in life – not your run-of-the-mill disappointment, but a game-changer, one of those epic collapses that forces you to take a long, hard look at who you are and what it means to be alive in a world that has turned against you; a moment that makes you reassess a life-long dream and decide whether it’s time to give up on it for good – and you just need a little time and space to think it through.
This is exactly where April is in the opening scene of Revolutionary Road, the film based on Richard Yates’ classic 1961 existential novel. April always wanted to be an actress, and she went to acting school before she met Frank. When she joined the local production of The Petrified Forest, it was mostly to remind herself of her former life, to rediscover the flame that once burned brightly inside her. Connecticut isn’t exactly Broadway, but for a woman of thirty-something, mother of two, opening night at the high school was a big deal. If she had performed admirably – if she had gotten a standing ovation, or even a sincere round of applause – it might have been enough to justify her existence.
But she was awful – so awful that she knew she would never act again, and most likely had no talent to begin with. Although this scene is passed over quickly in the film, Yates gives it a good measure of attention in his novel. It is an important moment, a moment in April’s life when desire runs hard up against truth and comes out the worst for it. Frank does his best to console her, make her feel better about her failure; but all she really wants him to do is shut the hell up so she can think, put it all in perspective and rearrange her psyche to cope with the death of her dream. Not too much to ask for – but Frank is incapable of giving it. During the ride home the couple argue violently, each saying things they know will deeply hurt the other. Welcome to the lives of Frank and April Wheeler.