Who are Frank and April Wheeler?
Leonardo DiCaprio: They’re a normal 1950s suburban couple who are desperately trying to fulfil their youthful dreams of leading an interesting life, but are inevitably failing to do so. Frank is an entirely un-heroic character, which I felt excited about playing. If there’s any hero in the movie it’s Kate Winslet’s character, April, because she’s the one that’s willing to sacrifice everything for a more interesting life. Frank is happy conforming and being a product of his environment.
Kate Winslet: What they come to realise throughout the course of the story is that they’re quietly unhappy with their life. They’re slightly more glamorous looking, certainly, than their friends and some of their neighbours. When they first met, they were somewhat Bohemian. So I think that April, in particular, had expected a little more adventure in life; more possibilities than the limited possibilities she is experiencing living in Revolutionary Road. She’s honest with Frank about the fact she’s feeling isolated, lonely and trapped, and that this is not the life they wanted. But that has its consequences.
Who do you think people will relate to more – Frank or April?
LD: It depends on the person. As much as it’s about two people, it’s also about the role of the American housewife at that period in time. A lot of women in the 1950s were forced into staying at home and cooking for the family and being a jolly Stepford wife, and that drove a lot of women to prescription medication (laughs). Frank is a character who at the beginning of the film cheats on his wife with his secretary. But towards the end he is desperately trying to salvage their relationship. So through-out the film sympathy is shifted from one character to the other.
KW: It will be interesting to see who audiences identify with the most. They’ll have to decide for themselves. It wasn’t really our job to have an audience sympathise with Frank and April. But the screenplay is constructed very, very cleverly in that on the one hand you understand April, you see how Frank is having an affair with his secretary. And then five minutes later, April is screaming at Frank and telling him to be more of a man than the man he’s trying to be, and the sympathy swings again and you’re feeling sorry for Frank.
In the film Frank and April decide to start a new life in Paris. What does Paris represent to them?
LD: It represents the dream they have of a different future for themselves. They’re very narcissistic people at the end of the day. They’re self-indulgent in that they feel like they don’t have enough and they don’t look at what’s right in front of them. The idea of leading a Bohemian existence away from the conformities of 1950s suburbia is what they feel will make them happy. Ultimately, they’re doomed for failure because they have the wrong intent from the start.
KW: Certainly to April, Paris represents something to hope for. It’s the possibility of a new future and a potentially unpredictable life, and that’s really what she wants. She’s sick of the predictability of her day-to-day existence. Women in the 1950s American suburbs had very little choice in life. But to the people around them, Frank and April are crazy. What do you mean you’re not happy with your beautiful house and your white picket fence, your two beautiful children? Aren’t we all so lucky to have this? But to April, it’s the kiss of death.
The story takes place in the 1950s. What makes it relevant to today’s audiences?
LD: What it ultimately meant to me was, in the pursuit of happiness we don’t realise what we already have. That’s relevant and timeless. To me, it became less and less about the 1950s and the cultural backdrop. It became about two people falling short of finding their happiness.
KW: The themes of this story are universal for the simple reason that many of us in life, in the quest to find happiness, go through difficult times. We’ve all had that moment when you wake up one day and say, hang on a second, is this really who I am? Is this really what I want? It’s impossible for human beings not to ask themselves that question. That’s why I feel it is relevant today. And also because it’s a portrait of a marriage, a marriage that is very, very honest – sometimes brutally so. It’s almost uncomfortable to be watching these people pull each other apart. But it’s a reminder that honesty and communication within any relationship is tremendously important if you’re to survive.
What do you hope audiences will take away from the film?
LD: It’s for the viewer to interpret – that sanctity should remain in place. I hate telling people what they should feel at the end of a movie.
Interview courtesy of Gulf Film. Revolutionary Road is on general release