the first day of classes in a chinese university can be quite entertaining for the english language teachers. on the first day of class, the foreign teachers traditionally introduced themselves, telling the class about who they are and where they're from and what they do in their spare time, speaking slowly to acclimate students to the various american voices. afterwards, once the teacher had spoken, the students introduced themselves. in an effort to become immersed in english language and western ideas, students often chose english names for themselves, which they usually obtained from western films and books. occasionally some students missed the mark altogether (perhaps intentionally) and chose names like "stonebreaker" or "doodoo" or "pony." corey green once had a class that named themselves after the ingredients of a salad bar. he had a watermelon, an apple, a lettuce, a tomato, a celery, an orange, and so on and on. in these rare cases, teachers pulled students aside, inquired about their names and suggested possible changes. "stonebreaker" and "pony" kept their titles; however, i was able to talk "doodoo" into becoming "melissa", which she later changed to "hillary."
the two most popular names in our english department were jack and rose, as inspired by the love story in the film TITANIC. every class had one jack, and every class had at least a dozen girls who wanted to be rose. how the one rose in each class was determined, i'll never know, but they all wanted it. like ladies squabbling over the bouquet at the wedding, i imagined that they fought tooth and nail for the right to be named after kate winslet's hocker spitting heroine.
and who can blame them? i have only seen TITANIC the one time in the theatre, and i remember sitting in the back of the theatre weeping like an insulted child. but my tears had nothing to do with jack and rose. no, i was bent on all the images of old people nestling together in their bed while the water ascended in their cabin and the mother reading to her children as the flood levels reached their bunks and the musicians who all returned to the deck as they could go down playing music together. not that any of those images were true to history, mind you, but i'd just had the cancer, and i was delicate to the notion of facing death with a smirking glare.
i also thought kate winslet was smoking. so maybe there was some of that in my emotions as well.
fast forward to two weeks ago when the wife comes home with a copy of REVOLUTIONARY ROAD from the redbox machine (dear God, what a great invention). suffice it to say, i'm not much for the drama genre. i don't care for love stories or films about families deconstructing. if i want a good love story, i watch something by john hughes. if i need domestic deconstruction, i watch FAMILY GUY. but in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD we have the return of the power duo, the kenny rogers and dolly parton of the silver screen. and after biting my t-shirt in titanic agony once before watching kate and leo, i had to see what they were up to again.
for the most part, i do not suspect that many english teachers in china will have hordes of franks and aprils in their classes this fall. nor do i predict that rings of chinese girls will go to fisticuffs over kate winslet's new namesake. wherein TITANIC we watched the steaming, sweating love of jack and rose soar above a sinking ship, in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD frank and april's love is the sinking ship, and children and neighbors and real estate agents and schizophrenic friends all go down with them. this thing starts on a high plane and swan dives into a ridiculous depth of despair and marital mutilation. this film offers no opportunities to walk away with warm fuzzies, unless you call emotional nausea a "warm fuzzy."
still, there is something in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD that demands consideration. apart from the fact that both lead performers - kate and leo - totally upstage their entire careers up to this point, and besides the fact that the direction and music and narration are impeccably spot-on, the story here is uniquely surprising. to simply suggest that REVOLUTIONARY ROAD is a film about one couple's marriage dissolving beneath its own self-propelled floodwaters is a short-sighted dismissal of the film's starkest claims, particularly what it speaks concerning traditional gendered roles. i don't want to say much more than that because the intricacies of frank and april's relationship, as unfolded through hopes wrought and hopes deferred, blew my mind. and i like when people go have their own minds blown. i don't want to steal that from anyone.
all in all, i give REVOLUTIONARY ROAD a 4 out of 5. as a person who prides myself on not being easily shaken by art, i was shocked by how hard this film ran me over, particularly the ending. this film gnawed at me for several days, and even this morning, two weeks later, i'm still grappling with the magnitude of where frank and april led one another. although it may not offer many chinese namesakes or win a spot on the AFI's top films of all times, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD is definitely a vessel worth riding all the way to its relentlessly grimy bottom.