We spent most of Saturday scouring Edmonton for cross-country skiing gear. After a particularly fruitless stretch (it’s very late in the season and stores are picked thin), we stopped at the Chapters across from Camper’s Village on Whitemud to use the washroom and grab tea and snacks. As I waited for the barista to finish up, I caught sight of a middle-aged couple sitting at a nearby table. He read the paper and she thumbed through a book, reading sections of it out loud to him. They didn’t make eye contact and if I hadn’t been sure she was reading to him, I would have wondered why two strangers were sitting together in a coffee shop.
The book? The Idiots Guide to Surviving Divorce.
Rob and I watched two dvd’s this past week. Revolutionary Road with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet and a French-Canadian film from 1986 titled The Decline of the American Empire. On the surface, they have nothing in common. The first found its base in a 1961 book of the same name. It’s considered to be one of the 100 greatest novels of the 20th Century. Written several years before Betty Freidan’s feminist treatise, it clearly calls out the hollow existence of suburban 1950’s American. While I don’t think the author intended for it to be a feminist novel, the movie clearly sees it that way. The second movie supposedly derives from a book of the same name that one of the main characters wrote. All the characters save two teach at an unidentified university. The film spends most of its time going back and forth between the four men and the four women who have been acquainted, intimately, with each other for a long time. The decline in question concerns male/female relationships and the discussions are driven by sex. Sexual infidelity to be more precise.
Interestingly, both films deal with couples who don’t know their partners, make wildly inaccurate assumptions about each other and feel incredibly entitled to put their own needs ahead of the success of their relationships.
The French film, though billed as a comedy, makes a viewer feel embarrassed for the characters more than anything else. Revolutionary Road, however, made me cry.
Winslet’s character commits suicide in the last fifteen minutes or so of the movie. She performs an early second trimester abortion on herself in the master bath using what appeared to be a douchebag and a pointy piece of hard rubber. She does this with full knowledge of the danger, and the film makes it clear she expects to die. Though she is portrayed as a bit flighty and prone to hysterics, all I saw was a woman who’d made choices for her life thinking they would turn out differently in spite of the fact that her choices really only lead in the direction of where she ends up. I understood her frustration. I just couldn’t fathom such a willful denial of the obvious – she had options. Options that would have been socially ostracizing for her given the time period, but she had them. She wanted life to be different without sacrifice or great effort on her part.
I felt sorry for DiCaprio’s character. Rob didn’t. The character floated through life on charm and half-assing, rising to challenges on whims really only to see those brief moments of effort be rewarded out of proportion. None of that is off the mark, and the film doesn’t give much background for the couple. We don’t know how they got from A to B, just that they did. It seemed to me though that his apathy was driven by her need for them to be more special than the suburban crowd.
They viewed suburbia as a trap. The people around them as complacent and willing accomplices to their enslavement. They saw the hopelessness and the pointlessness. They were wise and better than that.
Maybe. But perception is all. We live primarily in a moment that changes with every moment that passes. The impermanence should liberate us. Inspire. Instead these two look back constantly at a moment in time when anything was supposedly possible and they choose to walk the road that led them to where they were. It didn’t occur to either that they might be “trapped” because they were too lazy or frightened or both to take the roads. Or that one life is really as good as another if you decide to make it so.
Anyway, it made me cry. I understand her longing for freedom. To be just her and to answer to no one’s dreams but her own. I remembered me in my little house in Valley Junction before Rob and before Will. Just me. Sometimes I do miss that house. But, it was lonely. Loneliness so deep that I can still feel the echo. Even in widowhood I was not so profoundly alone, and I am grateful that I will never experience that again in my life. I can’t imagine someone longing for that.