Revolutionary Road — Narcissism as Virtue

Moviegoers are flocking to see their favorite stars from Titanic , Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, reunited on the silver screen. But what the Oscar-nominated film Revolutionary Road serves up—and certainly what the critics are eating up—is rank, vile narcissism at its epic worst.

The central stars, Frank and April Wheeler, are steeped in pride to an almost unbelievable degree. This suburban couple from 1955 have it firmly in their heads that they’re “special” and “different.” Because they have dreams of doing something really “wonderful,” they reason that they’re better than all those drones around them who are satisfied with their quiet lives.

Obviously, all that ego doesn’t bode well for a marriage. But when they’re not screaming curses at each other, Frank and April bond by mocking friends and co-workers. In fact, these two talk like graduates of some preschool self-esteem course. Their dream is to leave all the so-called “morons” behind and move to Paris—as it apparently has never occurred to them that human nature is human nature anywhere you go.

When the dream falls apart, due to Frank’s promotion and April’s surprise pregnancy, April falls apart with it. Feeling “stifled” by her home and family, she gives herself an abortion, leading to her own death.

Nearly the only decent people in the film are an older couple with a mentally ill son who hurls insults at them. But this son is portrayed as a brave teller of uncomfortable truths. And the film’s very last moment shows even this couple subtly but unmistakably divided, as the husband turns off his hearing aid to silence his wife’s chatter.

(It’s a frequent occurrence in this film for people to try to make each other stop talking—not surprising for a film soaked in narcissism. When you’re that wrapped up in your own ego, the only person you want to hear is yourself.)

A worthwhile film could be made by dissecting the behavior of people like Frank and April and showing how loathsome their sense of entitlement really is. In fact, according to several readers of the original novel Revolutionary Road , that’s just what the novel’s author tried to do.

Well, leave it to Hollywood to try to show that those who rebel against “stifling” family life really are the heroes they make themselves out to be.

Thus, Frank’s gradual realization that he really is content with his job and wants that promotion is supposed to be the ultimate sellout. And April’s act of revenge against her unborn child—and by extension, against her whole family—becomes an heroic gesture, rather than an act of selfishness and spite.

The film’s website trumpets that Revolutionary Road “is an incisive portrait of an American marriage.” Please.

Don’t be taken in by the critical acclaim. Revolutionary Road is merely an incisive portrait of pathological egotism.

The proverb is right: Pride goeth before the fall. But the fall is a bad thing. Only Hollywood could make martyrs out of characters who sacrifice all for their pride—whose vision of happiness is perfect autonomy, and in the end, death itself.

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