A life of suburban hell

suburban hell
Many people’s idea of suburban hell

I was browsing Netflix’s films on a rainy Sunday afternoon with little hope of finding anything I hadn’t already seen, let alone decent. But while looking through the older titles, one synopsis hooked me: “April and Frank’s marriage unravels when a plan to change their ‘perfect’ lives becomes their last hope to escape lives engulfed in emptiness.” Hang on a minute, that’s my life!

Okay, I’m not married, my name’s not Frank but the escaping emptiness part rings true. The film I’m referring to is Revolutionary Road and based on the book by the same title by Richard Yates. It’s a film that makes you think.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet star as Frank and April Wheeler. They follow a common path, they fall in love, get married, move to suburbia, have kids, all the time while working jobs they hate and slowly becoming bored of life and each other. Without giving too much away, April Wheeler tries to change the trajectory of their boring lives by convincing Frank to start afresh and move to Paris.

April Wheeler’s character really resonated with me, she told Frank “it takes backbone to lead the life you want”. She knew there was more to life than working as a housewife and her husband working a “stupid job” in the city. April couldn’t stand life’s pretences, her fake friends and their routine nights out. She was desperate to escape their suburban hell.

“It takes backbone to lead the life you want”

April Wheeler (Revolutionary Road)

Another likeable character is John Givings played by Michael Shannon. He’s confined to the state “funny farm” and allowed out on brief visits with his parents. John’s a non-conformist in the sense he speaks the truth, regardless of how uncomfortable it is.

The characters who keep up with pleasantries and lie about being happy, are deemed to be the sane ones (a true irony). While John who speaks the brutal truth is labelled “insane”. A good example of this is when John questions Frank on why he works a job he doesn’t like in the clip below.

“I work in the office …it’s sort of a stupid job”

We need more people like John with his sobering advice and uncomfortable questioning. So much of life is make-believe, acting out pretences and keeping up with the Joneses. If we’re not careful, work and home life can become a rendition of The Emperor’s New Clothes.

April and Frank’s attempt to escape their suburban hell and move to Paris is looked upon by co-workers, neighbours and friends as peculiar, however, this is a cover to hide their deep-seated jealousy. Regardless, April doesn’t care what people think and would rather be considered crazy than not being able to live her life.

“If being crazy means living life as if it matters, then I don’t mind being completely insane”

April Wheeler (Revolutionary Road)

Herd mentality

suburban hell -- following life's plan

Herd mentality is a phycological phenomenon and describes how our behaviours are often influenced by consensus. If everyone is doing it, it must be right? Going along with the crowd is often wrong and can be downright risky. YouTube clips of crowds (not moving) on cliff edges while huge, deadly waves approach are examples of this. Another example is the bystander effect and highlights how thinking as a crowd creates flawed decision making.

The point being, we should be cautious and question whenever we’re “going with the flow” or choosing the path most trodden. In the investment world, the consensus opinion is usually wrong and contrarian investors are the most successful. We should live our lives as a contrarian and question what the herd is telling us.

Taking action

Having a plan to escape suburban hell and the jobs we hate is one thing, taking action is another. This was the main takeaway from Revolutionary Road for me. April was prepared to take action and make drastic changes, while Frank (even though he wasn’t happy) was risk-averse. In Frank’s eyes being paid a good salary at “Knox Business Machines” was too much to throw away.

Unfortunately, most of us live life as Frank and not enough of us live like April.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all”

Helen Keller

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2 thoughts on “A life of suburban hell

  1. Thanks again, for the thought provoking work, I’m trying to be less like Frank and more like April.

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