Day 32 – Revolutionary Thinking

Sitting in Denial


Today I took a divergent path from my normal routine of listening to and writing around the theme of a Zencast. Instead, I started watching award-winning film Revolutionary Road in the afternoon and then just couldn’t stop watching. I had been wanting to watch this movie for a while, but it was one of those films that falls under the radar once it’s out of theatres and I only remembered my interest in it when I saw it waiting to be viewed On-Demand.

What I ended up watching blew my mind as not only a practitioner but also as a screenwriter. This film (and obviously the book it is based on) perfectly portray the kind of thinking and consequences to that thinking that I have been struggling to portray with my own writing for the last ten years. I have tended in the past to go towards the theme of mental illness in an aid to get me to the place that this film got me to, but in reality I wasn’t trying to portray mental illness at all. I simply wanted to portray the human condition of thinking.

The above scene (and the scenes that follow it, which are not included in this clip) is arguably the best scene in the film. We see a couple struggling to deal with their life’s true purpose, society’s idea of how people should live, and the thoughts in our heads that cause us so much pain and suffering everyday. While Leonardo Di Caprio’s character, Frank, grapples mostly with identifying and living his true purpose in life, Kate Winslet’s character, April, believes she knows exactly what their problems are and how they can fix them. Watching Frank struggle to live the life society dictates they live, April struggles knowing he is ignoring his dreams for a lifestyle neither of them has dreamed of or really wants and that ultimately they cannot continue on doing so.

April hopes for a life that allows for freedom and exploration, for a chance to explore Frank’s true path and inner yearnings. She wants to lead a life in which neither of them ignore the questioning thoughts that drive them everyday concerning what they should be doing in life and how they should be living. She doesn’t agree with living as society expects if it makes them unhappy.

About half way through the film, the couple are introduced to the son of a friend who has the same ideals about life that they do, the only difference is that he appears alone in his thinking and has therefore been sent to an insane asylum where they electric shock these ‘crazy’ thoughts out of him. When at his most confused and distressed over the way to lead his life Frank himself calls April crazy because she encourages them both to live by their inner voices in an effort to live a life that makes them happy rather than flounder in the life that society believes they should live. Frank shows how easy it was in the mid 1900s for a free-thinker to be labelled as ‘crazy’ simply because they would not conform to society’s concept of normal.

Throughout the film, Frank appears most confused about life because of his strongly held belief that as the man of the house he has to be responsible as a husband and a father. He is married, with kids, and works in a job he hates, but in order to live up to society’s expectations he does what needs to be done and ignores his inner dreams and most troubling thoughts as he commutes back and forth from the suburbs to the city everyday. For the most part he does a much better job of hiding what’s really going on inside him mentally and emotionally, but April knows how to read him and push his buttons. When April confronts him, or refuses to play along with his game of pretending to be happy all his thoughts and emotions fly up to the surface and he is unable to contain his anger and frustration at April and at life.

On the upside, the film doesn’t shy away from demonstrating the natural human inclination towards good will and love for all people. For as much as these two characters torment each other with their mental and emotional problems deep down they try really hard to apologize to each other for the horrible things they do and say, and they try hard to take the next day as it comes without resentment. They don’t seem to hold their transgressions against one another for long, until things get way beyond the point of fixing, that is.

In watching this film I was reminded of myself when I was a teenager and throughout my twenties. These characters are addicted to their thoughts and emotions. Everything is wonderful or everything is terrible. They struggle to know which thoughts to follow and which to ignore, yet they seem to fundamentally ignore the thoughts and beliefs that cause them the most problems. I remember feeling this way. Whenever a troubling thought came up, or I did something that was looked upon as being less than the norm I would become almost hysterical with emotion – to the point of me wondering whether I had a mental illness – and my thoughts would rip me to shreds.

I had so much anger and frustration built up inside simply because I did not know how to sit, pay attention to my thoughts and know which ones to let go of and which ones to follow. I too, like Frank, was lost following what society wanted me to do – study hard, get a job (any job that paid), buy a house, get married and have kids. I was happy to study, but what I studied did not lead to a well-paying job and I had loans to pay. I ended up doing the responsible thing and took a job I hated to pay the bills. Ultimately, I ended up miserable and hated myself. Even with a ‘well-paid’ job I couldn’t afford a house which meant I never settled down (still haven’t to this day). However, I take this as a blessing now because it leaves me free to travel the world and explore new places.

I’m hardly a conventional person in this sense, but it does make it hard to live along side with those who are. There is always someone who asks about who I’m dating and when I’m going to get married. There is always someone who says I’d be a great mother. There’s always someone wondering if I should take advantage of the market and buy a house while the prices are down. Personally, I’m not that interested in marriage and it has taken me a long time to decide if I really want children. Right now I’m still on the fence when it comes to all these things.

What can you do? You can sit, ignore your deeper yearnings and smile back at society like Frank did, all the while your thoughts rebel against themselves and you. Otherwise, you can sit miserably in silence like April and lament the days when you were free and happy and had no strings to tie you down.

But wait! Isn’t there another option? Of course! You can take action and decide that enough is enough. You can seize your dreams, which are always for the taking. It’s true that when you’re in a partnership like Frank and April it’s tricky to stay on the same path unless you both agree to go where the other is going.

If only Frank and April had understood that they didn’t have to identify with their thoughts so much. If only they could have been more open and honest with themselves, then they could have been open and honest with each other and figured out how to make a life that made them both happier. If only they had lived in a time when it was more acceptable to rebel against the cultural norms. If only…

One thing that this film does extremely well is get the viewer questioning their own lives and how they’re living. It gets you to sit back and figure out if you’re being honest and open with the people around you. It gets you questioning whether in pretending you’re happy you’re bringing down others by enabling yourselves to ignore what’s really going on inside.

I’m thankful to live at a time when people (in the west) have the ability, within means, to live the life they wish to whether it fits the cultural norm or not. I’m thankful for the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha and the mat. I’m thankful to now have the tools to sit and make sure I’m checking in with myself to make sure that my internal world matches my external world in a way I can live with. In another time, in another place I could have been Frank or April. Thankfully I’m not. So with that choice, I’m off to sit on the mat.


2 Responses to “Day 32 – Revolutionary Thinking”
  1. anda says:

    Thank you for that excellent synopsis, Angela. I so identify, having tried to follow a path that did not “fit” with the norms. It hasn’t been easy because I’ve doubted myself so much. But now, with my “experiment” I feel much more confident that a path of non-attachment and mindfulness is a good one for me.

    • Glad it helped! It’s great when your feelings and experienced are mirrored in modern culture because it gives us a glimpse at how the world is changing in ways that helps us on our path, I feel :D

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