Sunday, October 2, 2011

Bruce E. Levine's review of Revolutionary Road

I missed this wonderful review of Revolutionary Road by Bruce E. Levine* when it appeared in the Huffington Post in 2009. In it, he focuses on a minor but key character by the name of John Givings. Please read this review in its entirety. I've posted a few excerpts below.

The current PC explanation of serious mental illness brought to us by Big Pharma -- follow the money trail -- is that it is caused by this or that neurotransmitter or brain structure and has nothing to do with oppressive families and dehumanizing environments. It is also now PC to mock the notion that mentally-ill diagnosed people may sometimes be like canaries in the mine, more sensitive and reactive to insidious toxins.

John Givings -- though psychiatrically hospitalized and a recipient of multiple electroshock treatments which have damaged his mathematical abilities -- is clearly not delusional about oppressive family relationships, not wrong about meaningless jobs, not incorrect about gutless frauds, and not mistaken about a dehumanizing society. He, like many people I have known diagnosed with mental illness, feels alienated and powerless. And he is no diplomat. Truth serves as his only source of potency, and he uses it as both a constructive tool to celebrate and validate courage and as a hurtful weapon to castigate and punish gutlessness.

It is convenient for many people -- and lucrative for drug companies and the institutions that they support - if all disruptive, crazy-sounding, tension-producing people can simply be handed off to doctors to be labeled and drugged. If we can neatly compartmentalize and medicalize the John Givings of the world, then families and society don't have to halt the assembly line and ask questions such as: "What is exactly happening in this person's life that has made him or her so angry or frightened? Why does he or she feel so alienated? Is society oppressive for many people, and is this person simply more unbridled in their reaction to that fact? Is there something suffocating about nuclear families in which temperamentally mismatched people are forced to have relationships? Should we be satisfied with a paycheck and a full belly -- or is that not enough?

I have met many angry, rude, tension-producing people labeled with severe mental illness. Some of them are completely dominated by their own victimization and seek only to inflict payback pain on those around them. Others though, when feeling safe, state truths which, if taken seriously, would create a more loving family, a more caring community, and a more stimulating world.

When April and Frank take John seriously, he relaxes, stops being hurtful, and shares with them, among other insights, that "maybe it does take a certain amount of guts to see the emptiness, but it takes a whole hell of a lot more to see the hopelessness. And I guess when you do see the hopelessness, that's where there's nothing to do but take off. If you can."

Bruce E. Levine, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, and his latest book is Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite (Chelsea Green Publishing, April 2011). Dr. Levine, also the author of Surviving America's Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2007), has been in private practice since 1985 and has presented talks and workshops to diverse organizations throughout North America. He is also the author of Commonsense Rebellion: Taking Back Your Life from Drugs, Shrinks, Corporations, and a World Gone Crazy (Continuum, 2003), and he has authored the chapter "Troubled Children and Teens: Commonsense Solutions without Psychiatric Drugs or Manipulations" for Alternatives Beyond Psychiatry (Peter Lehmann Publishing, 2007). Dr. Levine has been a regular contributor to and AlterNet, CounterPunch, and Z Magazine, and his articles and interviews have been published in numerous other magazines. He is an editorial advisor for the Icarus Project/Freedom Center Harm Reduction Guide to Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs and on the editorial advisory board of the journal Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry.


  1. Hello Rossa!

    John Givings was one of my big reasons for persisting with the film, Revolutionary Road. My favourite scene was when he went into the forest, and later on "took apart" the couple and their way of life.

    And, yes, the "suffocation" of the nuclear family has been on a lot of people's minds. Biologists are pointing out that monogamy is not necessarily natural for humans, and open and honest polyamorous relations might be the way to go.

    And good thoughts on "dominated by their own victimisation" and "payback pain". It's backed by safety and seriousness.

  2. Good comment, thanks. Now I would like to see the movie!


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