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During their courtship, he tells her he wants to go to Paris, and she concludes that he's the most interesting man she's met; but when the opportunity presents itself, he chickens out, and she's devastated to recognize that her life has been wasted on a weak and unimaginative man, who doesn't value her sacrifices for him. Determinedly unromantic, Revolutionary Road is a searing look at the pain of trying to live up to your idealized expectations of yourself when your greatest enemy is the seductiveness of the entrapping comfort in which you live. Many of us struggle with the lingering implications of a world too soft and easy for life to be an adventure. In her performance, we watch Winslet fight against her own loneliness as she watches DiCaprio, who lacks any semblance of self-awareness and has only the comforting clichŽs he tells himself. He's an inescapably ordinary man of his time, and her self-deluding blindness to that ordinariness becomes her tragedy.
Winslet's other, even more celebrated performance this year, was in The Reader, a film that begins in 1958 Germany and was drawn by David Hare from a novel by Bernhard Schlink. The story follows the unlikely and impulsive love affair between a homely, sad, 15-year-old Michael (David Kross) and a morosely efficient streetcar conductor, played by Winslet. As their odd affair proceeds, she offers Michael his initiation into sex, while he responds obediently to her somewhat mysterious request to have him read great literature to her, all the while never saying a word about their relationship. It's a couple that's reminiscent of the famous pair in The Graduate, particularly the scene in which Dustin Hoffman makes the famous precoital request of Anne Bancroft, "Mrs. Robinson, do you think we could say a few words to each other first this time?"
Inevitably the tension between them begins to emerge more and more, and after a quarrel in which she throws him out of her apartment, Michael, beginning to come into manhood, decides that he'll no longer apologize for everything he does just because it displeases her. In the face of her stonewalling, he boldly asks her whether she loves him—to which she responds with a faint, ambiguous nod. Along with Michael, we increasingly come to wonder what lies beneath the surface of this strange creature.
For the first hour of this remarkably sexy film we spend much of the time, like Michael, watching Winslet's Hanna, so totally comfortable in her full, soft body. Rarely has a film so captured the dizzying excitement of a boy's first discovery of lust and a deeper bond of attachment. We watch her show no interest in any human being on earth except Michael, whom she pampers alternately as her baby and her husband. But as he grows more fully into adolescence, she, like a mother bird, lets him fly away: she silently withdraws from his life, her withdrawal a gift of love.