Revolutionary Road – a swell breakfast opportunity to discover emotions

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Released in 2008, and directed by Sam Mendes, Revolutionary Road is a compelling portrayal of one couple struggling to accept the hopelessness of their suburban lives. Beautifully shot to capture emotional turmoil, the scene titled  A Swell Breakfast provides on opportunity for students to hone their skills in creative writing. Specifically, when writing for an exam situation within a 40 minute time frame, students should aim to craft 800 words of a moment or vignette, rather than a complete story. Include rich detail and up to ten different language features.

Without watching the whole movie, ‘A Swell Breakfast’ is worth viewing as a discrete moment of emotional fragility. Students should note how Mendes uses shot-reverse shot to focus our attention on both people in the conversation and develop a sense of sympathy for their situation. What is discovered about relationships from this film sequence?

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Consider these activities to encourage students to show the energy of these scene, rather than tell what happens.

  • view ‘A Swell Breakfast’ two or three times and discuss what is happening: how do we know this?
  • choose names for these characters to reflect the era, costuming and behaviour. Note that names have the power to capture reader’s imagination and can help students develop a sense of connection with their creation: what is a ‘good’ name for a housewife? a businessman husband?
  • students should ‘know’ their characters – sketch a character profile with information on name, age, hopes and desires: what might they potentially discover from this situation?
  • what  might have lead to this civil and courteous meal? It is not necessary to include the motivation for each character, although there is the possibility for a flashback to a previous incident

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  • develop a word bank or list for each character to capture the different emotions expressed

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  • change these words into other forms which can be used to add detail eg. fragile, an adjective, can be used as a noun: fragility, or an adverb fragilely

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  • write the dialogue and note the length of pause between speaking. Fill these moments with internal monologue, or third person introspection  eg. note how the words clash with the facial expressions, particularly the eyes. It is a polite and tentative exchange with both characters aware that they are trying too hard.
  • list twenty alternate words for ‘said’ that could reveal the emotion of each character through emotion eg. stated calmly

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  • this exchange ends with a tentative thanks in an attempt to move forward, yet both characters appear relieved that the meal is over, rather than believe in this fledgling peace. Decide if the mood is sombre or hopeful, and consider shifting between these two elements in your writing
  • the word ‘swell’ is a link to the 1950s setting of this movie – how can jargon or idioms be used by students to add depth to their writing? Could their title reflect an important aspect of their story?
  • students should feel free to make changes to this situation – it is ultimately their writing and their choices that will provide a sense of ownership and confidence, particularly if they do not identify as writers.
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