The universal theme in Revolutionary Road is conveyed in a mid-point scene in which Leonardo DiCaprio‘s Frank, taking a walk in the woods, sardonically mentions “the hopeless emptiness of the whole life here.” In response to this Michael Shannon‘s truth-telling loose cannon, walking with Frank, says that “plenty of people are on to the emptiness, but it takes real guts to see the hopelessness.”

Snicker if you want and call this a variation on the Woody Allen/Annie Hall view that all of human existence is divided into the camps of the miserable and the horrible, but the Road theme that will connect, I believe, with general ticket buyers and Academy members is the general feeling that “this is not working, this is not it, this is not fulfilling — and we need to free ourselves from the trap.”

This is obviously a time of change and turnover, and if anything brought about the election of Barack Obama it was a majority of people recognizing and saying the above in a present-day context. Moviegoers will initially relate to Frank and April Wheeler as tragic figures, but as you get into the film an idea takes shape that they’re also echo-metaphors for what’s vaguely wrong now, or at least as symbols of the need to get rid of what’s taking us all down.