Realistic Heroes: Arguments For and Against

This sample essay on Realistic Hero provides important aspects of the issue and arguments for and against as well as the needed facts. Read on this essay’s introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion.

The premise of this topic suggesting that characters are both heroic and realistic is too narrow and generic to apply for most films and indeed all films of high literary merit whose aim is to impart philosophical ideas on an audience ready to be challenged. In Sam Mendes’ American Beauty the characters portrayed are eclectic and differentiated from the mould of being both heroic and realistic.

These characters to focus on are Lester Burnham, the narrator and protagonist, Carolyn his wife and arguable antagonist and Ricky Fitts the fringe character who may be considered the true hero of this commentary on American society.

Where the premise does ring true somewhat is in the characterisation of the main character Lester Burnham who is very realistic and reflective of the modern middle-aged American man while also developing into a hero once he finds his identity after experiencing a mid life crisis.

This isn’t always so though and in the beginning of the film Lester Burnham is a self-confessed loser who is lauded by his own family. As someone who transforms into his later role as a hero from one who initially isn’t this portrayal can be seen as more realistic. At first though Lester isn’t a hero which is made glaringly obvious when he laments: “I feel like I’ve been in a coma for about twenty years?.

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The production techniques of costume show Lester as someone who needlessly dresses formally in a grey ‘everyman’ type suit in order to make him seem like he fits in with the “advertising whores? he works with in his industry. His hair is combed and his clothes are ironed and tucked in. This way Lester garners no sympathy with the audience as he is seen as someone who is bland, boring and doesn’t take control of his life. Camera techniques used are used to show Lester as if he is in a prison while he masturbates in the shower or while he is at work and his face is reflected of vertical “bars? of words.

Realistic Hero

In an archetypal way Lester changes to become the vivacious personality who spent all time: “partying and getting laid? to become more of a hero. Lester has audience sympathy **** for him because reclaiming his life and making decisions for himself so that he no longer is unhappy and spends the rest of his life in a coma. In this way Lester is viewed a hero in a domestic setting and the same production techniques reflect Lester differently now. He is wearing more brighter colours such as a yellow top while jogging and now his hair is messy and there are fewer ironed, tucked-in clothes on him which mask his identity. (This maybe why he strips naked while working out). Also low angle shots are employed while he is jogging conveying how he now has a new lease on life and is more assured of himself. Here we see a realistic hero served up to an audience for a purpose. Through the positive characterisation of Lester Mendes wanted to advertise him as a role model of someone who lives life for himself and doesn’t let convoluted American society views such as materialism and superficial beauty cloud his mindset. From here the crux of the premise can be addressed: certain characters are portrayed positively and others aren’t which is because the director has intentions on how the audience should react to certain characters. Through a positive portrayal of Lester Mendes wanted to promote anti-authoritarianism and conforming to hypocritical middle class America.

A reversal of this characterisation is seen with Carolyn Burnham who is arguably the films main antagonist. Carolyn is far from heroic as she is first presented to the audience cutting an American Beauty rose from its stem in order to horde its superficial beauty. Film techniques of costume convey Carolyn as a self-absorbed aspiring real estate agent who dresses in formless business suits to conform and suit in her opinion the aspects which her job entails. When she is first selling a house the costume choice is of an unattractive beige working suit under which lies a striking red coiffe. This shows Carolyn filters her personality to shape her image into that which she thinks is desirable. She tells Lester: “my business is to sell an image and part of my job is to live that image.? The obsessive and hysterical accumulation of material wealth is also something that stirs negative perceptions toward this character. At one point in the film she bursts out toward Lester: “this is a $4000 sofa upholstered in Italian silk? when he implies it is not really important life. Carolyn’s portrayal can be seen as anti-heroic but very realistic which supplements Mendes vision of the two sides of the coin of how Americans should choose to live their life in modern society. She is deliberately contrasted to the equally realistically portrayed Lester to put forward to the audience two ways of thinking: one which is favourable and should be embraced and another which shouldn’t. Both of these characters are realistic reduce distance between characters and audience to make the directors intentions more potent and relevant.

Lastly an example of a film character who is heroic but isn’t realistic is the Norman Bates-esque Ricky fits. This is a character who embodies the films main ideas but is portrayed unrealistically with a key idea in mind. Throughout the film Ricky is shown as radical and progressive, he is filming a dead bird and looks past the superficial beauty of the high school blonde cheerleader Angela Hayes instead to her friend the “plain? Jane who he sees far more inner beauty in. The main theme of American Beauty is where beauty can really be found in this world and how it is not necessarily where people think. Ricky Fitts is a character who is intelligent and perceptive enough to understand this but he cannot be seen as realistic given his age (18) and the fact he manages to do this while also being a drug dealer who has been diagnosed with a mental condition. The unattainable ideal of the way living can be seen in Ricky Fitts and he is shown as unrealistic because the directors purpose is that he knows the audience will never be able to think like him. However Mendes does manage to juxtapose Ricky with the realistic portrayal of Lester to show that audiences can break out of its coma of materialism and obsession with image to find true beauty in the world.

To conclude, Mendes has effectively presented his audience with a range of different characters with different attributes who all in unique ways contribute to the richness of the ideas he wanted to portray. Not all characters can be uniform in their one-dimensional attributes otherwise directors will not be able to have the tools available to get their message across when films are made these days.

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Realistic Heroes: Arguments For and Against. (2019, Dec 06). Retrieved from

Realistic Heroes: Arguments For and Against
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