American Beauty Essay
Awards‘…good movies are made and they say important things about the world. Screenwriters manage this by weaving thematic implications into the script. ’ The film I have chosen to examine American Beauty (1999) directed by Sam Mendes. I am going to look at how the thematic implications wove into the script help the viewer to understand the main themes that run throughout the film including happiness, as all the characters in the film are engaged in the pursuit of happiness although they all have very different ideas on what they have to do to find it.The film I think is critical of consumerism, traditional American values and America’s gun culture. All of the characters in the film struggle with their own sense of identity apart from Ricky, the next door neighbour, he is the only on who has a sense of who he is. The concept of love plays an important role in the film and how each character shows their love or finds love in different ways. There are 2 very different types of families portrayed in the film each with their own problems although it is the noticeable absence of Janie’s friend, Angela’s family that raises the most questions about the importance of family.One of the biggest points in the film is the idea of freedom and this is shown through the characters that in some way feel trapped in their own lives. I chose this particular film because I think there is a lot to be read from the themes I have mentioned above and during the course of this essay I will look at how the cinematic techniques used in the film help explore these themes. “American Beauty suggests that contemporary film need not be bound to a single approach.Indeed, the film could not have succeeded without using a plurality of styles, given that Mendes’ stylistic choices go hand in hand with the film’s thematic argument that one’s view of the world is all about perspective. ” Rick Boeck (p. 181, 2007) Happiness throughout the film is portrayed as something that is missing from each of the characters’ lives, although the potential for happiness does exist. This is symbolized in the Burnham family home through the use of red roses which are often seen next to pictures of the family in a more happy time of their lives.The rose is used as a symbol of beauty and the colour red symbolizes the desire Lester feels towards Angela. At various points throughout the film Lester’s daughter Jane and his wife Carolyn are both seen to be wearing various shades of red suggesting that there is beauty underneath and this is captured in one scene through the lens of Ricky’s video camera where Angela is dancing in the window in her underwear, but Ricky focuses on Jane sat at the dressing table smiling to herself in the mirror at the sign he has left her in the garden.The use of Ricky’s camera is used to view the beauty that lies behind different people and objects in the film and by using a digital camera it gives the viewer a different viewpoint into the characters’ lives. This technique makes the view from Ricky’s camera seem more real than the story we are watching unfold but I think this re-iterates what Boeck says above that one’s view of the world is all about perspective. “Its characters are perfect creatures of their social locations. They may hope for something ‘more’, but their very conception of this “more” derives from the culture that confines and defines their desires. David L. Smith (p. 1, 2002) For Lester this quote above may be untrue as his happiness is achieved through following his true desires and going against the ‘norms’ of respectable society he has been trapped in for so long, he quits his job, takes drugs and fantasizes about his daughters friend. Whereas Carolyn has become so trapped as a consumer and by her image that she thinks all the stuff she owns can make her happy, so that to others she looks happy and successful but in reality she is miserable.Her daughter Jane seems so focused on keeping herself miserable that she fails to recognize that compared to Ricky her homelife isn’t that bad. From the very start we know that Jane is unhappy with her body and by having surgery will make her feel better as she will look better on the outside, how all the characters think there are perceived in the film is very important and all the characters struggle with their own sense of identity. “Incest provides a narrative structure—derived from Freud’s work on the subject—that ideologically inverts the social realities of white male privilege.This structure redirects sympathy toward beleaguered midlife heroes by portraying them as victims of unhinged and vengeful wives, seductive and manipulative daughters, or both. Not surprisingly, this narrative structure has been bolstered by an antifeminist backlash against the working mother/wife. Paradoxically, however, films with this structure also make use of the increased acceptance in mainstream culture of young girls who, under the banner of Girl Power and third-wave feminism, are claiming the sexual entitlement boys and men have always enjoyed. Kathleen Rowe Karlyn (p. 3, 2004) I think the quote above by Kathleen Rowe Karlyn quite accurately describes the Burnham family and also gives some insight as to why some of the characters struggle with their own sense of identity and their sexuality. Lester is someone whose sexuality has been repressed and this comes to a head when he is caught by his wife masturbating in bed. He is thinking about Angela who thinks that her identity is defined by her physical beauty, she lies about her sexual experiences to make her seem more grown up.I think this is an important point in the film when Lester feels not only liberated sexually and also re-establishes his masculinity. Carolyn in my opinion is the most tragic character in the film as she seems to have replaced her identity with all the expensive things she has bought and even when she starts the affair with Buddy Kane, her rival in the real estate business, she seems more aroused by his status as the Real Estate King rather than the act of sex itself. Ricky is the only person who seems comfortable with his own sexuality and with his own sense of identity.This is shown in the scene were Jane makes him the object of her gaze through the lens of his camera, he is perfectly comfortable being filmed with no clothes on. Where we see Lester gazing at Angela I think it is more voyeuristic whereas as Ricky’s view of Janie is not. Ricky’s dad, who defines himself by his role in the military, he has repressed his sexuality for so long that when he does reveal himself to Lester who rebukes him he cannot stand fact he has opened up and then been rejected.Both Jane’s family and Ricky’s family have their own problems which I have already discussed some of them during the course of this essay. But what I think is important is the lack of Angela’s family throughout the film. Angela’s family are never seen or really talked about, they don’t show for the basketball game and Angela is always the one staying at Jane’s house. This may explain her attraction to Lester through the lack of a father figure and in general I think the film is trying to show us the importance of family no matter how bad you think they are.It is the absence of love between the characters that is most noticeable, but it is during the course of the film that they all learn to love again, Lester learns to love himself and in turn falls in love again with his wife who only realizes after he is dead that she will never get the chance to love back as he loved her. Jane thinks she has found love in Ricky whose still believes that his father’s beatings and military style control over his household are his way of showing his love. “What sort of freedom is possible, then, in a deterministic system?What sort of liberation from the trap of culture is possible if the trap is what we are? What American Beauty suggests, I believe, is first of all that freedom, although it is not likely to be achieved by intentional effort, nevertheless may occur to us as an experienced quality, like the beauty that emerges from the dance of the wind-driven bag. ” David L. Smith (p. 8, 2002) Freedom while being an important theme in the film is something none of the characters really achieve. All of the characters seemed trapped by their own lives either by their jobs, their possessions, their parents or by their fears.It’s not until Ricky and Jane realize that freedom is there for the taking when they decide to run away together although this has more than likely been ruined by Lester’s death and the scene were Ricky offers to kill Lester for Jane. Caroryln may be free from her husband and the responsibility of having done it herself but the reality of his death still obviously upsets her and would still feel some guilt for not trying harder to make their relationship work during the last year of their lives. Lester’s rebellion brings about his death, but not before he redeems himself through an enlightenment that is at once moral, spiritual, and artistic. ” Kathleen Rowe Karlyn (p. 1, 2004) It could be argued that Lester was freed from his life through his death, but ironically it was this life he had come to love for what it was during the course of the film. As Kathleen Rowe Karlyn mentions above he realizes that it’s not sleeping with Angela or quitting his job or buying the red sportscar that made him happy.This is shown in the scene with Angela when she reveal she is a virgin, instead of giving in to what was his fantasy and what he desired he realized that freedom is achieved by being responsible for his own life and actions. In conclusion I think it is Mendes’ use of a plurality of styles that make American Beauty such a good film. By seeing the film from three different perspectives, the main narrative, Lester’s fantasies about his daughter’s friend, and the video captured by Ricky it gives the viewer the opportunity to see a different side to each character. I is this use of Avant Garde techniques and the idea of realism that keeps repeating over and over one of the films main thematic arguments that a person’s view of the world is all about their perspective.