Deprived American Dream in American Beauty

The American Dream (AD) has become extremely perverse as commercialism and consumerism have become a main aspect and priority of everyday life, not just for American society, Generically the AD can be defined as “…life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” This was originally defined by James Truslow Adams in 1932. but since then the AD has changed dramatically, as society’s values and consumeristic nature changes along with it.

The AD is now wholly based on materialism, without materialism, you are not perceived as achieving the dream. The texts “The Loved One” (‘TLO’) composed by Evelyn Waugh and the film “American Beauty” (‘AB’) directed by Sam Mendes. These texts are portraying that the current AD is depriving people of finding true happiness, which is finding love within yourself and your family.

They are trying to express to American’s how their current dream is all wrong and needs to be dealt with before it ‘5 too late.

Waugh uses techniques such as euphemisms and symbols to evoke his opinions on the film business and funeral business. Mendes uses techniques such as reoccurring motifs and filmic techniques to convey how the AD is facing dangers of eventually becoming unrealistic and making Americans unhappy with their lives, Waugh uses several techniques to ridicule Americas way of living and the dream they follow from the moment they are born. Waugh uses euphemisms to display the ridiculous ways that American society takes death.

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The people that pass away and that are taken to the WG are referred to as ‘the loved ones’ and the people that are planning the funeral are referred to as ‘the waiting ones‘, these names are an example that Americans are unable to handle the reality of death.

The cosmetician Aimee works on Sir Francis Hinsley to make him look “as natural as possible” but as Dennis looks at his body he finds the unrealistic perfection of his skin and the joyful smile he has on his face more disgusting and disturbing than seeing his body after his suicide, “ruthe face was entirely horrible; as ageless as a tortoise and as inhuman; a painted and smirking obscene travesty…”. These euphemisms strengthen Waugh‘s exaggerated view of death in American culture. Due to materialism being such a large aspect of American culture, even in death they are products. Instead of the ‘waiting ones‘ showing love and compassion towards them while they are alive, they think they can accommodate their love and empathy towards them by spending as much money on them as possible for their funeral. Waugh uses this technique to convey that a dead person is a mere commodity of which trading is done.

This shows how American society is obsessed with consumerism even in death, portraying the dangers the American Dream faces. Passion. lust and true happiness are a few of the main themes portrayed throughout the entire film of AB. The main character of AB is Lester Burnham, a man who has lost himself to the consumeristic and materialistic ways of American society is trying to find happiness once again. Throughout the film reoccurring motifs are used to display a deeper meaning. The colour red is one of the main reoccurring motifs throughout the film. At the start of the film, Lester‘s wife Carolyn is seen outside near their perfect rose bushes cutting them off, this can symbolize her cutting out the passion from both hers and Lester’s lives. But during the film the roses become much more frequent as Lester‘s new-found passion for Janes’s friend Angela grows evermore consuming for him, while the fantasies become more seductive, but never leading to actual acts of foreplay being revealed.

Even in Lester‘s death, the roses can be spotted, this can be portrayed as that Lester’s irresponsible lust towards Angela resulted in his death. Mendes uses this technique to convey the fact that the AD was made to make Americans happy, yet most of them try chasing this dream to only become unhappy and are unable to find lust and passion like Lester had done throughout the film, Waugh and Mendes both use the technique of symbolism to represent their ideas of the deteriorating. In Waugh’s novel, he uses the name of characters, “Aimee Thanatogenous” and “Mr. Joyboy” to directly relate them to the story. Aimee’s name has etymological symbolism. Aimee is a form of the more commonly used name Amy which means “the beloved ” or can also be translated as “the loved one”.

Thanatogenous is the combination of two Greek words “Thanatos” meaning death and ”genos” meaning a biological identity. As a combination of the two names her name could mean something of “lively death”. Is a symbolisation of her job. she aims to make corpse look as lively as possible. Mr. Joyboy‘s name recalls an image of a carefree and happy man. Considering he is the head mortician at WG, Waugh is using his name to hint at the irreverence that he is consistently pointing out about the funeral business throughout the film. Mendes uses symbols such as the hi-8 camera throughout the film. Ricky, one of the characters in the film, tends to film the mundane, to film when characters are showing their raw selves without the facade they place over themselves when others are around, Whenever the hiAB technique comes into view you instantly know there is no facade and there is no false sense to what is being filmed.

An example is when Angela is trying to show off in front of Ricky when he is filming them from his window but instead of focusing on her he zooms in on Jane smiling to herself in the mirror, showing her true self and not a facade she puts on around her parents and Angela Waugh and Mendes use these techniques to provide their thoughts and opinions on how the AD faces danger. Mendes throughout the entirety of AB is trying to convey how AD is facing risks. Carolyn and Lester juxtapose each other throughout the film. Carolyn represents the idealistic individual who has achieved the AD, showing an exterior of success, having an irrefutable desire to have everything under her control and only caring about the materialistic things of life. Whereas Lester is shown to be the exact opposite to Carolyn, he is a loser, has taken up a job at a fast-food restaurant and is having sexual fantasies of someone much younger than him.

In the scene where Carolyn is rushing Lester because she is running late. he accidentally drops the contents of his suitcase which leads to him having to pick everything up. When we are placed in the position of Carolyn she is views as looking down at Lester which is a high-angle shot, showing that he is less than what she is and as we are placed in Lester’s position he looks in a low angle shot showing that she is in fact looking down upon him. This is seen as the American society looking down at Lester for him not following the Dream that has been set out for them, making him a loser not only to his family but to the rest of American society.

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Deprived American Dream in American Beauty. (2023, Jan 09). Retrieved from

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