American Beauty

American Beauty (1999) was written by Alan Ball and directed by Sam Mendes. The movie depicts a family that appears to achieve the American dream but in other ways deviates or suffers. The themes in the film are powerful and represent the implications this struggle may have on American culture and the institution of family. American Beauty is a film that exemplifies the dysfunction that can exist within an individual and a family and scales the issues to the culture at large.

More than any other single character, Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) embodies the dysfunction that is seen throughout the movie. In the start of the film, viewers are told the fate of Lester’s life and are exposed to the devilish attitude that he embraces as his depression and mid-life crisis progress throughout the film. The commentary from Lester makes it apparent that his marriage is broken and he feels trapped by the conditions of his life.

These comments undermine his role as a loving father and husband and tap into the depression and anger he is experiencing.  Lester’s lack of a filter —  his inability to control his behaviors and his unemotional response toward his wife and daughter — draws attention to the larger cultural issues at play within this film.

The film takes a turn when Lester takes a liking to Angela (Mena Suvari), a girl on his daughter’s cheer team, and he is consumed with how he can get her attention, make her like him, and could care less about the repercussions this sexual relationship would have on his family.

Aside from Lester, his wife Carolyn (Annette Bening), and his daughter Jane (Thora Birch) are characters that develop other prevalent themes in the film. His Carolyn is a real estate agent who has not been successful in her career thus far.  She seems to have fallen out of love with her husband, goes after another man with no shame, and provides another example of the sexual nature of the movie. The affair she has is not one that she tries to conceal, and the carefree attitude that Lester maintains seems to fuel Carolyn and encourage her to act more irrationally. The fact that Carolyn has fallen in love with the odd neighbor next door seems like a coping mechanism to handle her family situation by diving into something else rather than dealing with the problems at hand. The impact this behavior on her daughter is seen through her insecurities and willingness to leave with a boy she barely knows just to get away.

The overall dysfunction highlights some of the deeper seeded issues that exist within individuals in our culture today. Depression is at the forefront of this film and has affected Lester in particular. His careless attitude and sexually driven actions make him rather unlikable and suggest to viewers that he has betrayed his family. Carolyn’s self-conscious and troubled actions are seen as a response to Lester’s behavior rather than something that she has initiated.

The following link is to a review that was posted on Rolling Stone and sheds light on aspect of the movie that are important, and slightly different from what would be included in a movie review. The angle and way in which the article was written makes it powerful, and entices the reader to view American Beauty. American Beauty Review – Rolling Stone





Post by Cathy Maier

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