Gradesaver (1) talks about the themes in American Beauty, which include happiness, identity, American culture, love, freedom, family, and sexuality. Happiness is something elusive for most of the characters except Ricky and Lester, at the end of the movie. The lack of identity in the film led to most people’s troubles. The movie also shows how values inherent in American culture, such as consumerism, youthful innocence, and homophobia can be elusive. American beauty stresses the importance of finding love and embracing freedom, even though these values must be balanced. It questions the notion of unconditional love for one’s family and challenges sexual stereotypes.
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Deschler (1) also discusses the main themes of the movie, which include materialism, appearance versus reality, denial, control, loneliness, change, and American beauty. The theme of materialism is best stressed by Carolyn who cannot allow herself to maintain an intimate relationship with her family. Conversely, American beauty, as a theme is evident through the search for beauty by Lester and appreciation of the same by Ricky. Other people who fit into the conventions of beauty, such as Angela, may have ugly characters. The author also has suggestions on how to improve the film. She suggested the removal of Ricky’s camera as well as the need to be grateful regardless of the circumstances as most people’s situations were not so great.
Application and Analysis
The first scene chosen for analysis is the last one, which runs for approximately five minutes and ends the movie. It starts with Lester and Angela, who have terminated what would have been a sexual encounter after Lester realizes that Angela is a virgin. Lester asks about Jane, and Angela gives him a positive report. Thereafter, she leaves for the bathroom. Lester walks to the counter and picks up a picture of his wife, child, and himself. He seems overcome by a feeling of satisfaction when he looks at them. An unidentified person walks in and points a gun at Lester’s head. One then hears a gunshot and sees blood over the wall. Jane and Ricky find Lester dead although his eyes look happy. Carolyn falls in the closet and cries bitterly while the Colonel is seen with an incriminating shirt and missing gun. This scene ends with a voiceover and flashbacks of Lester’s life.
The ending of the movie is an ideal illustration of what a director can accomplish with the right kind of cinematography. When Lester dies, the audience does not see him getting shot, the camera moves away from him and focuses on a wall, which gets splattered by blood. It was necessary to use such a technique probably because the author wanted to spare the audience from too much violence, but still, show that Lester was dead. Additionally, the film revisits Lester’s death through a myriad of perspectives. This technique is essential in showing how the different characters of the film were affected by it. In one instance, Colonel Fitts is seen with a missing gun in his cabinet. In another, one sees Carolyn then Lester’s thoughts before his death. His perspective was given the greatest level of attention because it would carry the film’s themes.
The scene is packed with information, characters, and plot twists. The scriptwriter found a way of effortlessly bringing all these elements together. As Lester thinks about his life, one can see a fallen bird as well as a paper bag rubbing against some leaves in Ricky’s video. These are seemingly simple things, but Lester finds pleasure and beauty in them. Deschler (14) explains that the film teaches people to appreciate everyday miracles. An item may appear ugly initially but there is something beautiful about it if one takes the time to find it. Lester has finally taken responsibility for his happiness and realized that there is beauty in everything; even a dead bird or a paper bag. Additionally, the scene does not extend Lester’s death to the family’s encounter with the police. It ends with Lester’s voice-over about his life. The director did not want to turn it into a murder mystery; he was merely interested in furthering the new-found freedom and identity in the protagonist. Some critics claim that the movie ended tragically, but this is not completely true. The last scene reiterates the importance of living life fully. Lester’s moment of death was a much better situation than the dispassionate and sedated life he lived before. He was trapped in a life that lacked meaning and passion. However, when he finally awoke to his reality, he took responsibility for his happiness. The realization took place a few minutes before his death but it made all the difference. The last scene was quite powerful because it captured this message in a satisfactory and unassuming way.
The second scene chosen for analysis is the opening scene. It takes place at the beginning of the movie and Jane, Lester’s daughter is the point of focus. She is being filmed by an unidentified male while talking about her relationship with her father. One then hears the voice of the male videographer when he promises to terminate Lester’s life.
The cinematic technique is slightly different from the rest of the film, but brilliant nonetheless. The film-within-a-film creates an organic and relatable quality in the motion picture. It makes audiences relate to Jane because she looks right into the camera when she speaks her mind. Furthermore, the scene still interweaves her assertions with those of her unidentified cameramen.
The director accomplished plenty of things through this scene. First, he was able to foreshadow Lester’s death through Jane’s words. It also created suspense as one would want to know who the person behind the camera was. This suspense was carried through to the last scene of the movie when Lester was shot. One wonders whether it was the person behind the camera who killed him or if it was someone else. The producer thwarts the audiences’ expectations by using a very different person to kill Lester. It can be argued that one of the most powerful strategies employed by this director is to build the audience’s expectations and then frustrate them at the last minute.
This scene also shows how the stories of some of the characters in the narrative are interconnected. For instance, one learns that Jane’s father fancies her best friend, and she resents him for it. Additionally, one also realizes that Lester, Lester’s wife, and Jane have a dysfunctional relationship because Lester lusts after a teenager, while Carolyn’s obsessive nature contributed to this. Jane is dissatisfied with her family and wants to get away from them. The scene underscores the importance of family as Jane’s unhappiness stems from its dysfunctional nature (Gradesaver 7). It also sets the pace for the intrigue that follows in the rest of the narrative.
Deschler, Brittany. Critical Analysis of American Beauty. 2002. Web.
Gradesaver. American Beauty Themes 1999. Web.