American Beauty

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American Beauty (1999, Sam Mendes) is the gruesome but realistic story of a family living in a seemingly perfect suburbia. Lester Burnham, a father who is falling out of love with his wife, Carolyn Burnham, struggles to maintain a relationship with his family and despises his work. However, Lester remains unhappily in his life until he meets his daughter’s friend Angela, a young girl who he develops a strong sexual desire for. This encounter with Angela causes Lester to recognize the failed reality of his life, and he sets out to change it. This new outlook causes Lester to behave in a strange way, and it begins to take its toll on his family. They too begin to act out, though Lester seems unaffected. Unfortunately, Lester soon becomes the victim of another man’s inevitable life crisis. Though finally happy with his current state, Lester succumbs to his fate and willingly leaves his life behind. This movie explores the idea of a marriage and family forced to comply with societal conventions of the perfect existence and all-American lifestyle. Paired with an ominous tone, it reveals the truth of a forced perfection, the emotional toll it takes on a family, and how each individual responds to the inevitable crisis. The opening scene of American Beauty (1999, Sam Mendes) introduces the world of the Burnham family: a seemingly typical father, mother, and daughter residing in a perfect suburbia, and living the stereotypical lifestyle of a middle class family. The mise-en-scène in the scene helps to establish the perfect façade of the family, by portraying their paradisiacal neighborhood, friendly neighbors, perfectly symmetrical home, beautiful rose garden, fancy cars, and gorgeously decorated and modernly equipped house. Certain ele... ... middle of paper ... ... they present to the world. The Burnham’s are not a happy family. They are dysfunctional, rude to one another, and show no respect, or even love towards each other. The realization that Lester despises his current life and wants change desperately is confirmed in this shot, as is paired with a narration from himself stating, “it [his life] can all change.” The shot then moves from Lester, slumped in the back seat of the car, to a view of the sky, symbolizing the vast world and its possibilities that Lester intends to take. The moment Lester realizes he is truly unhappy in his false life is the moment he decides to take action. Unfortunately it is also the moment that will begin to bring unknown disasters into the Burnham’s life that will destroy the façade that kept them so miserably contained. Works Cited American Beauty. Dir. Sam Mendes. DreamWorks, 1999. DVD.

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