American Beauty by Sam Mendes

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American Beauty by Sam Mendes This essay has problems with formating In American Beauty, 1999, directed by Sam Mendes, we are confronted with the permeating images that have consumed mainstream American life. Mendes exploits these images as constructions that we created around ourselves as a means of hiding our true selves. Mendes is able to implicate us in the construction and make us active viewers by exploiting our voyeuristic nature. In American Beauty Mendes uses the voyeuristic tendencies of the spectator to acknowledge the permeating constructed images. Mendes, through the use of narration, the mise en scene and cinematic techniques implicates the spectator in to using their voyeuristic tendencies to deconstruct the images in order to reveal the true image. From the start of the film the construction of images is evident. American Beauty begins with the obvious constructed shot, shown through the use of a video camera, of a young teenage girl. The narration reveals that she wants her father dead. The image portrayed around her is constructed as an evil, unaffectionate youth. The next scene is of a high angle shot, with a voice-over narration. The voice-over goes to explain that this is Lester Burnham’s speaking and he is already dead and the following is a construction of the relevant events. This scene holds relevance for two reasons. First it constructs an image that the young teenager in the previous scene is the killer. And as we will learn by the end of the film this image is not all that it appeared to be. This is a reoccurring theme throughout the film, that these are constructed images, and to notice that there is more to the story then what appears on the surface. The high angle spanning shot of Lester’s street also holds significance for the spectator. This opening shot is quite similar to that of Alfred Hitchcock’s opening scene in Psycho. The similar themes is the spectators being the voyeurs. In each we are looking into the private sphere of the character. However, in American Beauty our voyeuristic nature is not shameful. The narration that accompanies the scene is allowing our voyeuristic desires to enter into the private lives without guilt or shame. Mendes as does Lester asks the spectator to be the voyeur. As well the sign on Lester’s cubicle wall is not a coincidence. Mendes is again soliciting t... ... middle of paper ... against the jumbled blinds of the sliding door. The perfect symmetrical image within the mise en scene is erased in order to represent the failing images in Carolyn’s life. In American Beauty, Mendes constructs his images in order to ask the spectator to deconstruct, by looking closer. This film represents the darkness that we have allowed to seep into American culture. We have allowed ourselves to be overly concerned with the way we want to be or told we should be represented. There are too many cases of the individuals soul being lost behind a maze of faulty images. Mendes begs the spectator almost in desperation to try to see the beauty that this world has to offer. However, he is not pessimistic in his conclusions. Like the flower the film is named after we can still bloom late and the appreciation for the beauty will last for eternity. Yet to reach a point to appreciate the beauty we must strip away the complex layers which we have surrounded ourselves with. This is Mendes point, the need to deconstruct the permeating ideologies within our culture. Bibliography American Beauty. Dir. Sam Mendes. Dreamworks /Warner Brothers, 1999.
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