In life, everyone must make choices. Choices give an individual the freedom to decide upon the path to which they will follow. Since it’s beginnings, the film making industry has focused on showing the direct relationship between the choices that people make and the resulting consequences they must face. In the movie American Beauty, the character of Lester Burnham must make many important choices that could either lead to his ultimate happiness, or draw him further into his despair.
In the movie American Beauty, it is evident that Lester Burnham is in a state of despair. Lester’s dull and monotonous voice introduces the audience to his daily routine of life. When Lester declares plain and simply, “This is my neighborhood, this is my street, this is my life,” he exposes the lifelessness and unhappiness to which he has become accustomed. The hopeless tone that Lester has set continues when he cynically comments, “jerking off in the shower will be the high point of my day.” He realizes his family life is no better when he becomes aware that both his disdainful wife and his troubled daughter consider him “a gigantic loser.” It is easy to recognize and understand Lester’s disheartenment through analysis and symbolic car scene. In this scene, Lester sits slouched down in the back seat with a look of emptiness while his daughter Jane sits up front, next to his wife Caroline who is driving the car. The symbolism is shown through Carolyn driving the car, as she drives the family (especially Lester). She has evolved into the decision-maker, and leader of the Burnham family. Sitting in the backseat, Lester avoids further conflict with his wife, leading him to become an even unhappier and more desperate person. It is understandable why Lester feels like a sedated visitor in his own life. It is also easy to empathize with Lester when he states that he feels “in many ways already dead.”
For Lester, his life at work is nothing better than his life at home. After fourteen years on the job, Lester is asked by an efficiency expert at work to write a memo justifying his position. This requires making the first of several choices, which will ultimately affect his future happiness. Should he justify his job and continue to provide for his family or choose freedom and a new life? To answer this question the audience must examine...
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....” This is the first time in the movie in which it is apparent that he wants to know his own family and is just working out how to go about doing it. But it also allows Lester to be happy, happy for Jane to experience the “best thing he once had” a true loving relationship with Carolyn. Lester finds himself not sad that he is now missing that loving relationship, but happy that he got the chance to experience it at one point. By the end of the movie, Lester actually seems sincerely happy in his thoughts, in his mind and in his life. This is the happiness that he has been searching for all along.
The discovery of happiness and the extinction of despair are two of the greatest feats known to humans. Everyone chooses which of the two will ultimately rule their life, but sometimes life itself can get in the way. Lester Burnham is a man with limits, a man without the freedom to know himself, but with the ability to overcome these boundaries. Throughout this movie Lester is taken down a path to which hedonism is the roadblock and morality is the hidden passage. For some the choice will never be able to be made, but to Lester, life was much too beautiful to ignore the possibilities.
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