American Beauty, directed by Sam Mendes and written by Alan Ball, can be classified as a mixture of black comedy and drama, which concerns the very fundamental target points of American culture throughout 1990s. Beginning with the opening scene the audience is made to “look closer” to the American middle class suburban life. Lester and Carolyn Burnham, played by Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening, are an unhappily married couple with a daughter, called Jane, a character played by Thora Birch.
Both parents go through their own middle age crises, Carolyn directing her attraction to the realtor Buddy Kane (Peter Gallagher) and Lester to the teenager friend of her daughter, Angela (Mena Suvari).
At the same time the affair between Jane and the new neighbor Ricky (Wes Bentley), who views life through a video camera, come into scene. Ricky’s Neo-Nazi, recently retired marine colonel father (Chris Cooper) and the gay couple (Jim Olmeyer and Jim Berkley, Scott Bakula and Sam Robards respectively), living in the neighborhood, are to be considered as other important roles in the movie.
The movie is basically nested around the characters. Every character in its own story symbolizes a part of American society, which has been criticized throughout the last decade. The disturbance of the image, created in the 1960s has been a point of target. The perfection of the American middle-class family in the suburbia to be damaged is a janus-faced one, in terms of its reflection and reality.
The characters in American Beauty represent a part of this “American Dream”, which is actually not the case, when the inner house is been taken into account. The relationships between the family members and with the outside world is to be seen within their stories, hence the characters gain a significant importance in the movie. The so far as perfect presented life in the suburbia, which was constructed throughout 1960s, has been disturbed within the period of 1990s, making it a field of inquiry in the popular subculture.
American Beauty can be regarded as a production, taking its reference point from this reaction to the representation of the perfection of the middle class suburban life, extended with the obsession to the outside look, self-improvement sets and challenging real estate business. The ones, who are seen as freaks turn out to be the most normal people, whereas the ordinary people show the symptoms of repression in the form of emotional breakdowns. The always happy appearing Carolyn’s cry out and Lester quitting his job at the beginning of he movie can be seen as examples to those breakdowns. Step by step Jane witnesses the process of how her parents go crazy, who actually stay married because of their unwillingness to break the so far settled cycle, so that the daughter, Jane, becomes the victim of that marriage, within which her parents become strange to her. The falseness of the image of perfect marriage has been shown through the look to the Burnham family, while the bird-eye of the opening goes closer into the house, where the positions of the family members are revealed.
The dominant mother Carolyn is working as a realtor, lying every person in order to sell the house, who at the end fails to sell it to any of them. At the same time her affair with the “King” Buddy does not last long. Lester, who is aware of the fact that his family regards him as a “loser”, is after less responsibility so that he ends up working at Mr. Smiley’s, like in his school days, and his unhappiness with his wife results in his temptation against Angela. So, he tries to better up his appearance in order to get the attention of Angela, of whom he fantasizes.
In this manner it can be said that Lester typifies thousands of frustrated American men who occasionally flip during their mid-life crises and become something their families no longer recognize. The rebel of Lester drags him to long for his high school days, when he had his “whole life ahead” of himself. He describes his mid-life crises as an awakening to go back to those times: “I feel like I’ve been in a coma for the past twenty years. And I’m just now waking up. ” A significant role in the movie belongs to Ricky, who represents the trend and willingness to watch and to be watched.
With the rise of programs such as “Big Brother” the curiosity of people to see other lives has been revealed. The quote of Ricky, while he was approaching Jane and Angela with his camera recorder, “I am not obsessing, I’m just curious”, explains this situation, that the camcorders are to be considered as tools of this curiosity to watch other lives, to take the record of anything. Even the plastic grocery bag dancing in the wind gains a significance within the footage: “Sometimes, there is so much beauty in the world. These words do not only represent the necessity for the people to realize the beauties of the world but also the realization of the object within the footage with meanings attached, within which the moment has the importance, as in the film, the director avoids using a moving camera rather than that he prefers the close-ups, which reflect the inner-dynamics of the character, how he feels or what he sees. The beauty is hidden in the object, it is necessary to look closer in order to notice it. Angela, on the other hand, represents the state of being of many teenagers today.
The ambition of her to become a model one day and rating this possibility with her seduction is to be seen within these words: “If people I don’t even know look at me and want to f… me, it means I really have a shot at being a model. ” The trend of 90s for the teenage girls to become a model is embodied within the role of Angela, who never sees herself as being ordinary: “I don’t think that there’s anything worse than being ordinary. ” Ricky saying that she is ordinary shows the fact that she typifies other teenagers, who all want to become a model.
The case of Angela, hence, is not different than any other girl. In the intersection point of every story, Jane is to be found, who gets effected of every situation. She gets caught between her parents, who both become strange to her especially her father, when his attraction to Angela has been revealed. She also, has to witness Angela’s willingness to sleep with Lester. Her relationship with Ricky, which has been considered as weird by Angela, becomes a modest one within the context of the events.
Jane is a typical girl, who is displeased with her appearance so much so she saves money for breast implementation surgery, which she clearly does not need. Her obsession with her physical appearance may be her need to fix her family life, in which no communication takes place. All the characters represent a part of the American society within the form of criticism, which has been discussed within the framework of 1990s, when the image of American dream has been destroyed by the society itself. American Beauty stands at the peak point of that criticism, while the decade was about to be closed.
The film makes the audience think whether the myth of the family should exist even though the members of that family hurt each other and whether the objects, which has been regarded as being beautiful, can be defined within the boundaries of beauty, if those exist or not. The lives, as they fall apart, indicate the illnesses of the society, which creates the materialistic and empty relationships. The most weird relation becomes the most real one, while all the others melt into the insensitivity.
Cite this American Beauty Review
American Beauty Review. (2018, Jan 30). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/american-beauty-review/