American Beauty: Stay Away From ME

I have something to say about one of the most beloved films of the early 00s.

Lets just ignore for now the horrible person who stars in this film and focus on the movie itself.

At the 2000s Oscar award show one movie walked away with 5 Oscar awards, American Beauty. The movie about a middle class American family who appears to be living the American dream. They live in a nice home, have nice things, and live the social normative that is expected of them. However, behind close does they are unhappy with each other, their lives, and themselves. The movie touches on taboo subject of the time such as pedophilia, homosexually, adultery, discontentment of life, and murder. The movie was able to connect with both teenagers and adults which is something few movies have been able to do. This film has received mixed signals and has seemed to become dated but many still feel that this movie is still relevant. American Beauty made use of themes such as identity, symbols like the color red, and the editing styles all to tell a story.

There are many themes in this movie. All the themes have to deal with what every person living in the United States as to face or deal with at some point or another. The first major theme with the movie is discontentment with where they are in life and being unhappy. Lester our main character is not happy with his run of the mill job, where he is undermined, bullied, and taken for granted. Then when he gets home it is the same thing with his family. The wife is unhappy with her marriage and turns to work and materialistic things for comfort. Whereas their daughter is like any other teen, she is unhappy with her body, parents, and boring life. Another theme of this movie is Love, but not only love but sex and sexuality. Lester’s whole life is turned upside down when he falls in lust with his daughter’s friend Angela. This theme is what gets the ball rolling to what would the beginning of the end for Lester. His love for his wife is little to none but he tries seducing her t one point only to have it stopped. He and his daughter have no real relationship and this brings him distress. The wife feeling unwanted and mad ends up in the arms of another man, and her relationship with her daughter Jane is the same as her husband but she does not believe it, she thinks they have a connection. The daughter falls in love with the artsy neighbor boy and they end up together. The movie also touches on Jane’s boyfriends father. The man is a homophobe and is hostile to his gay neighbors and anything to do with homosexuality. In a series of misunderstandings, he believes that Lester is gay and this leads to him exposing his sexuality to Lester only to be shot down. Not being able to handle the rejection, humiliation, and the risk of Lester telling it leads to extreme measures being taken. More themes of the movie would be freedom such as Lester quitting his job and buying a new car, living the way he wants to live, the wife being happiest shooting a gun, and the daughter no longer living in her friend Angela’s shadow by having a boyfriend and standing up to her. All the characters feel they need to live the American dream, by keeping up appearances. These are just a few of the themes in this movie, each person has to deal with these things in life and these themes made the movie relatable to real life. Not only does the movie have themes but most notably are the films use of symbols and their meanings.

There are so many things in this movie that have a meaning. The most obvious meanings would be looking through windows, the color red, and roses. Looking through windows are a way to see what the character see’s. Lester looks outside to see his wife tending to her roses, the world outside, he is a prisoner in his own home. The next door neighbor and his father both have the habit of looking through windows. The son mainly to watch people he too is a prisoner in his own home but also he just records everything. He sees beauty in everything and looking through the window and into others is getting a glimpse of the real person and not the person they may pretend to be in public. Frank Fitts the boy’s dad looks out his window and into others as well. He keeps himself prisoner because of how he feels about himself and the temptations of the outside world. Looking into Lester’s windows leads to Frank exposing himself and then feeling the need to cover up what happened. Jane looks out her window and sees her boyfriend. She sees freedom and love. Another symbol in this movie would be the color red. Red is the color of lust and danger. The color red is used in the movie many times and each red thing has a meaning. The color of Angela’s lips, thing Lester lust over they are red. The house to the door is red meaning danger, such as a color animal may mean danger as in being poisonous the door is a warning that something bad will happen here. The car that Lester buys is red, it is his dream car, he has wanted this his whole life, it is bright and he wants it to be seen and red being the bright color it is seen by all. Caroline the wife is shown with her red roses. Everything in this movie that is red is that color for a reason and means the item is important. The most notable thing of symbolism are the roses. They are a symbol of control and sexuality. The roses mean many things but these two things stuck out. Caroline feels that she always needs control. She gets to control the process of growing her flowers and taking care of them, where they are placed such as the houses she tries to sell and her own home, not only the roses she grows but the clothes the daughter wears in one shot has roses on them. This could be a sign of control she has over Jane. The wife has control issues that is why she is the only one to drive the car, that’s why she tells Lester how to act at the party the attended. And that is why she is so materialistic and cares how everything is presented. The rose petals are different, for Lester they are sexual. Every fantasy he has with Angela contain rose petals. They cover all her sensual places. In her strip tease they cover her chest, in his dream she lays on a bed of them and covered, in the tub the cover her body. The lose petals could symbolize deflowering which can also be a term for sex, which is something Lester wants from this girl. American Beauty is famous for its use of symbolism. Many people do not understand the exact meaning but understand it means something. To each person the symbols mean something different which is the beauty of symbolism. The themes and symbols are not the only things that make the movie what it is. The editing and lighting in this movie assist in making the viewer feel something, or see a situation through the eyes of the characters.

The lighting and editing are like characters themselves. They portray people in different ways and help the viewer understand how things are connecting. American Beauty used the lighting in a few ways like the spot light. In Angela’s strip tease there was just a light on her. It showed were all the attention was supposed to be and it lit up her beauty and value to Lester. Also, when the next door neighbor Ricky turns on the porch light to illuminate himself, he is epos Inside his office there are no windows only overhead lighting making it feel lonely, cold, and dead, which is how he feels threw most of the beginning till he quits his job. The lighting in the house can be dark like in Lester’s room and dining room, the places where he and his wife are together often. The fast food restaurant Lester works in later in the movie is bright and lively which is how he feels working there, it makes audiences feel happier. In some scenes they will do a dramatic light on Lester or Angela’s eyes making them pop. It gives a since of attraction and intimacy.  Other than the lighting the editing was a key player in this movie. There would be extreme close ups on some of the characters making them intense. Then there were some shots that were replayed back to back such as when Angela opened her jacket to expose herself. It really drives home the image and points to how important this moment is. It also gives the audience a chance to look twice at the imagine to gather more information about it and understand its meaning. Just like any person acting and playing a part the editing can do that as well without the viewers even knowing it.

The movie was something to talk about when it came out. Everyone had their own thoughts about the meaning of the film so I feel like the movie did its job. However, for my own personal taste I am not a big fan of this movie. I feel like the movie is pretentious and preachy. Such as Ricky finding beauty in everything and how “poetic” he can be. The daughter has little to no personality and her friend Angela is pretty interesting but over the top. The movie is trying to move us to be grateful and live life but it feels pushed. The actors did a splendid job; it is just some of the characters I found to be unreplaceable. This is something everyone should watch more as a safety video. Know when to ask for help, murdering people and having affairs are not the right ways to release feelings. The themes, Symbols, and physical editing and lighting all American Beauty what it is a dated yet extremely well done Movie.

4 comments

  1. wow. this is an amazing, comprehensive look at that film. I honestly don’t remember this movie but reading your response makes me want to go watch it so I can see these things for myself. you have an amazing talent at this. keep it up!

  2. I don’t think I have ever read such a descriptive, detailed, and passionate review such as this one before. The amount of supporting opinions backed by not just your thoughts but by similar films. Beautiful piece.

  3. I loved this movie so much. The cinematography was great. I loved the outrageous scenes where you can tell he is sort of dreaming. This movie was gold. The American Dream isn’t always what it seems.

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