American Beauty (1999)

American Beauty, directed by Sam Mendes, tells the story of Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), a middle-aged father and husband entering the throes of a midlife crisis. His marriage is going down the drain, and his job is completely meaningless to him. His teenage daughter loathes him. In this first scene, we see a clip of the teenage daughter wanting her father dead, and directly afterward, we hear a voiceover of Lester saying he is going to die in a year, which very much sets the tone of the piece. The way the opening sequence is shot reflects the mundanity of Lester’s daily life, as the shots are almost characterized by being “straightforward” and “unsurprising”. There is a clear theme of feeling trapped, or imprisonment, in the film. There is even a shot in the beginning of Lester’s reflection in his computer screen where the image on the computer makes him look like he is in a jail cell.

However, what makes the movie interesting is that he turns his life around when he meets Angela (Mena Suvari), a friend of his daughters’, and devotes himself to the pursuit of her, even though she’s only sixteen. He realizes that, even though he is alienating his family in his quest to take Angela as a lover, he is experiencing more purpose than he has in years.

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3 responses to “American Beauty (1999)

  1. I love this film’s restrained use of red to underscore the Burnhams’ feeling of entrapment. The house’s red door, the red car Lester buys, the red brick wall in the infamous plastic bag sequence.

    Whenever you see the red, you get the sense of a bottled, secret passion, carefully and precariously compartmentalized in the characters’ psyches. I love that Lester’s wife is first seen pruning and controlling her rose garden. It makes those moments when we see Mena Suvari covered in petals so satisfying.

  2. I think it’s fascinating that most of the struggle that the characters experience derives from a place of longing for control. Jane wants her father dead and is dissatisfied with her inability to augment the way she looks, Lester looks out on his wife while she tames her roses with matching shoes and shears (the first scene sets up Lester’s wife as the alpha) and Lester himself taking control of his own sexual needs as there is a lack of sexual release in his marriage.

  3. I have only seen this film once, but watching the introduction again after reading this post and both of these comments has really made me want to go back and take a better look at the film in its entirety. These are all really interesting observations, and this is definitely the sort of film one could spend hours reviewing.

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