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.