Wednesday, March 4, 2015

American Beauty

American Beauty is a film from 1999 that embodies the dysfunctional beauty of one family, and relates it to the overall American cultural experience. The main character, Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), sees no point to his existence: he is in a trying relationship with his wife Carolyn (Annette Bening); he barely talks to his daughter Jane (Thora Birch); and he has been put under fire at work. After a series of occurrences in his life such as meeting his new neighbor Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley) smoking some pot, and becoming captivated by Jane's high school classmate Angela (Mena Suvari), Lester undergoes a remarkable transformation and decides to stop being a conformist. He quits his job, much to the irritation of his wife, and begins to work at a Burger King.
There is a great deal of suspense in this story line of this film: we are give the ending right at the beginning: that Lester will be dead in a year's time. However, how and why this is the case isn't revealed until the very last minute. The movie tries to tell us that conforming to a lifestyle dictated by society leads to dysfunctionality. But finding freedom as illustrated in the film isn't exactly great either.

As the movie proceeds, each of the characters experience a transformation that breaks them out of their rut and enables them to advance to the next level of existence. Each transformation is characterized by the movement between living a routine life and living a dynamic life, where everything is uncertain. At the end, only Lester has found true freedom. Colonel Fitts (Chris Cooper), the homophobic father of Ricky is left to confront his own issues; Jane and Ricky move away to become professional drug dealers; Carolyn's transformation leaves her alone; and there is nothing to fix Angela's insecurity.

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