American Beauty – Movie Review

American Beauty – Movie Review

American Beauty, a film released in 1999 depicts at a first glance a snapshot into the picture perfect image of what is or was the “american dream” of success and prosperity. The film centres around a living what would generally be seen as meaningful and otherwise happy, though the film seeks to delve deeper into what this image of the “american dream” truly translates into in our modern day world. Many would speculate that the film delves into the ugliness which has seeped from this seemingly clinical and sterile image of society, in stark contrast with what is usually advertised as happiness incarnate and the purist image of a human utopia. The film mostly centres around an average american family, a husband, a wife and their only daughter. Through their interactions and their life decisions both made in the present tense of the film and the implied past, the film seems to bring out the eviscerating ugly side of “the dream” An underbelly that at first seems morbid and alien but slowly comes into focus as the everyday struggles of a modern day capitalistic family. The film using the families lives as a medium to convey its tones, heavily satirises and at some points in a somewhat openly hostile way with its creative script writing shoots at the concept of the structured society we all believe to be the path to prosperity and happiness, where some examples of its satirical takes on the modern day American Dream are horation and slightly hidden or subdued, others take a firm grasp of attack in a more juvenilian style of satire.

To focus on the individual characters of the text, one of the main set of eyes that the audience is allowed to look through to provide a sense of context to the modern day world that is perceived as home or the “the correct form of society” is the father of the family, the film mainly centres around. Lester the father and husband to the family aged 42 years old is the films seemingly wise narrator as much of the film takes place after he has died, and the entirety of the text serves as almost a form of revision for what sort of life he and his family lived. Lester works at an advertising firm, slogging out the nine to five, five days a week work life. In the opening scenes of the movie Lester often describes how his day is similar to being a downhill journey from the minute he wakes up to confront a new day. The dynamic of this father and husband figure represented in the film is what at first seemed to be a suburban success story but showing signs turning slowly sour. Lester’s relationship with both his daughter and his wife seem to have degraded to the point of near non existence, as he has quoted saying “both my wife and daughter think i’m a loser. and they’re right”. Lester quote often comments about how once upon a time both he and his wife were once happy and joyful, and that as he describes it “the commercial for normality” that they show off in reality serves no greater purpose and in turn isn’t a form of living at all. In this sense to the construct of the underlying tone of the story, as Lester begins to free himself of the shackles of what he terms as “normality” he begins to become the symbol of one who will liberate himself, through Lester the movie begins to show us what society really values us by, as his new manager Brad Dupree talks about how someone has to be let go, Lester immediately recognises this as simply being put, “some people are expendable” in an almost awakening moment of liberation Lester begins by first quitting his job and getting a whole years severance pay plus benefits through bold acts of defiance, he takes up a job with what he desires as “the least amount of responsibility” despite being seen as going off the path or crazy. The movie almost props him as the one who before death had truly liberated himself from the ugly sterile emptiness which was the american way of successful society.

Lesters wife Caroline on the other hand portrays a different image or result of the american dream, she is the career woman, driven by success and near starving for it. Lester himself describes that once his wife used to be “happy” as she almost obsessively prunes and picks at her garden to show its perfection, or how in one scene she almost seems to care more about the well being of her expensive leather couch rather the bonding that Lester was trying to initiate with her in that scene. She shows that her lust for success has even seeped onto her daughter as in one scene after her daughter completes her cheer in a basketball game she simply states “you didn’t even screw up once!” Despite the movie clearly showing that her efforts for success which in her mind would equate to happiness, actually drain her of life itself, she clings to her mantra of “i am not the victim” In her efforts to take control of the life that has seemingly been lost to the pursuit of economic success as the movie shows in such a brutally empty setting of her little to no connection with her only child and her fading husband she sleeps with her main competitor, and when Lester catches the two cheating she seems to almost come to a self revelation of how empty and fruitless her attempts at happiness are, contemplating suicide in her car but once again chanting that she is not the victim, she is not a victim.

The youthful characters in the movie are seemingly the products of what can only be said to be hollowed out adults. The daughter of Lester and Caroline, Jane is a clear example portrayed in the film as an almost distant girl, who has parents who both themselves seem to have faded out of the parental picture long ago, as per the demands of the society that they reside within. Jane at first seems to be the typical girl trying to fit into the mold of what is a popular or perfect teenage girl, as one scene of the film shows her looking at the option of breast augmentation, she seems to be dominated over the concept of looking pretty and being appealing to men. The film then almost to showcase what it is that Jane is so fruitlessly trying to aspire to shows us the character of her supposed best friend, Angela. Angela portrays herself openly as a sexual deviant, an aspiring model and in her own belief extraordinary, as she says herself “there’s nothing worse than being ordinary”. The film almost teases at this concept as most of the audience may be able to recognise that a pretty girl, blonde, sexual and aspiring to be famous is actually quite common, and the film shows this as Angela when in one of the final scenes of the film reveals to Lester that she is a virgin when given the opportunity to have sex with him, showing her own internal battle with accepting that trying to be extraordinary within the folds of society means truly being ordinary. Then there is the character of Ricky, the movies almost big riot against the entirety of society, through his filming of the world around him Ricky see’s the beauty and freedom of the little things that society almost seems to stomp on with cold steel boots. He comes from a conservative military father and an almost defeated and battered mother, though through it all, like a gleaming ray of light he see’s the beauty in the world that many have forgotten, the beauty in the wind, the beauty of freedom, life and death. The movie seems to clearly cement this as in one scene he shows Jane what he calls the most beautiful thing he has ever filmed, that being a plastic bag swirling in the wind, as he describes it’s freedom and how it dances on and on like a child asking to be played with.

The film through the use of its characters as its lens to look upon the societal structure that we hold dear, the american dream. Through these lenses of various shapes and sizes, genders, roles and age we see the true gritty emptiness that the modern day american dream brings with it. From mother, father to child this movie shows that society is almost like an organic being slowly being drained of its life and it freedom to feel happy.

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