Film: History and Form
November 17, 2010
American Beauty: An Analysis of Lester Burnham and Ricky Fitts
American Beauty, written by Alan Ball and directed by Sam Mendes, invites the viewer to do one thing: look closer. Look closer at life, look closer at your surroundings, look closer at your possessions, and finally look closer at your loved ones. What is integral about the subject matter of the film is how applicable it is to almost anyone who watches it. The film’s grotesque depiction of American middle-class society is immediately very attractive, and the different elements such as the main character’s mid-life crisis, the young girls’ coming-of-age experiences and general family dynamics are very relatable to almost any viewer. As the viewer, we are drawn into the families and are forced to “look closer” and investigate what is wrong and why they have become the way that they are. Throughout the film’s progression, Lester Burnham and Ricky Fitts are portrayed as mirror-images of one another and that they indeed are quite similar in their struggles against their respective overbearing authorities, share similar feelings of imprisonment and desires for escape. Carolyn, Lester and Jane Fitts seem like the perfect nuclear family. With both parents working successful jobs in the real estate and advertising business, the Burnham household appears to be the ideal American, nuclear family. Their house is filled with ideal family photos and decorated with expensive furniture, while their front yard is perfectly gardened and lined with a white picket fence and an abundance of red roses. From the outside, it seems like a story of a perfect and happy family. What comes with the label of being a nuclear family are both financial and emotional security and an assumption of traditional gender roles. It is clear, however, that the character of Lester Burnham has grown alienated from within his own home and wants to escape. He is living a sedated life and has become numb to everything. The viewer, throughout the film, sees Lester portrayed in various shots of imprisonment illusions, notably the shot of him looking through the front window to his wife gives the illusion of prison bars as well as the shot of his reflection on his desk computer with the words on the monitor in a prison bar shape. It is evident to the viewer that Lester is beginning to feel the repercussions of living in confinement from his daily routine. On the surface, the character of Ricky Fitts seems the most peculiar and out of the ordinary. The viewer first sees him doing the odd act of filming Jane as she walks back to her house, but in reality the viewer comes to realize that he is actually the most real person in the film. Ricky is not like a typical American, male teenager. He is not rowdy, nor does he seem the type to party. He appears to be a very obedient son to his parents, the mom living her life day by day while the father excessively wears a hard exterior because of his past duties in the army. Ricky seems fine, but like the character of Lester, he too is suffering from the dynamics of his own home. Still, he is able to remain true to himself; he does not put on a façade, and he does not care what anyone thinks. Ricky is a quiet and reserved guy, but what he lacks in words he makes up for with his use of his video camera. What seems like a voyeuristic act of filming Jane throughout the film across his window is actually his own way of reaching out to her and offering his hand to free her from the imprisonment that Jane feels in her own home. He is the most rational and is able to see past the materialistic attitudes and shallowness that characterize many of the characters. Ricky Fitts appreciates the beauty in nature and the most mundane things that people would not give a second glance toward. Ricky’s video camera acts as his filter to his view of the world. He sees everything from an impartial point of view and therefore sees everyone’s true...
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