American Beauty Essay 3

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‘…good movies are made and they say important things about the world. Screenwriters manage this by weaving thematic implications into the script.’ The film I have chosen to examine American Beauty (1999) directed by Sam Mendes. I am going to look at how the thematic implications wove into the script help the viewer to understand the main themes that run throughout the film including happiness, as all the characters in the film are engaged in the pursuit of happiness although they all have very different ideas on what they have to do to find it. The film I think is critical of consumerism, traditional American values and America’s gun culture. All of the characters in the film struggle with their own sense of identity apart from Ricky, the next door neighbour, he is the only on who has a sense of who he is. The concept of love plays an important role in the film and how each character shows their love or finds love in different ways. There are 2 very different types of families portrayed in the film each with their own problems although it is the noticeable absence of Janie’s friend, Angela’s family that raises the most questions about the importance of family. One of the biggest points in the film is the idea of freedom and this is shown through the characters that in some way feel trapped in their own lives. I chose this particular film because I think there is a lot to be read from the themes I have mentioned above and during the course of this essay I will look at how the cinematic techniques used in the film help explore these themes. “American Beauty suggests that contemporary film need not be bound to a single approach. Indeed, the film could not have succeeded without using a plurality of styles, given that Mendes' stylistic choices go hand in hand with the film's thematic argument that one's view of the world is all about perspective.” Rick Boeck (p.181, 2007) Happiness throughout the film is portrayed as something that is missing from each of the characters’ lives, although the potential for happiness does exist. This is symbolized in the Burnham family home through the use of red roses which are often seen next to pictures of the family in a more happy time of their lives. The rose is used as a symbol of beauty and the colour red symbolizes the desire Lester feels towards Angela. At various points throughout the film Lester’s daughter Jane and his wife Carolyn are both seen to be wearing various shades of red suggesting that there is beauty underneath and this is captured in one scene through the lens of Ricky’s video camera where Angela is dancing in the window in her underwear, but Ricky focuses on Jane sat at the dressing table smiling to herself in the mirror at the sign he has left her in the garden. The use of Ricky’s camera is used to view the beauty that lies behind different people and objects in the film and by using a digital camera it gives the viewer a different viewpoint into the characters’ lives. This technique makes the view from Ricky’s camera seem more real than the story we are watching unfold but I think this re-iterates what Boeck says above that one’s view of the world is all about perspective. “Its characters are perfect creatures of their social locations. They may hope for something ‘more’, but their very conception of this "more" derives from the culture that confines and defines their desires.” David L. Smith (p.1, 2002) For Lester this quote above may be untrue as his happiness is achieved through following his true desires and going against the ‘norms’ of respectable society he has been trapped in for so long, he quits his job, takes drugs and fantasizes about his daughters friend. Whereas Carolyn has become so trapped as a consumer and by her image that she thinks all the stuff she owns can make her happy, so that to others she looks happy and successful but in reality she is miserable. Her daughter Jane seems so focused on keeping herself miserable that she fails to recognize that...
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