Concepts of Identity - American Beauty

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In the film, American Beauty, Allan Ball (screenwriter) explores a number of themes relating to the concepts of identity. One of these themes is adopting superficial appearances to try and “fit in” with reality. Appearances can be deceiving, that is why one’s identity can be difficult to comprehend.

American Beauty conveys images and ideas of adopting a superficial identity to their perception of reality. Carolyn is a real estate agent who believes that the most important aspect in life is being successful. Carolyn has based her extrinsic identity on what she believes, is the idea of perfection. She is so obsessed with perfection that she can be classified as a little manic; as shown in the scene where she can not sell a house and physical and mentally abuses herself while repeating the imperative, “I will sell this house today” to herself. Carolyn, intrinsically, is an insecure woman and by that, she hides her insecurities with her perfection; constantly being in control of the family’s life force which was represented in the scene where she cuts the roses stem. The way Ball explains it, the color red is the life force, Carolyn cuts the life force.

Lester, Carolyn’s husband and the protagonist of the film, works for an advertising agency and has become a prisoner towards his career and his wife. Since Carolyn is the driving life force in the family, Lester has little or no control in his life. At the beginning of the film, he feels deeply and fundamentally unsatisfied with his life though as the movie progresses, he gradually recovers his lost fractured identity and becomes truly happy once again.

Carolyn and Lester use a lot of sarcasm in their dialogue in the beginning of the film. Since Carolyn is a very controlling person, she controls her family to live out the “American Dream.” As shown in the scene of the first family dinner, both Carolyn and Lester still uphold the artificial identities to mask their family’s true identity. The...
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