Techniques Developing Character in 'American Beauty'

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The use of a range of techniques can help the director develop character. To what extent do you agree with this view?

American Beauty is a 1999 American drama directed by Sam Mendes. The film centres on the less-than perfect lives of Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) and his family as they are trapped within the confines of the Middle American image. Entrapment is a recurring theme in Mendes’ film—Lester is trapped by the notion of conforming to the middle-class American ideal; his wife Carolyn (Annette Benning) is trapped within the image of being the perfect wife, mother, and businesswoman; their daughter Jane (Thora Birch) is trapped by gender stereotypes in her blind pursuit of ‘beauty’, exemplified by her want for breast augmentation surgery. The main narrative follows Lester himself as he attempts to break free from his despairingly insubstantial existence—he is 42 years old, is facing possible unemployment from his dead-end job, his daughter openly hates him, and his relations with his wife have gone totally cold. The turning point for Lester comes when he develops an infatuation on his daughter’s best friend Angela (Mena Suvari), flirtatious but ultimately naïve. His lust for Angela motivates him to quit his job, start working out, and start buying weed from his shy documentarian neighbour Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley) who lives with his detached mother and violently homophobic father. There are three different main viewpoints present in the film: the main narrative which follows Lester, presenting itself in a linear manner; Lester’s lustful fantasies about Angela, and Ricky’s camera footage which provides an objective view of the events of the narrative. In this film Mendes is simultaneously parodying the ideals of middle-class American society, while also—as shown in the film’s tagline—inviting us to “look closer” at the world around us, to look beyond the façade and perhaps find beauty in the places in which it is not expected. In this film, Mendes uses a...
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