The ﬁlm American Beauty, directed by Sam Mendes is a ﬁlm about imprisonment and escape from imprisonment (Mendes, 1999). American Beauty explores the breakdown of a suburban family man whose life journeys from self loathing and emptiness to freedom and liberation but at the ultimate cost of his life. Mendes effectively employs a range of techniques to help convey the meaning of this ﬁlm such as set design, camera angles, colour and soundtrack.
Cinema often uses structured set design and camera angles to convey meaning to an audience. Throughout American Beauty, Mendesʼ use of set design and camera angles have been carefully structured to emphathise the ﬁlmʼs theme of imprisonment. In the opening scene the audienceʼs introduction to the lead character is Lester Burnham taking a shower. Mendes (1999) states this is the ﬁrst jail cell the audience sees Lester in, a range of various jail cell type settings appear throughout the ﬁlm including Lester presented excessively behind glass, between frames and at work, where he is conﬁned to a small cubicle in a very large ofﬁce (Appalachian, 2009). The effect of Lester imprisoned suggests he is isolated and removed from the world around him. The camera angles used exaggerate this and highlight Lesterʼs deﬂation of power against the signiﬁcant people in his life. This technique is shown to deﬁne the relationship between Lester and his boss, Brad. During a private conversation about budget cuts at work, Bradʼs superiority is enforced as he shot from a low angle, whereas Lester is shot from a high angle, this creates the effect that Lester is far away from Brad, which demonstrates to the audience the vast power Brad has over him. Mendes (1999) describes Lester as “distant and isolated” in this scene. This technique is also replicated throughout the movie to emphathise Lesterʼs detached relationship from his wife, Carolyn and daughter, Jane. The scene where Lester is seen to delay his wife by spilling his briefcase on the...
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