A closer look at the American Dream
American Beauty follows two dysfunctional suburban American families who's members struggle with psychological disorders including midlife crisis, homophobia, paranoia, and narcissistic personality disorder. A midlife crisis is a type of emotional transition that takes place when an adult realizes their own mortality. Homophobia is defined as a range of negative feelings towards homosexuals and homosexuality. Extreme homophobia can lead to paranoia which is a thought process believed to be heavily influenced by fear and often to the point of delusion. People with an inflated sense of self importance and a deep need for admiration have narcissistic personality disorder. Introduction
The opening of Sam Mendes classic “American Beauty” brilliantly presents the Burnham family's individual personality traits and dysfunctional relationship through their actions and dialogue.
Carol who appears to have been awake for hours is busy grooming her prized flowers as Lester reluctantly wakes up and enjoys “the in high point of the day” in the shower. Carol confronts her daughter Jane's wardrobe choice by asking “are you trying to look unattractive?” Jane's cold relationship with her mother is established with Jane's emotionless “yes” response. Despite her response, like most teenage girls Jane is preoccupied with her looks as suggested through her research of breast augmentation and her look of disappointment as she examines herself in the mirror. Lester's childlike regression (Nevid, J., Rathus, S. & Greene, B) and obedience to his narcissistic wife is revealed as Carol shouts “Could you make me a little later” as he pathetically spills his brief case before settling into the back seat. The only hint nurturing nature Carol's displays is towards her prized roses. As Lester suggests, it is all part of her commercial for the normalcy and success of the Burnhams. Discussion
Lester and Carol's relationship is best established when Carol arrives home to find Lester's dream car parked in the driveway. Carol walks in to find Lester playing with a remote control car suggesting the car of his dreams wasn't enough so also regressed further by purchasing the remote control car of his childhood's dreams as well. Lester displays many symptoms of a mid life crisis including daydreaming, unexpected anger, drug use, and increased sexual desire(E Jaques, ‘Death and the Midlife Crisis’).
A midlife crisis is a term coined by Elliott Jaques referring to a time where adults become aware of how much time is left in their life. As Carol continues to work towards self actualization through her self help audio books and obsession with success, Lester has accepted that he will not be able to achieve everything he intended and is comfortable living for the present.
Lester's firebird represents not only a sign of a mid life crisis but also an attempt to understand Carol's pursuit of happiness though material possessions. Carol's immediate disapproval of the car could stem from the fact that she lives in a world controlled by appearances and the firebird could lead to the perception that Lester has achieved greater success. The firebird only temporarily hinders Carol's new found happiness resulting from her secret life of guns and sex and Lester quickly picks up on her new confidence. “Did you do something different?” Lester asks Carol followed by “where is that girl” referring to the carefree college girl with whom he fell in love. For a moment, they both seem to remember why they fell in love until Carol is distracted by Lester's beer which is dangerously close to spilling. “Lester you are going to spill beer on the couch.” Their romantic moment is destroyed as Lester is reminded of this new Carol. “It's just stuff and it has become more important to you then living.” Carol...
References: Nevid, J., Rathus, S. & Greene, B. (2011). Abnormal Psychology: In a Changing World.
New Jersey:Pearson Education, Inc., 8th edition
E Jaques, ‘Death and the Midlife Crisis’. International Journal of Psychoanalysis.
Levinson, D. J., with Darrow, C. N, Klein, E. B. & Levinson, M. (1978). Seasons of a Man 's Life. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-394-40694-X
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