Sam Mendes’ American Beauty, at first, evinces the perfect picture of the ideal middle class suburban American life. The Burnham family appears to have everything anyone would want- success, money, status, and with that, presumed happiness. However, reality contravenes this façade and paints a much darker and more sinister truth. Throughout the film, several interpersonal communicational concepts are incorporated to depict the elaborate layers of the characters and their relationships in the film. The truth and beauty that have always been present are eventually realized by one of these characters, Lester Burnham, as he ventures on his journey to find true happiness.
The big house and white picket fence with everything matching and the dishes sparkling belies the harsh reality underneath. A suburban couple is in denial about their midlife crisis and their teenage daughter's depression. The neighbors who move in next door have an emotionally disturbed teenage son, and the Marine Corps veteran father’s austerity transgresses to the point of being abusive, a product of his denial. The film reflects our cultural undercurrent of repressed sexual urges that surface in twisted manners. It underscores the search for the joy, love, and passion that people lose in their youth and the power of denial.
Lester and Carolyn Burnham are, on the outside, the perfect husband and wife, in a perfect house, in a perfect neighborhood. They live behind a mask for society to view them as normal. They wish to be part of high society, but really they are not. Lester, an ordinary looking married man and father in his forties, is in search for happiness. Lester is in a loveless marriage. Caroline is so immersed in her real estate career, that Lester often claims that Caroline doesn't even acknowledge him. Furthermore, Lester's daughter, Jane, abhors her parents and thinks her father is pathetic. Moreover, Lester has dedicated fourteen years to his occupation, and suddenly, he is in danger of losing his job due to downsizing. All of these factors dramatically affect Lester and culminate into feelings of desperation and vulnerability, leaving him in search of an escape and a rebirth. He is seeking the slightest possibility of happiness. During the latter stages of the film, Lester finally discovers what the true meaning of American beauty entails. What he learns is both a profound realization and a moment of ultimate truth. However, this newfound knowledge was not a sudden discovery, nor was it taught to him. It is the result of his journey; a journey that is intertwined and influenced by the relationships he has with the characters and the world that surrounds him.
Lester Burnham is in a state of despair. Lester's dull and monotonous voice introduces the audience to his daily routine of life, of which he is a prisoner. He reiterates the same rituals, which may be comfortable but not enjoyable. His dull clothing and gray, mundane workplace confine him to a world of simplicity, bereft of any hope for change. He masturbates in his shower, redolent of a jail cell. This is one of many shots where Lester is seen behind bars or within frames, such as when he is reflected behind columns of numbers on a computer monitor. At the age of 42, he has become sympathetic to everything. He realizes that his family life is declining rapidly, as he becomes aware that both his wife and daughter consider him a gigantic loser, which he accepts as truth. He feels deprived of his former self and recognizes that he lives such a numb and banal existence. Lester's disheartenment is symbolic in the car scene. Relational messages revealed in this scene describe the relationship Lester has with his wife and daughter. Lester sits slouched down in the back seat with a look of emptiness, while his daughter sits up front next to his wife, who is driving the car. Carolyn drives the car just as she drives the family, especially Lester. She has evolved into the...
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