"American Beauty" - Film Analysis

Essay by Qt_CassyUniversity, Bachelor'sA+, May 2006

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George Sand, French romantic writer, hit the nail right on the head when he said this in 1872: Appearance versus reality has been a central theme in many American creative works. The film American Beauty is not an exception. American Beauty is a motion picture that delves into your typical, middle-class suburban American home and slowly uncovers all of the abnormalities that lie within.

In this case the Burnham family is portrayed as normal but as the film later suggests, things are not always as they seem. Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) at the age of 42 has become negative and indifferent about every aspect of his life. His spouse, Caroline (Annette Bening) is driven entirely by greed and desire for status and success in her profession that she has no time for any form of intimacy. Their daughter Jane (Thora Birtch) is an insecure, troubled teenager that only wants to find somebody that will understand and love her.

These distressed characters through the years have taken refuge in routine and not confronted their true needs. In time they are awakened by different situations that drag them out of this monotonous routine and throw them into a complex cycle of self recognition and rebellion.

Lester's awakening is prompted by two events: The first is the potential of unemployment, a situation which seems charmingly liberating. The second is Jane's best friend, Angela (Mena Suvari), an attractive teenager who captures his attention and arouses his sexual interest. Now, not having the responsibilities of a job he puts all his effort in reconstructing his appearance, his personality and his outlook on life. Carolyn's perspective is also changing. Frustrated by her relationship with her husband, she begins an affair with a fellow real estate agent who calls himself "The King" (Peter Gallagher). Meanwhile...