Analysis Of American Beauty Essay, Research Paper
Why is American Beauty one of my most favorite movies of all time? Well, let me count the ways. American Beauty is a story about a middle-class white American family, trying to pursue the American Dream. Their different versions of the American Dream are what pull them apart from reaching it as a family.
There are two major themes that really spoke out to me. The first theme deals with the idea of appearances. Carolyn Burnham, played by Annette Bening, was enthralled by the quote stated by her secret mister. “In order to be successful, one must portray the image of success at all times.” This quote itself exemplifies the whole idea of achieving the American Dream- not necessarily to reach the ultimate goal, but to portray the image of reaching that ultimate goal. For example, I was taught that the ultimate goal would include everything from receiving a college education, getting married, and having kids. Once I receive that, will I really be a better and happier person? Or once I reach that, will I have the opportunity to say that I reached my goal, hence portraying the image of being better and happier. The idea can really apply to everything I do in life. Am I really a happy, fun-loving person? Or am I just portraying the image of being a happy, fun-loving person? Am I really a confident person? Or am I just portraying the image of being a confident person? Am I really a good, moral person? Or am I just portraying the image of being a good, moral person? These existential thoughts have been around since the beginning of time, with such writers/ thinkers as Freud or Machiavelli. But the idea of re-introducing these ideas in a late 20th Century setting really makes it all the more powerful.
The second theme that I wish to talk about it is “What does it mean to be beautiful.” In context of American values, three images make a person complete: beauty, happiness, and success. In order to be beautiful, once must be happy. In order to be happy, one must be successful. In order to be successful, one must be beautiful. And vice versa. Think about it. In order to be beautiful, one must be happy. (I.e. Beauty is defined by outer presentation and appearance, confidence, and personality- all components of happiness). In order to be happy, one must be successful. (I.e. Happiness is defined by the amount of money you have, the amount of children you have, if your marriage/family life is rewarding, if your job is something you enjoy and get paid well for- all dealing with being successful). In order to be successful, one must be beautiful. (I.e. Appearances play an important role in how people perceive you, how much you appeal to people, and how much money you’re going to make). It all goes hand in hand. It forms a triangle, which we as Americans, must attempt to strive for every day.
The characters of the film exemplify the constant struggle between these three components. First of all, let’s examine Lester, played by Kevin Spacey. Lester realizes that he was not happy at his job, so he decides to quit and applies at the one job that makes him happy- one at a fast food restaurant. His wife Carol thinks it is the worst mistake he has ever made. Why? Because happiness equals success. It does not matter if Lester is truly and completely happy with his new job. If he does not have a moneymaking and executive job, then he cannot be seen as successful. And because he cannot be seen as successful, he cannot be seen as happy. Carol on the other hand, exemplifies that one can be successful, but not be happy. She may be trying her hardest to “project this image” of success, but deep in her heart, she is not happy with her life or her being. In fact, Carol uses her house as a scapegoat of presenting this false happiness. If you notice, she spends many hours trimming and grooming her roses (which happen to be called American Beauties!), and she is also diligent about maintaining a beautiful house, with expensive, spotless furniture. The house can be seen as a metaphor for Carol, herself. Although it may be very beautiful to the naked eye, you have to look closer to see that it is a big mess inside. You have to look beyond the beauty to see that there is no real happiness. It is nothing but a fa ade. Success does not need to determine happiness, but society tells us it does.
The character of Jane (Thora Birch) and her friend played by Mena Suvari, also exemplify the idea of beauty vs. success vs. happiness. Jane is a character whose beauty is not external. She is a plain Jane, with many problems that many teenagers face. She is unhappy with her body, her parents, and her life in general. She meets her boyfriend, played by Wes Bentley, who finally makes her feel beautiful. Even though she still is not as beautiful on the outside, the fact that she is now beautiful on the inside makes her even more beautiful and now even happier. Her friend, who is obsessed with her looks and her sexuality, actually turns out to reveal how sensitive and unhappy she really is. She uses her external beauty to help her portray the image of her internal beauty. She is not the sexually-experienced confident woman that she portrays herself to be, she is rather a frail virginic little girl, with so many internal issues that she is trying to hide. Beauty does not need to entail happiness, but society tells us it does. Finally, let’s take into account the family next door- the closeted-military husband, the lifelessly depressed wife, and the confident artistic son. The husband, who is denying his homosexuality to death, refuses to let go of what he believes to be the perfect military family. Unable to even take into account how miserable his wife really is, it does not matter to him, for he is trying his hardest to portray the image that he wishes to portray. In fact, in an emotional attempt to come to terms with his homosexuality, he attempts to find comfort in Lester, who he assumes is also homosexual. Instead of dealing with the consequences of that encounter, he kills him. Some people will do anything to make sure that their image is protected. Some people are so afraid of losing what they already have, that they will take someone’s life, if that person poses a threat to their “American Dream.”
What this movie has taught me is this: look closer. People may be happy, but not successful. People may be beautiful, but not happy. People may be successful, but not beautiful. Everything is possible. Don’t be afraid to look inside yourself and in others to see what is really going on. Do not be afraid to ask someone “How are you doing?” and really mean it. The world is beautiful, as long as we keep it as real as possible. If we understand the way that American values teach us to live, then we understand that we don’t have to go along with it. We don’t have to portray to be whatever we think we’re supposed to be. We can actually be those things, as long as we understand what we are trying to do. We’re not trying to be successful, because we think we’re supposed to be. We’re trying to be successful because we want to be. We’re not trying to be beautiful because we want to be, but rather because we are. We’re not trying to happy because that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We’re trying to happy because that’s how we honestly want to live. Look closer.
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