American Beauty Essay, Research Paper
In American movies there are often underlying plots, hidden themes and subliminal messages. Many times the producer is trying to make a point that is not blatantly obvious to the audience. American Beauty is one such movie with an intangible agenda. There are many characters interacting with each other in obvious ways on the surface, such as leading normal lives in a normal neighborhood, but ultimately they effect the outcome of the movie because of less obvious character flaws and the way they conflict living with each other. The movie contains homoerotic behavior in a pair of homosexual neighbors, a homophobic father, and a questionable relationship between an average man and his teen neighbor. The homoerotic behavior displayed by the characters in American Beauty influences the development and eventual outcome of the movie by interactions and subliminal implications of characters and actions with such homoerotic behaviors.
American Beauty centers on the last year of Lester Burnham s life. Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is married to Carolyn Burnham (Annette Betting), and their marriage is picture perfect on the exterior, but the perfection only runs superficially. Their marriage is based on the idea of projecting an image of success at all times, (American Beauty). The two have a teenage daughter named Janey played by Thora Birtch. Janey is a pretty typical teenager; angry, insecure confused, (Lester, American Beauty). Conflicts start when Lester realizes he can take back control of his life and live life as a carefree teen once again. At the same time, new neighbors arrive, thickening the plot with a hatred for gays. The ex-marine corps father, Colonel Frank Fitch , brings a hatred for the homosexual couple that lives in the neighborhood. Ricky (Scott Bakula), his son, brings to the movie a romantic interest for Lester s daughter, Janey.
Moreover, homoerotic behaviors start with the blatantly homosexual neighbors, Jim and Jim. They introduce themselves, as partners; a politically correct, and subtle way of letting people know their sexual orientation. Bringing homosexuals into the movie creates a break from the picture perfect image the neighborhood projects. They also act as foreshadowing, in that the couple shows the audience the reaction Mr. Fitch has to homosexuals. Bringing this conflict into the movie allows the audience to ponder the consequences of such a conflict. The idea of homosexuality is brought up many times through the gay couple and predicts a larger conflict later in the plotline. The homoerotic context the neighbors bring to the movie is a less significant part of the movie, but magnifies the homophobia of Colonel Frank Fitch, and thus doing so, plays a large, but subtle part in the outcome of the movie.
Similarly, the part of the Colonel is seemingly unimportant to the overall outcome of the movie, but surprises us in the conclusion of the film. The extreme homophobia of Frank Fitch is consistent throughout American Beauty. Frank would rather his son were dead than be a fucking faggot, (American Beauty). His homophobia acts as a mask for his homosexual thoughts. One may argue that his homophobia is an inverse relationship for how strongly his homosexuality is. This constitutes a strong desire for men on the part of Frank Fitch because of his constant showing of contempt for homosexuals. Frank shows this desire for men by trying to flirt with his neighbor, Lester. Col. Fitch believes Lester will reciprocate his sexual desires because of a misconstrued situation involving Lester and Frank s son. Frank believes he sees his son taking money from Lester for sexual favors. While this upsets him greatly, Frank still runs into the arms of his neighbor. When Lester consoles Frank, he sees this as a green light for sexual activity between himself and Lester. He boldly attempts to kiss Lester, proving his masked desire for men. In the end, Col. Frank Fitch kills Lester, possibly for turning him down and bringing out his homosexuality. All of the homoerotic behavior caused Lester s downfall because of one irate character with a fear for his own sexuality.
However, the scenes involving Ricky and Lester together contrast the homosexual behavior displayed by Ricky s father when he comes onto Lester. Ricky s relationship with Janey isn t apparent to Lester or to Ricky s father. Lester appears to be sexually available to men when he tells his neighbor: Our marriage is just for show a commercial for how normal we are, when we re anything but, (American Beauty). The straight relationships Ricky and Lester have are instable. The wavering relationships they carry out are a mask for their desire to be sexually oriented with the same sex. Ricky and Lester have subtle homoerotic tendencies, and conveniently find themselves alone many times throughout the movie. When Lester goes up to Ricky s room, he locks the door behind him explaining: I don t think my dad will try to come in while someone else is here, but you never know, (American Beauty). A situation such as men voluntarily locking themselves in a room together suggests a non-heterosexual agenda for the time spent together in that room. Later on in the movie, Ricky is paged by Lester and jumps at the chance to run to his house and be alone with him. Ricky seems eager to have alone time with Lester, and Lester appears to counter the same desire for time together. Their relationship is one riddled with subtle same-sex oriented desires for each other.
Hence, the characters of American Beauty frequent the subject of homoerotic behaviors, causing the characters of the movie to resist heterosexuality, ultimately deciding the outcome of the film. The demise of Lester Burnham is solely due to the fact that he brought out the homoerotic behaviors in his homophobic neighbor. Lester s neighbor shot him because of an insane realization that he himself was a gay man, living a lie; afraid of the truth, afraid of people knowing his sexual preference, afraid of losing his family, and afraid of facing himself. American Beauty is an American film that contains subtle plot lines, such as homoerotic behavior, that keeps the audience pondering every plot twist and character development the movie has to offer.