American Beauty Critique Essay, Research Paper
American Beauty critique
American Beauty directed by Sam Mendes won the Academy Award for the Best Original Screenplay and the Best Picture Award. Film critics restrained from clear-cut negative reviews, only ocassionally pointing out weaknesses of the the plot or the shallowness of main themes of the picture. The money invested in realization of this film certainly paid back yielding a high level of return (just in U.S.A. 130 million dollars). To cut a long story short, this Hollywood production seems to be a great success. The choice of the subjects itself (grotesque depiction of American middle-class society) attracts the viewer s attention. The subtopics pursued in the film, namely beauty, work and repression, make it even more admirable. It obviously stands out from the mainstream of American cinema industry, still the scriptwriter and the director did not manage to steer clear of employing certain typical hollywood stereotypes and bias.
The first of subcurrents worth tracing in the film is the pursuit of beauty. As a matter of fact, it is rather yearning for the authentic beauty, which, here, is substituted with the fake glitter of luxuries, cash and dispensable objects. All the characters except Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley), who is the only genuine character, and Lester Burnham seem utterly oblivious to the bliss of the true life. Ricky assumes a stance of a simple viewer who possessed the faculty of insight into the substance of things. Thus he can see through the ugliness to reach the core and to experience metaphisical transcendence in contact with authentic beauty. Inquiring mind cannot fail to notice Emersonian overtones present in such an approach towards beauty. Emerson ,the luminary of American transcendentalism, praises simple pereception of beauty (Emerson 1012) as the only valid way to unbolt the doors of consciousness, which, actually, is a method of insight Ricky exercised.
The author of Nature also directs our attetion to the spiritual aspect of beauty which allows a sensitive man to feel a momentary, faint sensation of an overwhelming …incredibly benevolent force, that wanted [him] to know there was no reason to be afraid. Ever. (Ball. The script). So this reclusive, introverted, mental boy turns out to be a kind a modern prophet. His external, superficial madness is a catalyst which helps him achieve the state of personal autheticity.
Another topic permeating the picture is work and relationships among contemporary upper middle-class comunity. Two protagonists require closer scrutiny in the context of work discourse, namely Lester nad Carolyn. Having been in a groove for half of his life it eventually dawns on Lester how miserable life he had led so far and he tries to fix it and get a grip on his life. He frees himself from the job he hates, he liberates from the social convetions and preconceptions. Lester s aversion for his work is luciudly explained in Erich Fromm s article Work in alienated society . Fromm, an acknowledged German psychologist, proves that dislike for work and hostility among workers is rooted in the process of single procedure repetition excluding any creativity or spontaneity on the side of workers. As for Carolyne, her feigned existence is just a poor imitation of the dream of beautiful and happy life. She gets infatuated with Buddy, the real estate king, in whom she sees model projection of the ever succesful image she craves for so much. Due to her hypocrisy, the Burnham s family life turns a parody of a healthy family bonds.
Whereas Carolyne is a relatively flat character and we do not expect her evolve, Lester undergoes a total reversal. From a frustrated, ageing bore, he changes into a modern pseudo-hippie smoking pot and pumping iron. Whether we fall for this transformastion or consider it lame and implausible is a matter of personal approach. Nevertheless, the example of Lester defiance brings us to the subject of reperession.
The motif of repression finds its embodiment, apart from Lester, in Colonel Fitts. This harsh disciplinarian is the main cause of the Fitts family disintegration. Colonel s wife serves here as a excellent exhibit of a victim of family decay. She is an intimidated, submissive, zombie-like creature unable even to mitigate Colonel s cruelty towards his son. Ricky himself, although a genuine person, plays a different person to his father. In fact, the character of Colonel epitomizes the Hollywood bias against gays who are constantly potrayed in a negative way. John Cones, an entertainment attorney and lecturer on the issues of bias, wrote, in his article about Hollywood stereotypes, that:
“For most of its history, … , the screen entertainment industry pretended
homosexuals did not exist; when they did appear, they were portrayed as
harmless buffoons or as murderers, murder victims, or suiciders.”(Cones. What s Really Going on in Hollywood )
This harmfull stereoypes are so strongly imprinted in the minds of American filmmakers that it appeared infeasible for Mendes to give a fair crack of a whip to all his characters and Colonel Fitts is certainly perceived most antipathetic.
Summing up, even though the film cetainly deserves recognition, there are a few shortcomings which, if amended, would render it even more praiseworthy. For instance, Lester s awekening from the coma of mundane life and menial work may seem simply implausible. Instead of conferring some profoundness on Lester s musings, the author presents us with a simplistic idea of conversion to the faith of second-chance realizations. Although Lester attempts at some deeper reflections in the end, they are barely convincing.
Another weakness lies in the stereotypical depiction of some characters (like workaholic Carolyne and repressed Colonel). Besides that, the film meet the demands of a contemporary audience because it undertakes the discussions of the growing distortion of human contacts, relations in family, and beauty in our lives, which are topics so up-to-date in our decade.
Works Cited :
Ball, Alan. The Early Draft of Script of American Beauty
Cones, W. John. What s Really Going on in Hollywood . Rivas Canyon Press
Emerson, R. Waldoo Nature from the collection of Essays
Fromm, Erich. Work in Alienated Society . Borzoi College Reader.