Losing One's Personal Integrity in American Beauty
Life consists of never ending choices, the choices individuals make have the ability to shape the person they are and have the potential to influence how others may perceive them. To the naked eye roses appear to be beautiful, yet are extremely susceptible to viruses that causes the root to rot, something that is hidden beneath the surface, not visible to the naked eye. In Sam Mendes film, American Beauty the Burnham’s let others perceive them as a “normal” family living in a well groomed home with a white picket fence, yet deep down they are just like every other family, far from perfect. Lester Burnham is depicted as a man trapped at a very unhappy point in his life filled with misery and depression. Until he meets his daughter’s friend, Angela Hayes who inspires him to try and get control of his miserable life. He begins working out and smoking pot; he buys the car that he has always wanted. He does everything to relive the best part of his life: his teenage years, a time when he had no responsibilities and endless possibilities. This film establishes the thin line that separates the concept of being an authoritative father figure and the want for ambition. Lester crosses that line when he decides to pursue an intimate relationship with Angela Hayes, as well as his failing relationship with his daughter Jane and his wife Carolyn.
Lester’s first encounter with Angela is when him and his wife, Carolyn go to watch their daughters cheerleading performance, Angela catches his eye, the screen goes black, other then a light that hits Angela’s youthful face. Lester begins to have a passionate fantasy of her dancing, with red roses capturing the audiences attention. As confident as Angela perceives herself she believes there is nothing worse in life then being ordinary… One night when Ricky Fitts, Jane’s boyfriend refers to Angela as “Totally ordinary” Angela’s world comes crashing down. Her vulnerability is exposed allowing herself to be objectified and seduced by Lester. She confronts Lester in order to seek assurance that she is not ordinary. When Angela tells Lester that she is a virgin this comes to him as a surprise because the way she expresses herself is as if she has already had many sexual experiences. Lester suddenly sees Angela as who she really is; a young, vulnerable girl who he no longer sees as an object but instead a daughter figure. He realizes that he has crossed that thin line and that he should not be the one to take away her innocence. Instead, he wraps her up in a towel, makes her a snack and asks if she is okay, similar to a parent comforting a child.
The relationship between Lester and his daughter Jane is largely based on a misunderstanding of what she desires and how she presents herself. She wants her parents to take interest in her life, yet she puts up a tough front in order to hide her feelings. She denies her want for attention from her parents or anyone else, yet keeps a watchful eye to see if her parents will come watch her cheerleading performance. Jane’s main priority is to pursue a passion to be loved and accepted. Her mother does not accept her for who she is such as the clothing she wears, and the fact that she is not a complete failure. After Jane’s performance her mother says, “Honey, I’m so proud of you. I watched you very closely, and you didn’t screw up once.” As she is surprised Jane did well at something. Jane is just like any other angsty teenager, always angry towards her parents and life. At the beginning of the film when Jane says, “I need a father who’s a role model, not some horny geek-boy who’s gonna spray his shorts whenever I bring a girlfriend home from school.” This is significant because Jane feels as though she has to apologize for her father which leads her to feel insecure about herself and her family.
Lester’s relationship with his wife, Carolyn is not societies so called “norm”. She emasculates him by attacking him with sarcastic remarks and by taking control of everything: she drives their car, chooses the music played at dinner. She puts her passion for success in her profession before anything else. When she realizes that Lester is experiencing a mid-life crisis by quitting his job, smoking pot, and buying the car of his dreams, she becomes hysterical and develops an obsession with her job and Buddy Kane, a successful real estate agent. Lester escapes in an obsession with his daughter´s best friend, Angela Hayes and his fantasies about her. When Carolyn and Buddy order food at the drive-thru of the restaurant Lester works at, his reaction when he finds out his wife has been having an affair seems odd. He seems overly cheerful, “Honey, it’s okay. I want you to be happy.” Their relationship mainly lacks an emotional and physical connection. Carolyn’s breaking point as the end of the film when she finds out her husband has been killed. She runs over to his closet and grasps onto his clothes realizing that he is never coming back.
Throughout, American Beauty, the viewer uncovers the life of a man trapped at a very unhappy point in his life until, filled with misery and depression wanting to relive the best part of his life: his teenage years, a time when he had no responsibilities and endless possibilities. Lester attempts to fulfill his desires by pursuing an intimate relationship with Angela Hayes, yet fails to find a balance between passion and responsibility until he comes to realize that once something is done he cannot take that back, such as Angela’s virginity, losing his daughter to Ricky, a boy who helps her gain confidence something she initially lacked due to her mothers sarcastic remarks as well as his imperfect relationship with his wife. By Lester losing his sense of personal integrity he began to lose touch with his family members ending in his death.
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