Sunday, August 5, 2007
American Beauty. My all-time favorite movie. It's about time that I make a commentary on one of the most brilliant social commentaries of our time.
American Beauty captures the "average," dysfunctional, suburban family who appear more perfect on the outside, more than they actually are in reality. What I love about the movie is that it is so real, so true to American culture and to the American family.
Take Lester, the unhappy, middle-aged father who goes to a pointless, routine office-desk job that he does not like. Kevin Spacey (one of my favorite actors) portrays him magnificently.
Lester says, "Both my wife and daughter think I'm this gigantic loser and they're right, I have lost something. I'm not exactly sure what it is but I know I didn't always feel this... sedated. But you know what? It's never too late to get it back."
And he's right. But how often do those stuck in a cycle like Lester really snap out of it and "change" their situation? Change is hard for people. Remaining in the constant, normal cycle is easier even though it is less ideal and more unhappy. American Beauty introduces the idea to change, and that is one great reason why I love it so much.
I also am infatuated with it because of the ingenious artistic style with filmmaking (camera techniques) and writing. The color schemes are brilliant--take the red door on the Burnham house for instance. Immense symbolism.
More with characters: look at Carolyn Burnham, the middle-aged real estate agent, bored and tired of life. She is so unhappy that she cheats on her husband, anything to get attention and add some spice to her life. She says, "There happens to be a lot about me that you don't know, Mr. Smarty Man. There's plenty of joy in my life." What a lie.
As Ricky Fitts says, which I believe is highly quotable, "Never underestimate the power of denial."
Each character can learn from this one lesson, as can anyone else.
Ricky Fitts, a "strange" and bizarre teenager, even though he appears to be the weirdest and most troubled character, is actually the happiest and wisest. He was heavily criticized, even by fellow movie watchers, for the scene with the blowing garbage bag in the wind. It may seem a bit corny, but isn't it kind of true? Shouldn't we all have more moments like this, where we really look at the world around us and think more than just a passing thought? Do we really take a lot for granted, more than we're willing to accept or see? Isn't there more answers beneath the surface than just a garbage bag blowing in the wind?
Ricky says about the blowing bag, "It was one of those days when it's a minute away from snowing and there's this electricity in the air, you can almost hear it. And this bag was, like, dancing with me. Like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes. And that's the day I knew there was this entire life behind things, and... this incredibly benevolent force, that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid, ever. Video's a poor excuse, I know. But it helps me remember... and I need to remember... Sometimes there's so much beauty in the world I feel like I can't take it, like my heart's going to cave in."
Or when he talks to Jane about it: "It's like God's looking right at you, just for a second, and if you're careful... you can look right back."
Jane: "And what do you see?"
Jane, too, represents many female teenagers of our generation, girls who feel that they do not fit in. They feel ugly on the inside, and their parents do not know what they are experiencing or going through because they never ask.
Jane's friend, Angela, also has serious mental issues that many teenagers also have. She thinks that she's going to be a model and makes up lies to boost her self-image. Each character is so true to life.
In closing, I want to end with the closing words of the movie, spoken by Lester, my favorite character. The writing here is gorgeous, talking about life in a way that I wish I could articulate as well. I think it's a great monologue about the last moment of thought before death. What would we think in that situation?
Anyway, here is the end speech. Please comment on anything I've touched on, or anything you love or hate about the movie.
"I had always heard your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn't a second at all, it stretches on forever, like an ocean of time... For me, it was lying on my back at Boy Scout camp, watching falling stars... And yellow leaves, from the maple trees, that lined my street... Or my grandmother's hands, and the way her skin seemed like paper... And the first time I saw my cousin Tony's brand new Firebird... And Janie... And Janie... And... Carolyn. I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me... but it's hard to stay mad, when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst... And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life... You have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry... you will someday."