American Beauty American Beauty tells the story of one man’s search for happiness. The film introduces the audience to Lester Burnham, an ordinary- looking married man and father in his forties. Lester is in a loveless marriage. Lester’s wife, Carolyn, is so wrapped-up in her real estate career that Lester often claims that Carolyn doesn’t even acknowledge him. Furthermore, Lester’s daughter, Jane, is completely distant, often claiming how pathetic she thinks her father is. Moreover, Lester has dedicated fourteen years to his occupation, and suddenly, he is in danger of losing his job due to downsizing.
All of these factors dramatically effect Lester and culminate into feelings of desperation and vulnerability for him. Lester is therefore in search of an escape and a rebirth. He is seeking the slightest possibility of happiness. Throughout the story Lester is consistently reminiscing on his past; wishing he could have it back. In the beginning portions of the story, Lester, as the narrator, states that it is never too late to regain your past.
The catalyst to this frame of thought is Jane’s friend, Angela. Lester feels excited by the thought that a teen-age girl thinks he is hot. Lester overhears Angela state that she would have sex with him if Lester would start working-out and build-up his body. This drives Lester to change himself completely. Lester, in desperate search of happiness , finds an escape in Angela. Much like a hormone-driven teenage boy, Lester thinks that if he can score with a bombshell like Angela, then he will be reborn.
Lester’s mission for happiness and escape is further perpetuated by his eighteen year old neighbor, Ricky. In Ricky, Lester sees his model for rebirth. Lester calls Ricky his hero and is in awe of Ricky’s confidence. Lester, then begins a transformation back to his stereotypical understanding of what a teenager is. Lester begins to work-out, smoke pot, and drink beer.
Much like a teen, he rebels against responsibility by quitting his job and; therefore, bypassing his duties as a provider to his daughter and wife. Furthermore, Lester spontaneously, trades in his Mercedes automobile for a 1970’s cherry-red Trans Am sports car. In addition, Lester pursues a job with the least amount of responsibility. He finds that job in a fast food restaurant. All of these actions are deemed necessary to Lester because this is the way to escape and thus achieving happiness. The first scene where the audience is introduced to Lester’s transformation process is when he first spots Angela.
Lester and Carolyn decided to come and support Jane at a school basketball game where she is to perform a dance at half-time. This scene is significant because it shows how Angela’s sexuality motivated Lester to rebel against who he is. Furthermore, this scene exemplifies Lester’s characteristics as a hormone-crazed male in search of sex. This frame of thought is associated more with teens than with men in their forties. The first two technical elements used to exemplify this scene are composition and camera movement.
The scene begins with Lester and Carolyn already in the stands with the crowd. Angela, Jane, and the other cheerleaders enter the picture with right to left movement assisted by a panning camera shot of right to left. This foreshadows the unordinary actions that are about to occur. Almost immediately, into the dance routine, Angela is given an upward position in the frame elevated with dynamic composition. It is dynamic composition because there is movement (Angela dancing) within a fixed frame.
By giving Angela an upward position within the frame this suggest Lester is first noticing her. As the scene continues, and Angela has Lester’s full attention, Angela is shown moving towards the camera in another dynamic composition shot complemented by the camera zooming in on her. This gives the audience an idea as to the degree of attention that Lester is giving to Angela due to her sexuality. It also enhances her presence. The scene continues with a static composition shot of Lester.
It is static composition because there is no movement within the frame. The camera then begins to zoom in on Lester. As the camera zooms, the crowd is eliminated and only Lester is shown in the frame. Furthermore, the camera focuses on Lester’s eyes and makes them appear bigger than they actually are. This makes Lester look like an animal drooling at the mouth over something he desires.
At this point, the camera performs a point of view shot showing what Lester’s eyes are fixated on, and focuses on Angela. This, once again, displays the degree of enchantment that Angela has placed over Lester. Angela is also shown alone in the frame. This shows that in Lester’s mind, only Angela and himself exist at this moment. Not even his daughter is of any relevance.
The scene concludes with the camera then performing a shot-reverse-shot of Angela then Lester. This allows the audience to see that in Lester’s fantasy, Angela is dancing erotically just for him and is paying as much attention to him as he is paying to her. It is important to note that Angela and Lester are never shown in the same frame in this scene. This suggest that there is some barrier that is between them such as the fact that Lester is desiring a girl that is his daughter’s age. Lighting is another technical element that adds to the effectiveness of this scene.
When the camera performs a point of view shot from Lester’s perspective to show the audience that he is fixated on Angela; Angela is shown by herself in the frame. As stated above, this is to show that Angela is the only object of Lester’s attention. Lighting adds to this effect. Lighting is used to focus the audience on Lester’s eyes and to show that he is being enchanted by what he sees. As Angela is shown alone in the frame, the background in the shot becomes completely black. There is a bright light shining on Angela.
The source of the light is not clear, and is coming from above Angela. The lighting in the scene is high contrast and low key. It is high contrast because the difference between light and darkness is clear. It is low key lighting because Angela’s shadow can be seen behind her and shadows can be seen on the rest of Lester’s face, excluding his eyes. The contributions that the lighting effect has in this scene are many.
First of all, the light shining solely on Angela adds to the audience understanding that Angela is the object of Lester’s attention. Secondly, light is usually affiliated with good and darkness with bad. The light compliments Angela’s characteristics because she is a virgin. Since the source of the light cannot be seen, there can be speculation that the light is one from Heaven, shining down on her to show her innocence. At the same time, Angela is trying to be somebody that she is not.
She consistently claims throughout the movie that she is sexually experienced. The darkness in the background of the shot can be the foreshadowing of things to come if she continues on this path of lies. Even though she may be a virgin, unknowingly to Lester; Lester views her and is thinking bad thoughts. He is fixated with her sexuality, as shown through the dance routine his fantasy has Angela perform. Lester’s thoughts which represent darkness, are shown as surrounding Angela and her innocence.
Editing complements this scene by adding more definition to the relationship-to-be between Angela and Lester. The entire scene uses decoupage. It is decoupage because the cutting is fast paced which suggests an almost chaotic and imbalance perspective to the audience and at the same time it shows that the thoughts that are going through Lester’s head are not ordinary, instead they are chaotic. Also, decoupage has a tendency to use close-ups. This scene has plenty of zoom shots of Angela and Lester.
Furthermore, it is important to note that Angela and Lester are never shot together in the scene. They are individually shot in a shot-reverse-shot fashion. This suggest a disunity between the both of them. Again, something is separating the both of them, such as the age gap. Not including the absence of decoupage and ellipsis is important in this scene. Absence of decoupage requires a decelerated pace.
A slower pace would take away from the chaotic sensation that decoupage brings and; therefore, would not reflect well on the relationship-to-be between Angela and Lester. Using ellipsis would require fast-paced cutting that would compare and contrast the actions occurring in this scene with another scene. This would disturb the scene and take away its effectiveness. By showing the degree of passion between Angela and Lester in his fantasy; the audience learns much about Lester’s intentions and transformation. The usage of sound adds to the effectiveness of both …