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American Beauty

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In life, everyone must make choices. Choices give an individual the freedom to decide the path which they follow. Since it’s beginnings, the film making industry has focused on showing the direct relationship between the choices that people make and the resulting consequences they must face. In the movie American Beauty, Kevin Spacey’s character of Lester Burnham must make many important choices that could either lead to his ultimate happiness, or draw him further into his despair.

In the movie American Beauty, it is evident that Lester Burnham is in a state of despair. His dull and monotonous voice introduces the audience to his daily routine of life. When Lester declares plain and simply, “This is my neighborhood, this is my street, this is my life,” he exposes the lifelessness and unhappiness to which he has become accustomed. He realizes his family life is no better when he becomes aware that both his contemptuous wife and his troubled daughter consider him “a gigantic loser.” It is easy to recognize and understand Lester’s disheartenment through analysis and a symbolic car scene. In this scene, Lester sits slouched down in the back seat with a look of emptiness while his daughter Jane sits up front, next to his wife Carolyn who is driving the car. The symbolism is shown through her driving the car, as she drives the family (especially Lester). She has evolved into the decision-maker, and leader of the Burnham family. Sitting in the backseat, he avoids further conflict with his wife, leading him to become an even unhappier and more desperate person.

It is understandable why Lester feels like a sedated visitor in his own life and easy to empathize with him when he states that he feels “in many ways already dead.”

For Lester, his life at work is nothing better than his life at home. After fourteen years on the job, Lester is asked by an efficiency expert at work to write a memo justifying his position. This requires making the first of several choices, which will ultimately affect his future happiness. Should he justify his job and continue to provide for his family or choose freedom and a new life? To answer this question the audience must examine and understand Lester’s status as an employee in his work. His job is not vital, nor is it an important component of the company. This is obvious by observing the large room he shares with dozens of co-workers. The cubical he had is identical to the dozens of cubicles filling the room. Like all other cubicles, the workspace the employees shared was small and confined. Looking at his workspace, the audience can identify the bland and uniform area that Lester has faced on a daily basis. He was considered by others to be an “expendable employee”, having a job that was not required by the company therefore wasting the company’s money. Just as Lester was considered an unnecessary employee, his job became meaningless to him. Lester concluded he could not find a reason to justify his job; because his job had no meaning to him, or his employer. If he decided to justify his job, Lester would continue a meaningless life at work, and continue to be “a whore for the advertising industry.”

If he did not change now he would fall into a deeper state of despair feeling like he had sold “his soul” to “work for Satan” just because “it was more convenient that way.” Lester, considering himself “an ordinary guy with nothing to lose” chooses to quit his job as advertising writer.

Upon his leaving he seeks out a new job, “with the least responsibility”, and is hired at “Mr. Smiley’s” a local fast food restaurant, which he is happy about. Making the choice to quit his job and work in a fast food restaurant finally brings Lester his chance to embrace happiness. It symbolizes his transition from a life in which Lester was “locked up”; to a new life in which Lester is now free to control his future.

Reaching for a life that exceeds our grasp is a common thing. So common that everyone, at some point in their own life wishes that they were someone else or that they could in some way be greater than they already are. No one feels this way more than Lester Burnham. Early on in the movie, the viewer is introduced to Angela Hayes, the stunning best friend of Lester’s daughter, Jane. The moment he lays eyes on this “beauty”; he falls “into a spell of intense infatuation”. This is proven to the viewer when he later tells Angela that he has “wanted [her] since the first time [he] saw [her].” As the movie progresses, he repeatedly dreams about making love to this girl that is not even half his age and this certainly has an effect on his daughter. During the climax of the movie, his fantasy of Angela becomes a reality, where both he and Angela



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