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American Beauty

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American Beauty

In life, everyone must make choices. Choices give an individual the freedom to decide the path which they will follow. In the movie American Beauty, each of the characters has a choice he or she needs to make. The main character, Lester Burnham, is faced with many choices that could either lead to his ultimate happiness or draw him further into his despair. Carolyn Burnham, Lester's wife, is faced with a loveless marriage that exists only because she does not possess the willingness to break the cycle. This cycle involves protecting their daughter by staying married. In reality, children of a marriage such as this are often the biggest victims of this sham. Jane Burnham is Lester and Carolyn's daughter. She is caught between the two of them, and her decision is to tune her parents out. Ricky Fitts, the boy next door, makes his choice of knowing when to cooperate with his father. Ricky's dad, Colonel Fitts, makes his choice of finally admitting of his sexual preference. Angela Hayes, Jane's friend, makes her choice of losing her virginity to Lester. Each character has to learn how to deal with his or her own problems.

Lester Burnham is in a state of despair. Lester's dull and monotonous voice introduces the audience to his daily routine of life. At the age of 42 he has become sympathetic to everything. He realizes that his family life is the "pits" as he becomes aware that both his wife and daughter consider him a gigantic loser. He feels they are right about this. He believes he has lost something and that he did not always feel this sedated. Lester's disheartenment is symbolic in the car scene. Lester sits slouched down in the back seat with a look of emptiness while his daughter sits up front next to his wife, who is driving the car. Carolyn drives the car just as she drives the family, especially, Lester. She has evolved into the decision-maker and leader of the Burnham family. Sitting in the backseat, Lester avoids further conflict with his wife, leading him to become an even unhappier and more desperate person.

Lester's life at work is no better than his life at home. After fourteen years at a job, that is viewed by Lester as nothing more than being a corporate slave at a media marketing magazine, Lester is asked by an efficiency expert at work to write a memo justifying his position. In Lester's viewpoint, his job of fourteen years is now letting him know how replaceable he is. This makes him feel worthless, which decreases his self-confidence. He is now faced with making the first of several choices that 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. Lester decides that he can not justify his job because his job has no meaning to him. After leaving his job, he seeks a new job with less responsibility. He is hired at Mr. Smiley's, a local fast food restaurant. Making the choice to quit his job and work in a fast food restaurant finally brings Lester his chance to embrace happiness. Going for his old job to his new job 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.

Dreaming of a life which is out of our grasps is a common thing. Everyone at some point in his orher own life wishes that he or she were someone else or that he or she could in some way be greater than he or she already is. Lester feels this more than anyone else in the movie. The moment Lester lays eyes on Angela Hayes, Jane's best friend whom Lester considers the "beauty," he falls into a spell of intense infatuation. This is Lester's second snap. He is instantly obsessed with her, and Lester repeatedly dreams about making love to this girl, who is not even half his age. This is having an effect on his daughter. This becomes a reality when both he and Angela make sexual advances towards each other. At the last minute, Lester's conscious gets the best of him when Angela makes the announcement that she is a virgin. Angela symbolizes his dream of a perfect life, a life where everything is simple and everyone is beautiful.

Lester thinks back to his past and how happy he was just partying and how he had his whole life ahead of him. He remembers the feeling of no responsibilities and not being nervous concerning the fact that Lester has no stability in his life. He now discovers that he no longer feels fulfilled in his job or his personal life and attempts to make a critical shift in a career and his lifestyle: He is having a mid-life crisis. Facing this mid-life crisis, Lester looks at his life and decides to live it the way he wants to. He no longer can live life like a prisoner. His job in the fast food restaurant offers him no responsibility. He starts smoking pot and starts working out to impress Angela. As he becomes more fit, he becomes more confident. He trades in his Mercedes for a 1970 cherry-red Trans Am sports car, the car he always wanted.

Carolyn Burnham places such value on status that she has turned into a "bloodless, money-grubbing freak"(American Beauty, movie), who has no time for any form of intimacy. Her creed in life is: "You cannot count on anyone except yourself"(American Beauty, movie). Lester and Carolyn Burnham are, on the outside, a perfect husband and wife, in a perfect house, in a perfect neighborhood. They live all together behind a mask for society to view them as normal. They want to be part of high society but really, they are not. I felt this is brought out in the scene of the family dinner. Carolyn plays Mantovanian music that mocks every mouthful of their dinner; the music is lush and reassuring, and the family is angry and silent. Lester and Carolyn may have been in love at one time, but now they've grown distant. Frustrated by her lack of a relationship with her husband, Carolyn makes a choice to have an affair with her real estate business rival Buddy Kanes. The affair doesn't amount to much; it lessens Carolyn's tolerance for what she s as laziness on Lester's part.

Jane Burnham is a sulky teenager caught between two parents who are carrying very heavy emotional baggage. Jane has come to hate her father. There is barely any communication between them, and when there is, Lester does not take into account his daughter's feelings. So Jane's decision is to shut them out. She speculates about what it would be like to have her father killed. Jane also has to deal with Angela's growing fascination with the possibility of sleeping with Lester, a consideration that disgusts her. Due to the lack of communication in her family



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