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American Beauty

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Films are influential in our contemporary society, as they can present certain values that reflect society. Films either re-enforce particular values that we as viewers believe are important in society; or they challenge the values that we believe in. American Beauty is set in an upper middleclass white neighbourhood. The film revolves around Lester Burnham, a man who is struggling in an emotionally vacuumed marriage and living a predictable and tedious life. American Beauty both reinforces and questions particular social values that include success, family life, and being true to yourself. It is the questioning of these values, the ways of thinking and the longing of wanting something different in life that American Beauty presents to its audience.

In today's society, success is measured by wealth, a big house, and a happy family. In the film American Beauty, characters judge their personal "worth and value" based on how they are seen by others. As 'success' in terms of a big house, happy family is normally unattainable by most, the characters in the film create an image. Carolyn states in a scene: "In order to be successful, one must portray the image of success at all times." Carolyn Burnham is obsessed with materialism and other's opinions of her and her family. She loves her house and possessions and to her these things equal success. She tries to surround herself with whom she perceives is also successful. She wants to represent societies' views on success. American Beauty challenges this concept of success, and puts forward the idea that success is simply being what you want to be, and being happy with life. Lester Burnham, undergoes a change throughout the movie, and changes from a person appearing successful, who really is not, to a man who is happy with who he is, and what he has in life. Lester quits the job which he hates. He buys the car he always wanted, and he connects to his youth by smoking marijuana, working out and with the help of Ricky, realizes that when he was a teenager working at a fast food outlet, he was content with life. Although some would argue that he has regressed, he feels he has actually changed his life into a successful one. Through this, he begins finding happiness in the simple things in life . In a scene, Lester tries to kiss Carolyn, and show her his way of thinking- and it nearly works, but then Carolyn notices that Lester is about to spill beer on the couch, and she yells at him saying how it costs $4000. It is through these two characters that American Beauty challenges the idea of success associated with materialization and possessions, and re-enforces the idea of being what you want to be, and being happy.

In the quest for the 'American Dream', society often loses touch with family life. American Beauty reinforces the idea that family life is important in life. Early in the film, Lester tells the audience that the relationship between him and Carolyn is coming to a complete halt. The film American Beauty through the three family's (The Burnhams, The Fittz, and The Gay couple), presents the idea that a "happy family" is good, whereas a "perfect marriage" is when values. The Burnhams- are at first glance the ideal family living the 'American dream;' having two cars, a nice home and a nuclear family, but in reality the dead marriage is tearing the family apart.

The Fittz also look like a happy family from the other families' point of view, but they are really detached from the rest of society, as well as each other. The Gay family, (Jim and Jim) although many would assume automatically to be the odd ones out, are in fact leading the most happy and honest life out of all the families presented in the film. American Beauty challenges our conception of what family life is meant to consist of.

Lester in conversation with Colonel Fittz tells him "Our marriage is just for show a commercial for how normal we are, when we are anything but"

Lester knows the true importance of family life- as he can see the effects of a poor family structure is having on his daughter Jane. Throughout the film, from the various close ups of the family photos in the middle of the film, to his last moments alive- before he is shot, he is seen looking at a photo. Lester is seen smiling at the photo- the family photo which represents when the family was a loving, connected



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