American Beauty is a film that rebels against the supposedly picturesque image of a middle-class American male. The character’s death in the end is not a punishment on his misdeeds against society. The message is quite opposite for Lester’s murder is a symbol of freedom—freedom from the standards the American society has imposed on its members.
The rules that govern the modern American family can be traced back to the Puritanic codes of the previous century, albeit a few changes. These set of “do nots” espoused a singular image of a successful male as a good provider , a doting father and a devoted husband. The contemporary yardstick hasn’t change much. One has to live in the suburbs, have a beautiful wife, a flourishing stable career and kids to be labelled as one of those who made it in life.
American beauty highlighted this American dream precisely by setting Lester, the 40 some year old in such an environment. But, his character is clearly reflective of a person contained in an ideal setting, yet unable to enjoy what it has to offer. In a movie line, he uttered, in referral to her wife gardening while flirting to the next door neighbour, “She wasn’t always like this….We used to be happy…” The backdrop of the scene is idyllic– the morning sun, the red roses and the beautiful house– which further emphasizes the disparity of societal dictates from the real emotions of the characters buy essays online safe.
Another aspect shown in the movie is the expectation that men are supposed to be intelligent and powerful to be respected. While in a train commute, Lester lays his head in a window, thinking that his wife and daughter see him as a loser. After all, his wife earns more, his daughter is not a bit inhibited by his authority. Over dinner, when Lester asks his daughter about school, she responds with sarcasm. And when he tries to get a reaction from her, by narrating the events on his jobs, she answers with more mockery.
His self opinion can actually be gleaned in two ways. It might be true that his wife and daughter do not treat him with respect. But, it is also probable that his illusions of disrespect, is a result of his low self-image. The character is subconsciously trying to fit in, for he compares himself to the dictums set by society. It can be argued that someone who is truly unconventional is not conscious of himself and his ways. In this sense, Lester is simply an American male who has vainly attempted to be an epitome of maleness, but cannot accept his failure to do so, and has thus resorted to eccentric behaviour.
He tries to assert his ego when he goes the other way, where no rules would segregate the futile beings from the productive ones. His rebellion serves two purposes. The first would be to be unchained from the black and white stereotyping of society. This is apparent when he quits his job and threatens his boss.
But the other reason could be, is that he seeks for an avenue where he could redeem himself from his failures. For one, he has been working for a long time in his post yet has nary a bit of influence at work. His dissatisfaction is seen when he tells his wife, Carolyn that they-he and their daughter- are being treated like employees. The unknowing wife reacted with a shocked i- never- thought- you- felt- that- way look . In addition, he tells his wife that their daughter hates her too, when the couple came to see their daughter’s cheerdance activity in school. From this, one can surmise that Lester projects his visible low-self worth to his wife, to convince himself that is a blameless victim of society
Lester has found the perfect break when he was introduced to his daughter’s attractive friend, Angela. Finally, his little world, where he is king and maker of rules slowly materialize. It is where he tries to claim his manhood and his shattered ego. Angela on one hand, found delight on being an inciter of lust which is to become her own proof of her undeniable beauty, and also self worth. In the film, Angela is a teenage girl, beautiful, and confident looking , yet largely insecure of her looks. Angela and Lester are mirror images of one another, for both characters convey self-assurance underlain with a heaps on uncertainty. He assumed an aura of non-chalance as defense mechanism, while she had to substantiate her beauty by inspiring male libido.
American beauty is a portrayal, not only of rebellion against convention, but by the victimized role humans take when they fail to measure to a certain standards. It is quite true that modern society has obliged us to be somebody—smart, beautiful, rich and successful to be taken seriously. Unconsciously, each of us tries to conform to this ultimate standard. Nobody would have the gall to admit, of course. This behaviour is obvious when we try to judge one another in terms of looks, money and brains, leaving those who seem unfit in the sidelines. But, when we do not make the grade, we tend to go South. Just like in the film, Lester’s death signifies his freedom from the public’s discrimination.
We do the opposite of what is deemed “perfect”. In that path, we cannot be rated, we cannot be compared and we cannot be scrutinized for flaws. We rebel and blame society as the root of our unhappiness. Take for instance, the never ending issue on weight. Tabloids are harsh on stars that have been too thin or anorexic looking. Readers and fans alike post comments, urging stars to gain a bit of weight. But, at the end of the day, most women really want to be thin, starving themselves in the confines of their bedroom, vastly unhappy about the bit of tummy hanging. The truth is, we rebel, because we are unhappy for our failure to reach the standards we have created and secretly imposed upon ourselves.