AMERICAN BEAUTY Rev. by Kate 2011/5/6 Presented by：Angus, David H., David K., Denis, Didier, Ginger, Yvette.
Outline • Introduction: American suburbia • Starting Questions • The Adults’ Repression and Lester’s Search for a Change • vs. Carolyn (& Buddy Kane) and Jane; • at work and • vs. Angela • Symbols • The Younger Generations • Ricky vs. Frank • Ending: the final killing
Nucleus Family and Suburban Life in America • Suburbia in the United States: The Ideal Image of A Home: At the very beginning, also in the end of the film, we can see the neatly lined up houses. A perfect neighborhood, tranquil and peaceful ambience. Normality: On the surface every house is identical, the shape, the silhouette, the colour of the houses, the size of the gardens…etc. However, the interior varies so are the different families. They encounter different obstacles, hold different values, but they are mostly isolated from one another.
Starting Questions • How do we characterize the two families? • What does the film title “American Beauty” mean? (e.g. chap 16) • What are the functions of cars, houses, photo and video camera? • How are the families in this film different from those in The Great Gatsby? • Ending: Is Lester’s love narcissistic?
Family Tree: The Burnham Family Lester Burnham ---- Carolyn Burnham | Jane Burnham Frank Fitts (United States Marine Corps Colonel) – Barbara (a subdued and introverted wife) -- Ricky e.g. chap 5
A real estate agent and housewife concurrently Outside: Apparently elegant, friendly and always smiling. ex: Interacted with the gay neighbor. Inside: domineering at home, overruled at work (“Who’s the King?”) and punctilious. ex: - She is the one who drives car. - Owning the command of dinner music. selling the image (chap 7) Carolyn Burnham (chap 3)
Carolyn cares a lot about appearance • Quote 1. Carolyn : Are you trying to look unattractive? Jane: Yes. Carolyn : Well, congratulations. You've succeeded admirably. • Quote 2. 【After cheerleading】 Carolyn : Honey, I'm so proud of you. I watched you very closely, and you didn't screw up once!
Sweet home? • The setting of dinner table is neat and ordered. • Roses and flowers in bottles everywhere. • Intimated melody is played every night. • Family portraits.
About Carolyn’s Job… • To sell the beautiful fantasy and ideal image of a HOUSE. • To fulfill people’s expectation toward a house. • Quote: - Carolyn Burnham: My company sells an image. It's part of my job to live that image. - Sale House Woman : The ad said this pool was lagoon-like. There's nothing lagoon-like about it, except for the bugs. There aren't even any plants out here! Carolyn Burnham: What do you call this? Is this not a plant? If you have a problem with my plants, I can always call my landscape architect! Solved!
Carolyn’s depression from job • From “I will sell this house today, I will sell this house today…” to crackup. • Slap herself and said “shut up, shut up…”. • Self- inhibition. • The blind and the empty room→ isolation.
Carolyn depression from home • See her husband as a loser. • Sexually frustrated from the marriage. • Mother-daughter relationship is not good, either. Quote: Carolyn Burnham: You ungrateful little brat! Just look at everything you have. When I was your age, we... lived in a duplex! We didn't even have our own house!
Her release • Her success-driven character renders her the most hopeless in the film's tone of moral conviction. • "In order to be successful in life one must project the appearance of success" ---Buddy Kane. • Turned her attitude toward Buddy from respect to servitude.
「I refuse to be a victim…」 • Release her pressure by shooting. Quote:「I love shooting this gun.」 • ﹝Man on audiotape﹞ I refuse to be a victim
with Buddy … • Quote - Buddy Kane: Do you like getting nailed by the King? Carolyn : Yes, your majesty! - Carolyn: That was exactly what I needed. The royal treatment, so to speak.
Character: Lester Burnham • Lester Burnham is in a mid-life crisis, caused by his stressed wife Carolyn and rebelling teenage daughter Jane. He became obsessed with his daughter’s best friend Angela, and decided to change his life. • He is looked down upon by both his wife and daughter, and he admitted that he himself is a gigantic loser. He also thinks to alter the fact that he Is a loser is futile. (Before meeting Angela)
Family Relations [Lester and Carolyn are driving to the basketball game to watch Jane's dance team gig] Lester Burnham: Well what makes you so sure she wants us to be there? Did she ask us to come? Carolyn Burnham: Of course not. She doesn't want us to know how important this is to her. But she's been practicing her steps for weeks. Lester Burnham: Well, I'll bet money she's going to resent it, and I'm missing the James Bond marathon on TNT. Carolyn Burnham: Lester, this is important. I'm sensing a real distance growing between you and Jane. Lester Burnham: "Growing?" She hates me. Carolyn Burnham: She's just willful. Lester Burnham: She hates you too. (Clip)
Sexually Frustrated by His Wife -- Masturbating Lester Burnham: Look at me, jerking off in the shower... This will be the high point of my day; it's all downhill from here. Carolyn Burnham: Don't you mess with me, mister, or I'll divorce you so fast it'll make your head spin! Lester Burnham: On what grounds? I'm not a drunk, I don't fuck other women, I've never hit you, I don't mistreat you... I don't even try to touch you since you've made it so abundantly clear how unnecessary you consider me to be! But I did support you when you got your license, and some people might think that entitles me to half of what's yours. So, turn off the light when you come to bed! • Lester is inferior to his wife in many aspects. So in their relationship Lester does not represent the phallus. He’s physical needs and desire are not taken care of by the other half. He does not share intimacy with his wife, instead he masturbates himself.
Lester Burnham vs. His Wife about possessions • Lester Burnham Carolyn Burnham Carolyn Burnham: This is a $4,000 sofa, upholstered in Italian silk. It is not just a couch. Lester Burnham: [shouts] It's just a couch! Lester: buying a dream car, working out to regain masculinity e.g. chap 19
Lester Burnham vs. Jane ．Considerate -- Jane Before: He cares very much about Jane, more than he shows. He tries to talk to her a few times but was turned down by her. Later on he stopped being so nice to her out of frustration. After: Lester Burnham: You better watch yourself, Jane, or you're going to turn into a real BITCH, just like your MOTHER! ．
Lester Jane • They used to be close, but drifted apart *In the kitchen“We used to be pals” *At the dinner table “I mean, hello you’ve barely even spoken to me for months” *Family pictures of them displayed everywhere in the house • Concerned a lot about Jane *Narrating about Jane, trying to know her ”angry, insecure, confused” ”I wish I could tell her that’s all going to pass, but I don’t want to lie to her” *On the way to the stadium “What make sure she wants us to be there?” ”Did she ask us to come?” ”I’ll bet she’s going to resent it” *Asked Angela How’s Jane “Is she happy? Is she miserable” “I’d really like to know, and she’d die before she’d ever tell me about it” *Look at the photo (Before he died), his satisfied peaceful smile *The flashback of his life at the moment he died, he saw Jane a lot of times Her importance in his mind
Lester Jane • Trying hard to make up, but always ended up badly *At the dinner table, asked her how was her school Received coldness( short and heartless answer) *To get her attention by being humorous ”What do you expect? You can’t all the sudden be my best friend just because you had a bad day” *In the kitchen (After dinner) feel sorry about the distance, apologized to her Received coldness (Jane walked away) *In the Kitchen (In the morning)“You’d better watch out Janie, or you’re going turn into a real bitch just like your mother”
Nostalgic (Need a change) • (clip) • Lester Burnham: When I was your age, I flipped burgers all summer just to be able to buy an eight-track. Ricky Fitts: That sucks. Lester Burnham: No, actually it was great. All I did was party and get laid. I had my whole life ahead of me. • Lester goes on a few nostalgia trips during the film. It shows that he precious the old good times he shared with his family. The last flash back is the most pronounced, vivid evidence. The images of Jane and Carolyn (back then) are what he cherished the most.
Lester : opting for a change • Personal Hero *Quit his job very carelessly and mindlessly (Confident) Catering Boss: I'm not paying you to do... whatever it is you're doing out here. Ricky Fitts: Fine. So don't pay me. Catering Boss: Excuse me? Ricky Fitts: I quit. So you don't have to pay me. Now leave me alone. Catering Boss: ...asshole. Lester Burnham: I think you just became my personal hero! *Drug dealing with denial and courage Ricky Fitts: “My dad thinks I pay for all this with catering jobs. Never underestimate the power of denial” • Purchase drugs from Ricky • Reminder of his past and youth *Pink Floyd (While buying drugs from him) Lester Burnham: When I was your age, I flipped burgers all summer just to be able to buy an eight-track. Ricky Fitts: That sucks. Lester Burnham: No, actually it was great. All I did was party and get laid. I had my whole life ahead of me.
Lester Burnham at Work Brad Dupree and Smiley Manager • Lester is intelligent and eloquent. He does not pursue a material life, his values toward materials effects his career life and attitude. He is not fussy about jobs, as long as he gets paid. From his previous working experience we can tell that he does not want to lie to people (what he thinks about the advertisement company.) • Insert 2 clips • Brad Dupree: [reading Lester's job description] "My job consists of basically masking my contempt for the assholes in charge, and, at least once a day, retiring to the men's room so I can jerk off while I fantasize about a life that doesn't so closely resemble Hell." Well, you have absolutely no interest in saving yourself. Lester Burnham: Brad, for 14 years I've been a whore for the advertising industry. The only way I could save myself now is if I start firebombing.
Mr. Smiley's Manager: I don't think you'd fit in here. Lester Burnham: I have fast food experience. Mr. Smiley's Manager: Yeah, like twenty years ago! Lester Burnham: Well, I'm sure there have been amazing technological advances in the industry, but surely you must have some sort of training program. It seems unfair to presume I won't be able to learn.
Opting for a Change … • Working out, playing music out loud in the garage. • Buying the car he always dreamed of: Carolyn Burnham: Uh, whose car is that out front? Lester Burnham: Mine. 1970 Pontiac Firebird. The car I've always wanted and now I have it. I rule! (Clip?)
Lester Burnham Buddy Kane • [Carolyn is introducing Lester to the Real Estate King] Carolyn Burnham: My husband, Lester. Buddy Kane: It's a pleasure. Lester Burnham: Oh, we've met before, actually. This thing last year, Christmas at the Sheraton... Buddy Kane: [pretends to remember] Oh yeah, yes... Lester Burnham: It's OK, I wouldn't remember me either. Carolyn Burnham: [laughs nervously] Honey, don't be weird. Lester Burnham: OK honey, I won't be weird. I'll be whatever what you want me to be. [Lester kisses Carolyn wildly, then looks at the Real Estate King] Lester Burnham: We have a very healthy relationship. (clip1, 2- At the Smiley’s) • Lester vs. Buddy Kane -- The kiss is intended to clarify that Carolyn is His Wife, and make sure that Kane draws a clear line between them.
Lester Burnham Angela Lester’s relationship with Angela can be interpreted differently. • Lester sees her as his daughter’s best friend. The love that he wants to give to his daughter was turned down. So he turned this love for his daughter to her best friend, which is the closest person to her (from Lester’s point of view.) • Lester sees Angela as a new target of life. An alternative to his static live style. A challenge and a desire he closely developed in his reveries. • He knows that Angela fancies him to some degree, and he thinks if Angela accepts him, Jane will do the same. • Pure sexual desire. Out of fascination and helplessness. Chap 5: For years I was like being in a coma, and now I am awake… (Lying on the bed, with Angela on the ceiling covered with roses)
Methods of Self-Liberation • Jerk off in the shower and the men’s room “and, at least once a day, retiring to the men's room so I can jerk off while I fantasize about a life that doesn't so closely resemble Hell." • Talk back to his boss and wife The only way I could save myself now is if I start firebombing. [Lester throws the asparagus plate at the wall] Don't interrupt me, honey! “Oh, yeah, and one more thing, from now on we're going to have alternate dinner music because frankly - and I don't think I'm alone here“ “I'm tired of this Lawrence Welk shit!” • Quit his job • Singing LOUD in the car • Get high Listen to Rock music, Smoke weed • Fantasizes about Angela Lester Burnham Repression Work Doing stuff he doesn’t like Too honest and ordinary to be neglected (didn’t get promoted to the place he deserved) "My job consists of basically masking my contempt for the assholes in charge,” “for 14 years I've been a whore for the advertising industry” Family Being looked down upon by his wife and daughter “I am sick and tired of being treated like I don't exist. You two do whatever you want, whenever you want to do it, and I don't complain. ”
SYMBOLS Rose, Window and Camera/Photo
Symbols: The Roses, Windows and Family Portraits Roses: The symbol that interweaved the film Chap 5: In Lester’s imaginary world, Angela is always covered with roses. Roses stands for sexual lust and is the commonly used to represent beauty. Roses come out flying from Angela’s breasts. Roses dropped from the ceiling where Angela lie looking down at him on his bed. Chap Angela taking a hot bath filled with roses. Chap 9: Lester imagined Angela touching him, and pull out a pedal from his own mouth. Here the rose pedal is produced by Lester himself. The roses planted by Carolyn
Lester is trapped inside the building. American’s weirdest home video.- For instance: Through Ricky Fitts’ camera, we see Lester working out behind the window. The shadows of the bars on the windows cast on Lester’s body like he was caged within it. Windows:
Family Portraits The photos of Burnham family appears very often through out the film. The family, as the photo frame that bound the three of them together. The smiles in the photos shows the time that they used to be happy, and enjoy each other’s company. That is the reason of Lester’s frequent flash backs. And the solid evidence of how much he cherishes his time with Carolyn and Jane. The ending part clip*
Jane vs Angela • Angela –apparently stronger than Jane. • Pretty outside • Weak and lie about her sexual experience • Angela—yearns to be desired, hates to be “ordinary.” • Jane – unsure about herself • “You’ll never be a freak ‘cause you’re just too perfect!” [01:38:14]
Repression of Jane • Only child • Family problem • Lack of self-confidence • Contradictions • Love and hate
How Jane releases her desire • Took off her cloth • A beauty and pure heart • Had a fight with Angela • “I’m no more a kid than you are.” • “She’s someone you use to feel better about yourself.” [01:37:55] • Plan to run away with Ricky • To cast her shell
The Younger Generation Jane active Jane actively using the video
Lester Frank • To Lester, Frank is a serious controlling person *They greeted each other Frank didn’t react much *Buying drugs from Ricky knew him collecting his son’s urine • Shocked to see Frank’s confession • Killed by Frank • Their relationship was dramatic : normal neighborhood sudden affectionate confession tragic death end
Collapsed again after getting caught… • Quote: Janine: You’re so busted. Carolyn: You know, this really doesn’t concern you. • Clip 【1:26:48 to 1:29:30】
Isolation of Jane Family dinner Friends Admires Angela Meaningless Superficial Vanity
Sense of lack • Love • Family • “I need a father who’s a role model.” • Friend • Romantic • Meaning and beauty of life
External or internal • First meet Ricky in school • Angela “And why he dress like a Bible salesman?” • Jane “He’s, like, so confident.” [28:53] • Filming the dead bird • Angela “I think you forget your medication today, mental boy.” [54:57]
Jane vs Ricky • Low self-confident vs high self-confident • Lover and a tutor • Jane “It’s weird watching myself. I don’t like how I look.” Ricky “I can’t believe you don’t know how beautiful you are.” [01:18:13] • They said eyes are the window of soul
Jane vs Lester • Nearly broken relation • Lester don’t care about her heart • Jane loves him • Jane hates him • Lester “Jane’s a pretty typical teenager: angry, insecure, confused.” [03:27] • Jane “Someone really should • just put him out of his misery.” [00:46]
Jane vs Carolyn • Closer than Lester • Carolyn: does not understand her “I watched you very closely. You didn’t screw up once.” [18:00] Superficial comment “You cannot count on anyone except yourself.” “You ungrateful little brat!” Wrong way of teaching and being a model.
Ricky’s Background Childhood：being sent to the hospital “he would always save the most random, weird things” 00:27 Family ：strict dad and wordless mom - smoking dope & selling drugs having a respectable job - the discipline father (military background) - the “careless” mother (hasn’t known Ricky didn’t eating bacon for years)
Repression & Isolation ? • Accept the truth ~ Never underestimate the power of denial. (00:10:05) EX. • Enjoy the beauty ~ Sometimes there's so much…beauty…in the world. EX.
Definition of Beauty • Through the Digital Video - plastic bag - dead stuffs (bird, homeless woman, and Lester) ~ Ricky: When you see something like that, it's like God is looking right at you, just for a second, and if you're careful, you can look right back… Jane: And what do you see? Ricky: Beauty.