American Beauty is an American drama directed by Sam Mendes. The connecting themes in the film are what make American Beauty a masterpiece. One of the key components in causing the multiple themes to connect is the use of cinematography. There are more than a few visual elements within the film that cause the viewer to connect certain motifs. Most of them are not necessarily meant to be consciously noticed but assist in conveying the primary messages meant to be communicated. One of the more obvious uses of cinematography in American Beauty is the placement of the roses throughout the film.
The roses represent desire, passion, and possibly lust. Traditionally, the color red represents these emotions as well. Also, the most evident use of the roses is to represent Lester’s desire for Angela. The first time the roses are seen in the film are in Lester’s daydream of Angela during the dance routine at the high school. Whenever he is lustfully thinking about her, the roses are seen. Also, in the final scene when Lester and Angela almost have the sexual encounter that Lester has always fantasized, there is a vase of roses placed on the table in the room.
When they are approaching each other the roses stand in between them portraying the mutual desire for each other between the two. There is also a scene where Carolyn is cutting rose stems. This could possibly represent that she is the wall between Lester and his lustful desires or that she has cut all passion away within their marriage, leaving it dry and morbid. The last time the roses are seen is right before Lester is murdered. He had just arrived at the peak of his progressive epiphany that he slowly neared all the way through the film.
He had just had the opportunity to satisfy his obsessive lust over Angela and realized that it wasn’t actually worth what he imagined. He left the room where Angela was and sat down at a table and looked at photos of his family. The roses are right in front of him and his eyes are stuck on what he had concluded “really mattered”. He pays absolutely no attention to the roses. The roses are seemingly ignored. The scene portrays that though he had placed so much weight on his own carnal desire for Angela, it would not ultimately satisfy him. His family was what his heart desired and that was all in his life that held any actual worth.
The color red was a very strong reoccurring cinematographic element in American Beauty. The billboards and advertisements for “The Real Estate King” represent Carolyn’s desire for success and eventually her sexual desire for Buddy. This is unleashed after a dinner they have together and immediately go to a hotel after and being somewhat of a relationship. For Lester, other than his lust for Angela it represents his rebellion as he buys the car of his dreams to satisfy some sort of desire for youth and satisfaction. In Ricky Fitts video of the bag floating in the wind, it is in front of a red wall.
The video represents a mystical energy behind the entire universe, causing it to continue, and continue well. It is possible that here the color red represents Ricky’s desires to continually or more deeply grasp this concept, that in the midst of all the awfulness that life brings, there is something good, behind it all, waiting and wanting to be acknowledged and enjoyed. The use of camera placement is key to American Beauty. In the beginning of the film Lester is always viewed from a higher angle conveying that he is in some sense inferior: inferior to his boss and occupation, his wife and family, and even his wife’s to-be lover.
Throughout the film Lester is progressively placed higher and higher within the frame. At some point he is placed more towards the vertical center of the frame and towards the end he is higher and looking down with the camera to his boss, his family, his daughter and Angela, and even his wife and her lover at the drive through of all places. This is communicating that he is in a sense “taking control” of his life: that what once ruled him, now serves him in some abstract psychological way, and is now inferior to him. In Lester’s final moments there is a panning eagle eye shot over “Lester’s life”.
Right before he dies he says something along the lines of “life does not flash before your eyes but moves slowly and seemingly forever. ” The shot moves slowly over dream-like scenes of all that “really mattered” to Lester. The film begins and ends with a shot moving over Lester’s neighborhood. In the opening shot it is pulling in conveying that you are in some sense “entering” Lester’s life and mind and heart as it is. In the final shot the camera is pulling out conveying that he is “leaving” this life and feels like you are leaving with him.
The shot, being the same view, possibly could be an attempt at conveying that “what is” is always the same but how one views them, is what alters their subjective perception of reality. Cinematography is a massive story-telling tool used in American Beauty. It is obviously intentional as well as subtle enough to come across clean and orderly. It does not distract from the story but enhances it. It connects the pieces of the story that the dialogue, and other elements do not. It is truly the string that ties the film together.