The film American Beauty adopts many negative attitudes of the American society it depicts. These attitudes explore the nature of imprisonment, true beauty and materialism. Sam Mendes invites the viewer to look closer into the film by reflecting on these attitudes through a variety of techniques, which captivate the audience creating a masterpiece film. A major attitude portrayed throughout the film is explored through imprisonment. Mendes explores imprisonment in the sense of a negative invisible constriction created by societal values and expectations, which blinds people from the important values in life.
This is displayed through Lestor’s imprisonment and his eventual escape from confinement, in a ‘rights of passage’ journey. Throughout the film Lestor is subconsciously trapped behind jail cells which Mendes displays through setting, film techniques, and symbolism. In the beginning of the film we can see the various jail cells Lestor is subject to. Firstly, in the shower scene we see Lestor trapped behind glass walls. This symbolic glass wall is again used by Mendes in the following scene where Lestor is again trapped behind the glass windows in the house, a boundary which is caused by the nature of his materialistic wife Carolyn.Order now
In the next scene we again see Lestor in another jail cell while he is sleeping in the car. He is unaware he is in the car or jail cell as he is sleeping, while we see, through a low angle perspective shot, the outside world through the car window. This is the world that Lestor has lost touch with. We again see the director deliberately use Lestor’s computer screen as another jail cell, with numbers written in a column format. This scene also supports the ‘cell’ symbol as a sticker on Lestor’s bored says ‘Look Closer’, which is an ironical statement which is directed to the viewers.
We see the director continually employing this symbolic technique of ‘jail cells’ to examine Lestor’s imprisonment from realization of true happiness, through the various cell settings. The confusion and dissolution of Beauty is another negative attitude of the depicted American society. Through the video lens of Ricky Fitts the director explores as a filter to depict the nature of True Beauty in contrast to the false and blurred vision of beauty in the eyes of society. We see the director, in the scene with Angela and Jane in Jane’s room, reflect on this contradiction of beauty.
This scene is a microcosm of the film itself as Ricky zooms past Angela, who we think and also society depicts as being beautiful and sexy, into the reflection of Jane’s face in the glass mirror, who is infidently embodying a rarer beautiful and interest. This is again another ‘jail cell’ symbolic in the mirror as Jane is trapped in the perception of True beauty, ironically the viewer is also confused why Ricky is more interested in Jane. Here we see the director use the film technique of the video camera lens to view Jane and the sutle symbolic techniques used.
This perception of True Beauty is again explored through Ricky’s video camera in the scene of filming a dead bird. When Ricky states he is filming the dead bird and Angela asks “Why? ” He responds “Because it’s beautiful. ” Through the video camera technique we again see the director depict True beauty as something in its natural form, not influenced by external factors. The video camera then zooms past Angela again focusing on Jane. This film technique is repeated from early in the film as Ricky is again only interested in Jane’s natural truly beautiful appearance and interesting image.
We again see conflicting attitude of True beauty through the plastic bag video recording from Ricky. In this scene the constant panning of the video recording displays a wind caring circular movements around dead leaves, sometimes whipping it about violently, or without warning, sending it soaring skyward, floating gracefully down to the ground. This fine piece of filming explores an exquisite natural beauty as if the bag is dancing with joy in the wind, with the dead leaves almost depicting foot soldiers dancing around the bag.
This Beauty would be regularly disregarded in a negative attitude among the depicted society, as a simply plastic bag blowing in the wind. Mendes uses film techniques such as the unpredictable panning on the plastic bag. Mendes again uses symbolism in the form of rose petals to roses to symbolize true beauty in scenes where it is present, but in contrast he also uses roses in scenes where true beauty does not exist, and is yearning to. For example in Lestor’s frequent fantasies of Angela rose petals are always present. Lestor sees Angela as beautiful through the perception of societal views.
However at the end of the film Lestor’s perception of Angela’s Beauty changes as she mentions she is a virgin. Therefore, Angela ironically possesses an innocent natural Beauty which Lestor comes to understand. On the other hand, roses surround Lestor’s house. This setting of roses, in this sense are symbolic as the house is a simple material object one of societal expectations, yet the house and its inhabitants possess an artificial beauty which yearns True beauty. Mendes uses symbolism and setting to explore the attitude of beauty in this context.
The pessimistic nature of materialism in the depicted society of the film is also explored by Mendes using a variety of techniques. Techniques such as setting and symbolism are used to portray and illustrate the underlying motifs. The film adopts a negative attitude to materialism as it blinds people from the more important goals and values in life, instead seeking unlimited material satisfaction in fabric possessions. The film denounces the hypocrisy of a society obsessed with outer appearance of success, thus avoiding in the film we see certain scenes where material natures override fundamentally values in life.
Firstly, in the dinner scene where Carolyn has the dinner table perfectively set in symmetrical precision in the long shot of the room. This material environment is ironic as the real emotions are tense and aggressive which is contradicted by Bobby Darren music in the background. Therefore, the material set up and music is unnecessary as the fundamental values of a happy family dinner are not present. This setting created by the Director is a very effective technique in displaying the contradictory atmosphere created in the dining room.
The main negative attitude portrayed throughout the film is essentially the American Dream. The Burnham family has achieved on its own the possessions of a big house in the suburbs, furniture, money, beautiful gardens and cars, yet it is all an illusion. Through the journeys of the characters, we see that none are happy and the family explodes in overbearing tensions and frustration. In the journey for apparent fortune all personal passion and goals were sacrificed to a point where living had been forgotten. Ironically, the characters stranger to society are the ones who find happiness and True beauty.
This is seen with Jane and Ricky as they see beauty through the filter of the video camera lens and also the gay neighbors who seem relatively happy and successful. This motif of the pursuit of happiness is thoroughly explored and played upon by Mendes using many symbols such as roses, jail cells, and water. In conclusion, the film criticizes the negative attitudes of imprisonment, true beauty and materialism. The director uses a variety of techniques such as symbolism, setting, film techniques and motives which effectively reflect the portrayed attitudes in the film.