American Beauty

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TheAmericanBeautywas a 1999 movie by Shawn Mendes, which was praised due to thedescription of characters and interpretation of the major themes. Themain character, Lester Burnham, is a 42-year-old advertisingexecutive who is facing mid-life crisis despite his achievements suchas a good job, children, two cars, and a lovely home in the suburbs(Mendez). However, Burnham’s wife, Carolyn, is obsessed withmaterial possessions and concerned about other people’s opinions.Carolyn loves possessions that portray success such as a beautifulhouse because she believes that wealth is a sign of happiness(Mendez). The film is an illustration of how the middle-classAmericans view beauty and personal satisfaction. The movie utilizesthe plot and characterization to convey the themes of beauty,materialism, freedom, and happiness.

Analysisof the major themes


Theempty promise of material possessions is one of the most apparentconcepts in the movie. The director portrays materialism as theprimary cause of conflict between appearance and reality. The societyhas created a perception that being rich is the same as attaininghappiness (Mendez). As such, Carolyn values her properties too muchthat it causes problems with her husband and daughter. For example,Lester is trying to kiss his wife, but she seems worried aboutspilling beer on the Italian silk couch (Mendez). In anotheroccasion, Carolyn argues with her daughter about their wealth, whichshe views as a means of happiness rather than focusing on maintaininga healthy relationship with her husband and daughter (Mendez).Carolyn wants to succeed in her career as a real estate agent becauseshe believes it will make her satisfied. In one instance, Carolyn isunable to sell a house, which makes her frustrated that she ends uphurting herself (Mendez). On the other hand, Angela Hayes appears tobe a desirable teenager, but in reality, she has low self-esteem andeasily gets scared. Thus, she criticizes other characters regularlyas a way of hiding her insecurities (Mendez).


Thetheme of happiness is portrayed as a goal, a myth, and a disguise forthe characters. All the actors are persistently in search ofhappiness, but they have distinct meaning of pleasure. Hence, thecharacters use different strategies to attain satisfaction (Mendez).The theme portrays the modern American experience because itquestions why most middle-income individuals are unhappy yet being anAmerican means having the inherent desire to pursue happiness(Mendez). At the start of the movie, Lester discovers that he canstill be content despite the problems in his life. Slowly he beginsto search for joy by being more attentive to his true desires andignoring other people’s opinions.

Atthe end of the movie, Lester attains happiness using what the societywould consider immoral activities such as drug abuse and having asexual affair with a fifteen-year-old girl (Mendez). Therefore, thefilm portrays a unique strategy that is used by the main character toattain happiness, which contradicts the ideals of a moral society. Incontrast, Carolyn symbolizes the commonly held notion that happinessis about perception. For example, she believes that she will be happyif she seems confident and successful (Mendez). As such, sheaccumulates material possessions, but it appears as an attempt toreduce her misery over a broken marriage and the meaningless life. Inthe end, the movie supports the search for happiness as the onlything worth pursuing (Mendez).

Cultureand Identity

Thefilm focuses on different aspects of American culture and identity,which are represented by the characters. For instance, Angelasymbolizes the young, innocent American teenagers (Mendez). On theother hand, Carolyn signifies a group of people who think thatmaterial possessions can substitute relationships. Besides, thecharacters are given roles similar to the ones that exist in theAmerican society. For instance, Lester works at a fast-foodrestaurant while Jane represents a typical teenager participating ina cheerleading team (Mendez). Then again, the movie explores thedifferent aspects of the American culture through various symbols.For example, the roses indicate Angela’s innocence (Mendez).Conversely, Ricky’s films symbolize attractiveness and aestheticbeauty.


Thefilm portrays the concept of freedom as a rare and difficult aspectto attain. The characters are unified by various restrictions such astheir desires, job, lives, parents, and fears. For example, Lesterhas to ignore his concerns so that he can embrace his free will.However, he encounters several challenges, which teaches him thatself-actualization does not mean abandoning his responsibilities(Mendez). On the contrary, Ricky represents the world beauty becausehe is not a victim of the American Dream. Unlike other characters,Ricky seems disconnected from the pursuit of success and beauty(Mendez). Thus, he is not struggling because he does not let theAmerican Dream consume him (Mendez). Besides, Ricky is the onlycharacter in the film that is truly happy and free although he liveswith a controlling father. Therefore, Ricky’s ideology of theAmerican Dream seems much better because he can connect witheverything around him due to the balance in his life (Mendez).

Thenagain, the movie’s title carries the whole message. Beauty isbrought out on two different fronts in the film using the personalityof the characters and the attractiveness of the American Dream. Forinstance, Angela is a perfect American girl due to her good looks(Mendez). On the other hand, Jane is not considered gorgeous as herfriend. Nonetheless, Ricky recognizes that Jane is a lovely girl whois genuinely caring and attractive (Mendez). The movie alsoillustrates the concept of identity since many characters haveproblems developing and maintaining a consistent personality(Mendez). For example, Lester is forced to separate his sense ofself-respect from his job and family life to attain happiness. In theprocess, he learns that although his wife and boss treat him as if heis useless, he can still achieve satisfaction. On the contrary,Carolyn has lost the cheerful traits because she has replaced herpersonality with material possessions (Mendez).

AmericanBeauty’splot is original and unpredictable. Besides, the composition oflighting, shots, and music create a perfect atmosphere to attract theaudience’s attention and moves the story forward (Mendez). Forinstance, creative use of lighting and music is portrayed whenCarolyn is nervously walking into her house. The scene is takesplacing during a night with thunderstorm and lightning. The music issad to create a depressing and angry mood, which implies that Carolynis planning to kill her husband. Thus, the film portrays what happenswhen a person achieves the American Dream, but it turns out to bedifferent from what he or she expected (Mendez).

Theauthor’s intention in the movie

Thedirector, Sam Mendez, delivers a message that people are absorbed inthe success-driven version of the American Dream only to learn thatthey missed out on better things in life. Mendes gives his message byshowing all the setbacks the Burnham family encountered as theoutcome of achieving the American Dream (Mendez). Furthermore, heintended to question the culture and perceptions of the middle-classAmericans. Mendez shows the harsh reality that families endure intheir struggle to find happiness and success. He illustrates thecultural tendency to work without leaving room for leisureactivities. Hence, people find themselves losing the most importantthings in life such as personality and families (Mendez).Nevertheless, the director uses the story to encourage the society tofind beauty in the world through prioritizing the essential aspectsto ensure that life is not wasted (Mendez).

Opinionabout the movie

Thefilm is an absolute masterpiece that successfully illustrates thethemes and turns these concepts into messages that the viewer canrelate to and understand. It shows that the society hasmisconceptions about attractiveness thus, people completely miss thenature of beauty altogether. Although the film’s objective it toentertain, it educates the American people on how to be contentedwith their lives despite the challenges they encounter. Moreover, itshows that success is not the only thing that matters in life becauseit does not always result in happiness. The film urges people to livehonestly and cherish their life. Hence, one’s desire for materialpossessions should not render all the other aspects of lifemeaningless. The movie shows that people have to take care of otherthings in life such as family and ensure that their desire forsuccess and financial stability does not destroy their relationshipsand personality. Although the quest for success and personalrelationships are intertwined, it is important to know that achievingthe American Dream will not ultimately result in freedom andhappiness.


Mendez,Sam, director. AmericanBeauty.DreamWorks, Jinks, Cohen Company, 1999.

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