The Film American Beauty, directed by Sam Mendes, uses lighting, color accents and repetition to help us understand the implied message or motif to this movie. Through the movie we are coerced by very subtle techniques interwoven into the scenes. These techniques are important to use in order to convey the ideas of power, depression, lust and evil.
The obvious connection throughout this movie is the theme of the color red. In almost every scene, an accented red color symbolizes one of the major themes of the movie. We are first introduced to this by the fact that their front door is red, implying that this home and the people who live in it, hold the keys to the many of the themes that are related to this film. As we move through the movie we also see the repetition of the red rose. The image of the rose is used in many different scenes. We see the roses at first in Carolyn’s garden, but as we go from scene to scene in this film, we notice that when Lester daydreams about Angela, roses are constantly associated with his lustful feelings. Towards the end of the movie, red roses are incorporated into every scene, showing the high amounts of lust, passion and emotion being felt at that moment.
Before Lester tries to turn back time to feel better and more confident about himself, he and the entire movie is centered in a beige, bland, and drearily lit setting. The dark lighting and the off-white cream color used in many of the costuming decisions and the place setting in the film were used directly to convey a sense of depression, uneasiness and boredom.
At the beginning of the film, the weather is very clear and sunny but as the emotional passion starts to develop, a downpour of rain begins, showing a sense of mayhem and the climax of the film. The characters in American Beauty interact with the rain, and by doing so makes a solid connection with their character and the havoc of their situation. For example, as Carolyn is driving home with her gun, inspired to kill her husband, the downpour makes it impossible for her to see through the front window. As she is entering the house we see another connection of her bright red suit determining her passion and anger brought up by her obsession with succeeding and power. As Carolyn pulls the gun to Lester’s head, we see the red of the roses, the front door, and the dream car replaced by the red of his blood and brains splattered on the wall. Again, as Carolyn leaves the house, the rain overtakes her and we see the insanity and emotion in her face and acting choices.
Repetition in this film is seen in different aspects, but the use of this technique dramatically changes the script to make the audience become more vulnerable to understanding the underlying idea. In American Beauty, Ricky Fitts, the boy next door that develops a connection with Lester’s daughter Jane, shares a secret to Jane about his life with “the most beautiful thing he has ever filmed”. Ricky Tells Jane about the Plastic bag,
” It was one of those days when it’s a minute away from snowing and there’s this electricity in the air, you can almost hear it. And this bag was, like, dancing with me. Like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes. And that’s the day I knew there was this entire life behind things, and… this incredibly benevolent force, that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid, ever. Video’s a poor excuse, I know. But it helps me remember… and I need to remember… Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it, like my heart’s going to cave in.”
Here, Ricky is opening up his soul for Jane. This is a part of himself that he can never show any one, because of his difficult past and upbringing. When Ricky says,”…there was no reason to be afraid, ever”, he reveals one of the main themes of this film. This entire movie is centered on the idea of growth, confidence, transformation and becoming fearless. We see this in the character of Lester mainly, as he transforms from depressed and“might as well be dead”, into what he always wanted to be like in his glory days. This confidence is constantly being tampered with and provoked by his wife Carolyn as she becomes more and more threatened by his newfound confidence. Carolyn eventually loses her mind and kills Lester from her development of a lacking real estate agent into a power hungry monster. As Lester ends the film with his reflection of death, he recites a familiar monologue that Ricky shared with Jane. The repetition of this emotional and very vulnerable text, tells us that Lester has found some sort of peace with his death. It also might show us that Lester has finally received some closure to his identity that he struggles with the entire film.
All pictures screen shotted by myself:
1999. Los Angeles. By Dreamworks SKG.