American Beauty

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Citations
All pictures screen shotted by myself:
1999. Los Angeles. By Dreamworks SKG.

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Full Metal Jacket

This film based in the Vietnam War shows us the effects of the war, and all its dehumanizing circumstances that follow the young soldiers this movie highlights over the course of the war.  

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The first thing we see is one man after another getting their hair shaved off. As the camera points at each of the soldiers getting their hair buzzed off, their identities and personalities get stripped away as well. It is clear that one of the ideas the director, Stanley Kubrick, wanted to instill in the audience is the harsh and dehumanizing environment that can ultimately harm the mental states of the soldiers.

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Gomer Pyle is introduced to us as a smiling, happy teddy bear of a man. But he just cannot seem to grasp the idea of how to do anything in the military. Joker, the narrator of the movie, quickly takes him under his wing, educating him about the Marines and what you need to do to survive in the war. After Gomer Pyle is repeatedly making things worse for every one else in his training squad, his entire group “gives him the proper motivation” and beats him while he’s sleeping.

After the attack Pyle becomes the best one in his squad and is showing signs of numbness and a huge change of attitude. After graduation, Pyle becomes insane and shoots the Lieutenant who had harassed him from the beginning, and then himself. Full Metal Jacket tells us that even though they weren’t even in the war zone yet, the structure of the American Military is brutal and has the power to do so much damage to anybody.

Character choices throughout this film were used in order to convey a sense of realism to the audience, and to people who might have been involved with the Vietnam war. Since men of all backgrounds were enlisted in the war, the actors needed to provide a spectrum of different educations, ethnicities, and personalities true to what the soldiers would have been like. During the Interview scene where a film crew asked the men their opinions,  it was made clear of the vast array of men that served. It was necessary to include this scene because this film is all about exploring what extreme stressors and dehumanizing factors can do to your sense of self and morals. With this scene we get to see in deeper to what these men actually think of the war.

As the war becomes more and more intense, we see havoc and destruction in the form of darkness and ominous silence. As the risk of enemy forces becomes more apparent, long pauses and unsureness among the soldiers rise to uncomfortable levels. A wide shot of a city in ruins indicates to us that conflict is only just around the corner.

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Death is portrayed in several different fashions to us. When Joker and Rafterman are sent to report on a mass grave of Vietnamese civilians and soldiers covered in a dusty white powdered Lime,  we sense that the vietnamese are not being mourned here, but rather looked down on and disregarded. This film conveys this by a lens shot from the angle of the dead looking up to the American soldiers hovering their bodies. This technique makes the audience uncomfortable and gives us a point of view from the opposing forces, a bias that we haven’t yet seen.
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As Gomer Pyle’s sanity is dwindling, the lighting in the bathroom becomes a ghoulish steel blue conveying a sense of “all hope is lost” and evil. The lieutenants death in this scene is shot in a slow motion gore melt-down, showing that there is some sort of mourning for this man even though he was a main component of Pyle’s demise. After Pyle finishes the lieutenant, and begins to bring the barrel to his mouth, the audience is overwhelmed with how fast his death is. Unlike moments before, Pyle’s death was swift and had no dramatic techniques to amplify his death besides the chunks of his brain spattered on the toilet. Even though Pyle became insane, we still secretly feel bad for him. Was it truly his fault that he offed his commanding officer and eventually himself? Or was it the harsh environment that the army forced him to live out?

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Lastly, we see the death of hundreds of Vietnamese soldiers, woman and children. None of these characters have names. To us, they are faceless monsters. Oftentimes throughout the whole movie, we hear screaming and then a fall with more screaming on top of that. It is clear to the audience that the American troops did not respect these people. We see dead bodies being humiliated for sport and constant racial slurs that dehumanize the Vietnamese even more. It is obvious to us that if you didn’t take part in destroying the lives of the Vietnamese in multiple ways during the war, you were outcast. Whether or not you emphasize with the vietnamese forces and civilians, you had no choice but to dehumanize an entire culture to ultimately “win”, just as the American military demoralized you in order for the cycle of dehumanization to continue.

All pictures and gifs were taken directly from the film Full Metal Jacket

Full Metal Jacket. Perf. Matthew Modine, R Lee Ermey, Vincent D’OnoFrio. Warner Bros. Pictures, 1987.