American Beauty is a “love it” or “hate it” film, and you never know if it has more ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’ viewers. Personally, I love it -from the first sight, from the last sight, from the eternal sight. It is my favorite film of the 90s, one of my personal twenty favorites ever. I think that American Beauty is an instant classic, and it will stay that way as long as people watch movies.
The film is deep, dark, and tragic. The title is American Beauty but it is more like Universal Sadness. It is not about superheroes – it is about very flawed, tired, and shallow people ? but just as the tag line says ? one must look closer.
I live in a town like the one in American Beauty too – nice houses, brick, vinyl, neatly cut grass and flowers. “The air is fresh and sweet like a child’s kiss”. I jog in the mornings or in the evenings and people often sit on their porches or water their lawns or jog just as I do. We always smile at each other and say “Hi, how are you?” I always think to myself – what goes on beyond the closed doors of these people that I see? They could be happy with their families and with their jobs. They do look happy. Or, they may be tired and disappointed with their lives, trying to do something to change it – or just letting the days pass by.
Leo Tolstoy opened his novel Anna Karenina with the words, “All happy families are happy in the same way; each unhappy family is unique in its unhappiness”. That’s why it is much more interesting for me to try and understand each unhappy family ? why did it happen? The family in American Beauty used to be happy – there is even proof – the photograph with three of them, happy, laughing. Where did it go? When? Why? When was the moment in time when two loving people became strangers and prisoners in their own nice house with the beautiful roses outside? These are the questions I kept thinking about when I saw AB for the first time, and I still can not find the answers. Can something be changed? How? What do you do to wake up from the lethargic dream that your life has become? How do you reach the people who are the closest to you? What the hell do you need a $3000 couch for if you can not make love to your wife on it? What is the purpose of material possessions if they become more important than the smile of your daughter? When did you start to think that giving your children the best toys possible would substitute for a talk, for a sincere and honest interest as to what they really worry about? I did not find American Beauty patronizing and simplistic – it asks difficult questions but does not provide you with any easy answers. I still look for those answers. I don’t blame the movie for imperfection of its characters – I know they do exist. We don’t like them – but can one be mad when looking in the mirror? I want to add a couple of words about Spacey’s character, Lester Burnham (BTW, Spacey may stop acting right now, and he probably should after all the flops he has produced since AB, but he will always be remembered for Lester). Lester could say about himself what another flawed but unforgettable character did 25 years before him: “Well, I tried, didn’t I? Goddamnit, at least I did that.” Lester Burnham died a happy man; the last words he heard in his life were that his daughter was in love – it meant for him that she could feel, that she was alive because love changes us and makes us better. His last sight was that of a picture where happiness and joy were captured forever. In death, he had at last captured that for which he had longed for the most in life ? happiness.
He died a happy man – not many do.