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A Closer Look At American Suburbia

1326 words - 5 pages

Toni Troell Film Appreciation Cherie King March 20, 2002 A Closer Look at American Suburbia In American Beauty (1999), which was directed by Sam Mendes, we are confronted with the images that have consumed mainstream American life. Mendes exploits these images that we, as Americans, have created around ourselves as a means of hiding our true nature. In American Beauty, Mendes plays on the natural tendencies of the viewers to seek problems in other peoples' lives and make us acknowledge and confront the images that have become our own. Also, through the use of narration, the mise- en- scéne and cinematic techniques, Mendes invites us into the home of the Burnhams so that we can "look closer" at American suburbia. He uses the audiences' tendencies to relate to the characters in order to deconstruct the images that are portrayed by the characters and to confront our true nature. From the start of the film the construction of images is evident.American Beauty (1999) begins with a shot of a young teenage girl, shown through the use of a hand-held camera. The narration reveals that she wants her father dead. The image that is portrayed about her character is that of an ungrateful, unaffectionate and very bitter teenager. As we will learn by the end of the film, this image of Jane is not at all what it appeared to be. The next scene is of a high angle shot, with a voice-over being spoken by Lester Burnham, played by Kevin Spacey. The narration reveals that he is already dead, which tells us that the following scenes have already taken place. This sets the theme for the movie: there is more to the story than what appears on the surface. The high angle tracking shot of Lester's street also holds significance for the spectator. It is our official invitation to peer into the Burnhams' private lives. The narration that accompanies the scene allows us to fulfill our desires and enter into their private lives without guilt or shame.The sign on Lester's cubicle wall is not a mere coincidence. Mendes is again soliciting the spectator's voyeuristic nature by placing a sign that asks us to "look closer." This theme of looking deeper than the surface reoccurs throughout the film. We as viewers are provoked to look past the superficial images that we represent and to find a way to see our true selves. The construction of images within the narrative is important to how Mendes constructs them through cinematic techniques.Carolyn Burnham, real estate agent, mother and wife have been, from the very beginning, constructed through the narrative in such a way that the spectator defines her as someone who is consumed by the importance of maintaining the perfect image. She is often caught, consciously, making references concerning images. Referring to Jane Burnham, her teenage daughter, "are you trying to look unattractive" or to herself, " to be successful one must always put forward an image of success." These comments are additions to what the viewer has...

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