American Beauty, Directed By Sam Mendes

1372 words - 5 pages

“American Beauty” through images and character depiction attempts to portray and question the triteness of middle class sexual mores. One of the main ways director Sam Mendes portrays this is through symbols, especially in the seductive color red, used to represent both sexuality and youth. The characters of the film, through their dialogue and various deceptions to the outside world also pose questions about society’s expectations for sex. Mendes’ also utilizes lighting, props, sets and music as commentary on the sexuality of all of his characters, both sexual reawakening and oppression. The visual style of the film coupled with the character’s unique struggles and views make “American Beauty” a haunting look at the way our culture views gender and sex.
The color red, primarily used in the symbol of a rose, is the most prominent and memorable visual image of the film. The American Beauty rose is a “perpetual rose”, one that regrows every year and is known for its blood red color. When the film opens and we are introduced to Carolyn, the uptight wife of the film’s protagonist Lester, she is snipping the growing roses at the stem symbolizing her stifled and loveless marriage. We see Carolyn’s roses a few other times in the film essentially dying in a vase, never as vibrant as when she first cuts them in the front yard for the whole world to see. However, when Lester first sees Angela, his daughter’s friend from high school, she reawakens him sexually and everything about her is red. She wears blood red lipstick and a red uniform while Lester imagines her with flowing, vibrant red roses. While these characterizations and imagery help establish the rose and the color red as definers of these women’s sexuality, they are also markers of Lester’s attraction as Carolyn’s roses are uninteresting to him even though Angela’s roses fixate him. When Carolyn is pictured with roses she is holding and controlling them, allowing them to die. Angela’s roses are free and almost out of her control; we see them flying, representing flowing water and alive when used to characterize her. Angela is an “American Beauty” that unlike Carolyn is still young and thriving; not cut off at the stem and left to die in a vase. Aside from American Beauty’s being a particular “special” type of flower, roses are also interesting symbol because to anyone unfamiliar with them, they are not what they seem. They are beautiful and fragrant, but contain many thorns; similar to all the women in Lester’s life. The lighting style of the movie also represents the personality struggles between Lester and Carolyn. When the film opens, Lester’s job and home life, the banes of his existence, are filled with drab lighting and mute backgrounds. The family home as a characterization of Carolyn is feminized and controlled, the set is a perfect display of what she believes a suburban home should look like revealing an inner need for control and insecurity. In many choices...

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