Opening Messages in American Beauty

I decided to analyse the opening section of American Beauty. The film starts straight into Jane being filmed by her neighbour who she is having a conversation with. By starting the film with the use of a hand held video camera effect, it makes the film seem much more authentic. Jane is lying on a bed and does not show the whole of her body; this may suggest that she is not the main character but a significant player in the main character’s life. She is dressed in black and blue colours, which suggests her character to be quite dark and mysterious. The lighting is dark and muted, which expresses a melancholic mood. Her makeup is plain and there is no emphasis on particular features. Jane is staring into the camera, which is meant to engage the audience. The scene then cuts to the title of the film in red text on a black background that are colours associated with death. The next scene is showing the whole neighbourhood in which the family live.

The opening crane shot of the film shows Lester’s neighbourhood and a series of different edits and camera shots show us the daily routine his life is in while showing how simple and boring his life is in the shower to how his family’s life is revolving. From the establishing shot we cut to Lester in bed, he is asleep, but it is clear that he is the protagonist in the film as he is the only thing in the room which stands out. His room is so dull and boring; we begin to understand that Lester is a very simple man and perhaps has problems occurring deep within. The camera then begins to pan in to Lester sleeping in bed, with the background music somewhat rising in volume. As an audience we know from when the camera is panning in that we are about to understand who Lester is, why he is the main character and just who his family is.

A low angle shot is shown of some slippers which Lester seems to slip on as if it were a typical day for him. The next cut shows Lester’s ‘favourite point of his day’ as we see Lester masturbating in the shower. This gives us the sense that his wife obviously isn’t providing him with the ‘help’ Lester wants, the scene then cuts to Lester’s wife outside on the front lawn cutting some roses. We hear a loud cutting sound for the transition of the masturbating scene to the rose cutting scene, this almost portrays to us that Lester’s wife doesn’t like the concept of sex and also lets us know that her life and Lester’s life are very different. We are shown Lester’s house for the first time.

The rose Lester’s wife cut is bright red which relates to death, yet also relates to the title of ‘American Beauty’ as the rose is seen as beautiful and comes from America. The garden, rose’s and everything in Lester’s house seem to be just like the American dream with the white picket fence and quiet neighbourhood. Lester’s wife is dressed, ready to go for the day which is the complete opposite to Lester as he has only just begun the ‘favourite point of the day’ in the shower. We understand now that the marriage is average, as we see no passion, no love and we haven’t even seen the characters together yet. The camera changes into a point-of-view shot of Lester looking through the window to his wife; his character is silent and only peering around the curtain. Is he nervous? Lester’s voice over indicates he is exhausted and sick of his wife. We now understand the difference in character Lester and his wife are and how far apart they really are, even if it is just a window blocking them.

The scene changes to Lester’s wife interacting with another male outside having a laugh and having a flirt. We begin to understand the scale of Lester’s confinement as there is the white picket fence which may indicate the walls he trapped in, the neighbour’s dogs barking which may represent guard dogs and the mental barrier between him and his family. The white picket fence is seen as being one of the motifs of the ‘American Dream’ which although it looks perfect, Lester quite frankly knows that it is not. We then get Lester’s voiceover begin again talking about the neighbours “there is Jim… And that’s his lover Jim”. Lester’s voiceover doesn’t show that he’s negative of their gay relationship, yet somewhat jealous as their life is just as perfect as Lester’s, allot more perfect. The next cut is of Lester’s wife talking to both the Jim’s and having a right old laugh while Lester peers through the window and out of focus. This again shows Lester’s seclusion to the world, enfact his seclusion to his own world as normally your wife is the ‘love of your life’, ‘the best thing in the world’.

We then go to a shot of Lester looking through the window with a curtain almost blocking him from us and then we almost seem to be trapping him. The scene then changes quickly to Lester’s daughter who is another significant figure in the film and we see her on the computer which seems normal and typical for a teenager to do, but then the camera pans round and we see Lester’s daughter obviously doesn’t like the look of her breasts. This shows that not just Lester’s life isn’t going smoothly as he’d wish it to, but his daughter is also having problems. We begin to really get underneath these characters and tear them apart bit by bit. Lester’s wife however seems hard to get underneath and know who this woman really is.

The opening scene ends with the three main characters: Lester, Lester’s wife and Lester’s daughter all heading to the same car for a journey to work/school. Lester’s wife seems to be very negative with both Lester’s daughter and Lester himself. This detracts the audience from her and she almost becomes the bouncy ball in a greenhouse. Lester’s daughter is being told by Lester’s wife how unappealing she looks today and Lester’s wife tells Lester how he “always seems to be late”. Now that all these characters are together we begin to feel nervous and awkward for what is about to happen, but Lester trips and breaks the nervousness and all his documents and equipment fall out of his briefcase. We now understand that this is not going to be a brilliant day and that once again its Lester’s wife’s turn to drive the car again.


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