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American Beauty

September 1, 2015

AB2begins with a man saying of his middle class suburban life, “In a way, I’m dead already … I have lost something—I’m not exactly sure what it is, but I didn’t always feel this sedated.” It’s an amazing film, which most people think is about a mid-life crisis, and I initially wondered why as a young man, I felt it was speaking directly to me, but I now think it has something to say to people of any age.

The writer, Alan Ball, says it’s about people who are searching for meaning in their lives, so I guess that means the six billion of us who currently inhabit this planet.

Lester Burnham is bored with his family and his job, tired of life. He’s spiritually dead (“this isn’t life, this is just stuff’), but his salvation is found in the fact that he actually recognizes this and chooses to do something about it.

Angela, the cheerleader wants to be famous and boasts of her sexual conquests. The depth of her aspirations is summed up when she says, “If people who don’t even know me wanna fuck me that’s great because it means I really have a shot at being a model.”

Kevin Spacey plays a character going through a mid-life crisis. His wife and daughter think that he is a loser. He says, “They are right. I have lost something. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but I know I didn’t always feel this sedated…..but it’s never too late to get it back.”

A photo haunts him: his wife, and daughter at an earlier age beaming into the camera with all the hope and expected dreams of a young family. He asks, “How did we lose this?….Is it possible to find the life, the beauty NOW in some new way?” A neighbour’s son asks, “Do you want to see the most beautiful thing I have ever filmed?” It’s a paper bag in a wind. “The bag was just dancing, like a little kid begging me to play with it. That’s the day I realized that there is this entire life behind things and this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know that there is no reason to be afraid, ever.

It’s a story of resurrection, of how one man realizes his place in the world is found in connection to others, and how need for people is not a sign of weakness, but the path to finding yourself.

Ultimately, this is a film about memory and future and truth and being and breathing and life and fear and love and peace and forgiveness and guilt and music—great music—and laughter and tears, and the dark but liberating fact that if you’re not centered, you’ll end up killing yourself or someone else.


ABLester Burnham: [narrating] I had always heard your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn’t a second at all, it stretches on forever, like an ocean of time… For me, it was lying on my back at Boy Scout camp, watching falling stars… And yellow leaves, from the maple trees, that lined our street… Or my grandmother’s hands, and the way her skin seemed like paper… And the first time I saw my cousin Tony’s brand new Firebird… And Janie… And Janie… And… Carolyn. I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me… but it’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst… And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life… You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry… you will someday.

Lester Burnham: Look at me, jerking off in the shower… This will be the high point of my day; it’s all downhill from here.

Lester Burnham: Remember those posters that said, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life”? Well, that’s true of every day but one – the day you die.

Ricky Fitts: 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. Right? And this bag was just dancing with me. Like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes. That’s the day I realized that 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… I need to remember… Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can’t take it, and my heart is just going to cave in.

[at the dinner table]

Carolyn Burnham: Your father and I were just discussing his day at work. Why don’t you tell our daughter about it, honey?

Lester Burnham: Janie, today I quit my job. And then I told my boss to go fuck himself, and then I blackmailed him for almost sixty thousand dollars. Pass the asparagus.

Carolyn Burnham: Your father seems to think this kind of behavior is something to be proud of.

Lester Burnham: And your mother seems to prefer that I go through life like a fucking prisoner while she keeps my dick in a mason jar under the sink.

Carolyn Burnham: How dare you speak to me that way in front of her. And I marvel that you can be so contemptuous of me, on the same day that you LOSE your job.

Lester Burnham: Lose it? I didn’t lose it. It’s not like, “Whoops! Where’d my job go?” I QUIT. Someone pass the asparagus, please.

Lester Burnham: My name is Lester Burnham. This is my neighborhood; this is my street; this is my life. I am 42 years old; in less than a year I will be dead. Of course I don’t know that yet, and in a way, I am dead already.

Lester Burnham: Look at me, jerking off in the shower… This will be the high point of my day; it’s all downhill from here.

Lester Burnham: When I was your age, I flipped burgers all summer just to be able to buy an eight-track.

Ricky Fitts: That sucks.

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