American Beauty - The Search for Freedom
I've always seen American Beauty being cited as one of the greatest movies in movie history, but only a few days ago I decided to watch it. I must confess that the beginning did not captivate me, even with the protagonist using voice-over to announce his own death. And the premise itself, of a middle-aged man falling in love with a girl, didn't make me very comfortable — just like the book Lolita, so adored by thousands of people and that inspired American Beauty.
However, through the scenes and a story that proved to be wonderfully well developed, I finished the movie with the feeling that it really deserved to be considered one of the best movies in history. But why American Beauty is able to conquer so many people?
It may sound contradictory to say that the premise is one of the ingredients of the success of American Beauty since I said that it made me uncomfortable, but it's not like that. It's not just because a story gives you an unpleasant feeling that it's a bad story. If that were the case, there would be no horror movies.
Even if you have a dubious moral character, you can still conquer people with your story if you can empathize with a character (a point where Lolita, for me, just failed).
In American Beauty, many people end up identifying with Lester thanks to his monotonous job, the awful relationship with Carolyn and Jane, his wife and daughter, and the desire for a new life. At this point, his obsession with Angela, though disgusting, can be understood as a way of re-approaching youth and the freedom that comes with it.
Freedom, in fact, becomes one of the main themes of American Beauty. Jane wants to be free from her father, Carolyn wants to be free from Lester and Ricky wants to get rid of the abusive relationship he has with his own father, just as Lester wants to get rid of his own pathetic life.
But even though Lester starts to work on his own life and quits his job, he doesn't get personal growth. Instead, he spends his money on shallow things, gets an even worse job, and continues to fight with his family. American beauty is a rose without thorns and here the name, like the roses scattered throughout the scenes of the movie, symbolizes just that: the superficiality of desires and the capitalist way of life.
Angela is also an example of superficiality. She hides behind her beauty and invents stories about sex with guys to hide that, deep down, she's just a virgin girl who fears being ordinary.
And then we have an ending that, although sad, is also, somehow, hopeful. It is while Lester dies that he realizes the value of his family and the importance of seizing every moment of life not caring about being just another brick in this society that values appearances above all else. It's a lesson we all must learn and that makes American Beauty an indispensable film.