Take a Closer Look: The Sheer Subtlety of American Beauty

Earning an international gross revenue of more than 350 million dollars, the Oscar-winning dark dramedy American Beauty is hailed by critics as a masterpiece that would be remembered in the annals of film history as a millenial classic. Starring Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Mena Suvari, Wes Bentley, and Chris Cooper, the movie is set in modern American suburbia and deconstructs the myth of seemingly perfect suburban lives. American Beauty revolves around the life of Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), a 42-year-old advertising executive who wakes up from his personal coma when he meets his daughter’s friend, Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari).

Lester makes life-changing decisions from that day onwards: he quits his job and applies as a burger-flipper at a local burger joint, starts working out, and smokes marijuana. Much to his daughter’s embarassment, Lester becomes wildly infatuated with Angela, and has recurring sexual fantasies of a naked Angela covered in nothing but red rose petals. There are some noticeable references throughout the movie to pertain to middle-aged Lester’s infatuation with the young Angela. Some say that Angela’s last name, Hayes, is a reference to the last name of Lolita Haze, the lead character from Vladimir Nabokov’s novel, Lolita.

Another reference to Nabokov’s Lolita is the name of Spacey’s character, Lester Burnham, which is an anagram for “Humbert learns.” Humbert Humbert is the name of the lead character in Nabokov’s book. Contrary to what a lot of people think, the movie’s title does not refer to Angela Hayes as an American Beauty. Rather, the title refers to a breed of roses that looks beautiful from afar but is prone to rot underneath the branches and roots. This refers not only to Angela Hayes’ character, but also to the myths of perfect suburban lives.

The movie’s cast and crew took home five Oscars in the 2000 Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Cinematography, Best Writing, and Best Picture. The hand and stomach that appears on this movie poster do not belong to Mena Suvari, and are actually those of model-actress Chloe Hunter.

American Beauty

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