A short analysis of the film “American Beauty” with emphasis on the final scene and with regard to the conceptual presentation of the American Dream
Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten
In the following essay I would like, at the beginning, to give very briefly a summary of the final scene of the film”American Beauty”, firstly released in 1999 and which we saw recently, then to describe the cinematic devices used in this scene and explain their functions, and furthermore, to point out in how far the concept of the “American Dream” is presented in the film.
The final scene of the film”American Beauty” is the last ሿ minutes of the entire film with a full length of ʹʹ ሿ minutes. The final scene starts with the protagonist -the main character- Lester Burnham, portrayed by Kevin Spacey, who is setting in the kitchen and was shot. Then, scenes before and after Lester´s death are shown: Angela in the bathroom hearing the gunshot; Jane and Ricky find him dead in the kitchen; Frank was identified as the killer; Lester´s wife Carolyn returns home and her desperate reaction to her husband´s death. At the same time, Lester´s narration begins, in particular stating that he died happily. To be more detailed, I mixed the concise plot summary above together with part II on applied cinematic devices´ description and functions which enables us to gain a deeper and broader understanding of the whole final scene.
First of all, one sees Lester sitting lonely in the kitchen of his house and smiling at a black-and- white and happy family photograph from Jane´s childhood showing him, his wife, Carolyn, and his daughter Jane holding a teddy bear, being much younger than she today is. There are some red roses on the table, but the light is switched off, it is dark outside. Admiring the photograph, Lester whispers:”Man, oh man… Man, oh man, oh man, oh man, oh man”, which are his last words because at this moment, one also sees a gun appearing and pointing at his back of the head. Without noticing that, Lester slowly turns the photograph down. The camera turns away via the photograph, the roses toward the white wall in front of Lester´s head. A second later, a loud gunshot can be heard and one sees red blood spatters on the wall hesitantly flowing down. Still unknown right now is who the murderer was. Ricky and Jane walk down the stairs and enter the kitchen. Opened the door, a puddle of blood can be seen, dropping down from a white chair toward the bottom. Jane seems to be shocked commenting “Oh my God” and does not move while Ricky approaches the puddle of blood somehow sneering contently. Lester´s body lying on the ground with eyes opened and with blood coming out of his forehead can be seen. In the background a piano playing a sad repetitive melody accompanies the scene.
Shortly after, Lester starting his closing narration: “I'd 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. ሿ
Simultaneously, several scenes mentioned in his narration are running, supporting the viewer´s understanding. Apart from these scenes, moments such as Jane and Ricky lying together on the bed just right before Lester got shot, or Angela being in front of a mirror in the bright bathroom and hearing the gunshot, are involved there as well. Additionally, Frank returns home wearing a white t-shirt covered with blood, breathing heavily and a missing gun from his gun collection is shown which becomes clear that Frank kills Lester. Moreover, Carolyn returns home, too, and cries. She wanted to kill Lester, too, but she obviously arrives too late. The sequence with a plastic bag flying with the wind, dancing in the air, the most enchanting object Ricky has filmed was featured in the final scene as well, reinforcing the beauty. The whole film finishes with the suburban sequence where Lester lived and the story mainly took place which was already presented once at the very beginning of the film. The final scene which fulfils Lester´s introductory statement “... in less than a year I will be dead” is dramatic making the film to a drama film. The Aristotelian theory of a tragedy - saying in a classical drama consisting of five acts, the first act used to be an exposition introducing the protagonists, where it take place, when does it take place, so the factor time and particularly the conflict; the second used to be an augmentation of the conflict, adding more tension; the third, also called as peripety is climax-like and the conflict achieves at the highest level and prepares for falling again; the fourth act, a so called retardation, the conflict does not end rapidly, but hesitantly, the tension decreases and finally the fifth act used either to be a happy end or a catastrophe - is here fully applicable: the Burnhams and their neighbour the Fitts being the exposition; Angela´s attractiveness for Lester, relationship between Ricky and Jane, and Ricky and Lester, Lester´s change of a working place, Carolyn´s affair with Buddy being the imaginary act two; the highlight could be both that Lester discovers his wife´s affair and Frank searches Ricky´s room and after seeing a nude video of Lester filmed by Ricky wrongly concludes that his son is homosexual and beats him; the retardation consists of the meeting between Lester and Frank in the garage and Lester´s attempt of making love with Angela. So, the function of the final scene serves the role of the fifth act according to Aristotle. As the description of the final scene above, the beginning piece of the final scene shows the pretended “healthy relationship”, as Lester once told, between Lester and Carolyn is broken due to affairs and their infidelities. We learned this since Lester is sitting totally in solitude and is somehow in agony in the kitchen in the night, because his wife does not return home yet. The switched off light and rain - some lighting and visual effects- may also have a function of providing a negative presentiment, for instance, somebody is crying and the raindrops symbolize the tears falling and the darkness leads we to imagine that something fatal or catastrophic could happen. Nonetheless, those family photograph demonstrates a positive feeling of being together and united and thus symbolizes a great reminiscence from the earlier time -in particular by analysing photograph´s colour, which is monochrome symbolizing that the time, beauty and happiness are ephemeral - making Lester to displace his anxiety since we see him smiling. ”Man, oh man… Man, oh man, oh man, oh man, oh man” as Lester´s last exclamation shows something not completely negative but something Lester is missing or so, which is in fact his family and he is missing the good old merry time they enjoyed. He died contently, not extremely painfully, - but brutally- which he ensures later in his narration by saying that he can hardly “to stay mad when there's so much beauty in the world.” It is in so far brutal and violent by shooting in his head, but camera turns away exactly at the moment where Lester was being shot making this short scene more acceptable to the viewer. Horrible is also the scene where Lester was lying afterward on the ground and blood coming out of his forehead. This is in so far necessary to make the viewer believe that Lester is really dead, a sort of convincing functions. However, Lester died smiling and the scene Ricky looking sneering at Lester´s body where firstly can be interpreted in a very negative manner now can be understood positively as that Ricky noticed Lester´s happiness from Lester´s inner world and respectfully smiles back at Lester, also a kind of beauty in the world . If we will have a closer look, a tiny trace of smile can be realized on Lester´s face. Besides, the red roses on the table should not to be ignored. Immediately, the viewer might remember the scenes of Lester´s hallucination on Angela where rose petals float everywhere. Here by seeing that family photograph, Lester may realized the importance of his family and similar to the roses - the symbol of love - as a whole on the table staying close together, so should the family and not like some single petals splitting up in every possible direction and the family is ruined when both Lester and Carolyn are having affairs respectively. Because Lester will be killed anyway, by his wife which we know already before, it is also useful just to show a part of the gun pointing at Lester´s head and make the murderer unknown which might have the function to increase the tension, otherwise it would be boring if one knows the killer and therefore no attention more could be paid for the subsequent scenes.