The American Dream is futile. There is not much point chasing after something that is pointless and unsatisfying once it is thought to be obtained. People thought that the American Dream was a measure of how successful you were in life. If you had a wife, two children, a nice house, two cars and a stable job you were the definition of success. If you didn’t have a few of those things, or had none at all, then you hadn’t succeeded in your life. That is not the case. Procuring the American Dream does nothing for the happiness you feel in your life.
In American Beauty, directed by Sam Mendes in 1999, the pursuit of the theme, the American Dream, is shown as futile and unsatisfying through the costume and outward appearance of Carolyn Burnham, the voiceover and body language of Lester Burnham and Lester’s flashbacks at the end of the film. In American Beauty Carolyn’s outward appearance displays the American Dream through the clothes that she wears and the way that she acts around others. Carolyn cares about what people think and takes pride in her appearance. “See the way the handle on her pruning shears matches her gardening clogs?
That’s not an accident. ” This idea is continued when she is cleaning up the house for the open home she takes off her dress so that it doesn’t get dirty and to make sure that she is still presentable for potential buyers of the property. It seems that Carolyn cares more about what people think of her than what she thinks of herself. She overlooks the fact that she is unhappy with her life because others perceive her as ‘having it all’. Even with this image she still doesn’t believe it. She keeps trying to take it further, to be better, by sleeping with Buddy Kane.
Carolyn sees Buddy, ‘The Real Estate King’, as at the top of the social ladder and her way to get there would be to sleep with him. She has lost sight of what is truly important to her to follow the path of what she perceives should be important, such as materialistic prosperity. I think that this is common in today’s society because people are striving for materialistic abundance rather than an abundance of loving family and friends. Desiring materialism is not guaranteed to make you happy. Yes you may have nice things that make you happy for the time being, but that won’t last.
Spending all your spare time consumed by work just so you can buy temporary happiness is not a way to make yourself content. This shows that chasing the American Dream is futile. It is not a way to make your life mean something. It is unsatisfying for anyone who chooses to follow it. Voiceover and the bar motif is effectively used in American Beauty to show the audience the imprisonment and lack of life in Lester’s character. During the opening scene you hear a dull, monotonous drawl as Lester describes his unexciting life and tedious job. “My name is Lester Burnham.
This is my neighbourhood; 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’m dead already. ” This shows Lester’s inability to be bothered with his life. He should be happy as he has the American Dream but he just isn’t satisfied with his life. He has spent too much time working in order to have enough money for Carolyn to carry out her materialistic dreams that he doesn’t have any free time for himself. Time to enjoy the possessions that he has acquired throughout his working life.
This shows that he isn’t working more because he likes his job, but because Carolyn wants the extra money. The bar motif is also used to show how Lester is trapped in his life. There are a series of camera shots that show Lester behind bars, such as when he is watching Carolyn pruning the roses from the window. The bars on the window make him look as though he is trapped inside the house, therefore trapped in his life. Also when he is at work there is a shot of Lester’s reflection on the computer screen in which columns of writing are arranged to look like bars.
This indicates that he is trapped both at home and at work. He doesn’t want to be stuck in this type of lifestyle. This is shown in today’s society through the children that are forced into a career because it’s what their parents want. Sometimes the children of doctors or lawyers feel pressured into taking the same career path as their parents just because their parents think that they are capable of doing the same thing, even if that’s not what they’re interested in. Lester displays this by sticking to his awful job just because Carolyn wants him there as part of her image of success.
Lester’s flashbacks at the end of the film, American Beauty, show that he has become content. He has given up on the idea of the American Dream and is finally doing something for himself, something that will actually make him happy. It was not enough for him to have a decent, well paying job. Lester wanted a job in which he could be truly happy, no matter the salary. A job that he wouldn’t mind getting up in the morning for because during the opening scene you can see his struggle to get out of bed in the morning and go to work.
In doing this for himself he defies Carolyn and the American Dream. Also at the end of the film Carolyn’s feelings towards the American Dream had changed. She lost all the happiness she had before the American Dream became a major part in her life because she became too greedy. She lost sight of what was important throughout the film and came to realize this towards the end, when it was almost too late. This is shown after Carolyn comes home to find Lester dead in the kitchen. There is a tracking shot as she runs into her room crying, opens the closet door and hugs Lester’s shirts.
She then falls into a mess on the floor as she realizes what she has lost. At this point she grasps the futility of pursuing the American Dream. How she lost love because she thought she wanted material prosperity. This conveys the message that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. It persuades the audience to focus on what is actually important rather than what is deemed to be important by society. To focus on the lasting love of family instead of the temporary pleasure of materialistic objects.
In the film American Beauty, directed by Sam Mendes, the American Dream is shown as futile through the actions of Carolyn and Lester Burnham. Carolyn’s actions for the majority of the film show that she is striving for the perfect life. She wants everything that defines the American Dream. Towards the end of the film Carolyn realizes that her idea of having everything is not the way she wants to live. Her views change and she comes to regard her love and happiness over her temporary materialistic pleasures.
Voice over, the bar motif and flashbacks are used to show the change in Lester’s way of living. At the beginning of the film voice over is used to show how unhappy Lester is with his life and the bar motif is used to show how trapped he is at work and at home. As the film progresses Lester’s attitude changes and he becomes happier as he rids himself of the futile American Dream. Right at the very end Lester’s flashbacks show that his life has become much more enjoyable once he eliminated the American Dream from his lifestyle. This shows that the American Dream is unsatisfactory and futile to pursue.