American Beauty is one of my all time favorite movies.
The film won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (for Spacey), Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography.
It’s basically about an average white middleclass American family going through their various crises – clichés like the angry teenager and the classic male/female midlife crisis.
Using these clichés, the movie exquisitely reveals some of the most difficult phases in life, and demonstrates for us just how wisdom can be cultivated through personal growth.
In one of the best scenes, Ricky, a teenage boy, is talking to his new friend, Jane.
“Want to see the most beautiful thing I’ve ever filmed?”
On the video, the scene was in a parking lot on a cold, gray day. Something is floating across the screen… it’s an empty plastic bag, seemingly dancing with a life of its own. The wind carries it in a circle, sometimes whipping it about violently, or, without warning, sending it soaring skyward, then letting it float gracefully down to the ground.
Ricky is smiling as he watches, and he says:
” 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.
And that’s the day I knew there was this entire life behind things, and … there is this incredibly benevolent force … that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid. …Ever.
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.”
Intense emotion is part of what marks life’s transition to ‘teenager’. It’s a stage of self-discovery and identity, and although it can be very exciting, these emotions can be overwhelming, sometimes to the point of contemplating suicide. Finding a way to handle them is one of this stages greatest challenges.
The film continues to take the viewer through various enactments that (can) lead to life changing decisions.
In the final scene of the movie, Lester, the main character, has similar observations about life as Ricky did, but he has the advantage of time and experience. He is content. And then he is shot.
As his mind drifts, he recalls special moments in his life: …His wife, Carolyn, cutting roses from the garden… fresh-cut roses in a vase on the kitchen counter… the faucet as drops of water gather at the tip before falling…and the last drop is a shining sphere filled with light and beauty… his daughter, Janie, 7 years old, dressed for Halloween in a princess costume.
Next scene – it’s the video Ricky showed Jane earlier, of the empty white plastic bag being blown about by the wind. It carries it in a circle as it moves skyward then letting it float gracefully down to the ground. He says:
“I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what just 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.”