Filmsite Movie Review
American Beauty (1999)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

New Ventures for Carolyn and Lester:

At an indoor firing range, Carolyn had become an accomplished shooter during practice with a Glock 19 automatic revolver. The firing range attendant (Matthew Kimbrough) was complimentary: "When you first came here, I thought you would be hopeless, but you're a natural." After releasing stress, she was in good spirits driving home in her Mercedes, enthusiastically singing along with Bobby Darin's "Don't Rain on My Parade." When she entered her own driveway, a vintage car - a 1970 red Pontiac Firebird with racing stripes, was blocking access to the garage.

Inside the house, bare-footed Lester (with his feet up in the living room) was playing with a remote-controlled red Jeep that was careening around the downstairs - he had adopted a new less serious, and more selfish attitude toward life. She tapped her fingernails at the door's entryway to alert Lester to her question: "Whose car is that out front?" He admitted he had traded in his stodgy Camry for the flashy sports car: "The car I've always wanted and now I have it. I rule!" He complimented her on her looks, for once: "Have you done something different? You look great," and hinted that they were alone in the house. He joined her on the couch and again intimated: "We have the whole house to ourselves. (she was unamused) Christ, Carolyn. When did you become so joyless?" She snapped back:

Carolyn: "Joyless? I am not joyless! There happens to be a lot about me that you don't know, Mr. Smarty Man. There's plenty of joy in my life."
Lester: (leaning into her and getting close to her face) "Whatever happened to that girl who used to fake seizures at frat parties when she got bored? Who used to run up to the roof of our first apartment building to flash the traffic helicopters? Have you totally forgotten about her? Because I haven't."

When they were just about to kiss each other, she ruined the mood by reverting to her materialistic tendencies, and admonished him to avoid spilling beer on their $4,000 Italian silk couch: "You're gonna spill beer on the couch." He hated that she reminded him again of how she represented propriety, rigidity, uptightness, and perfectionism. Lester asked: "So what? It's just a couch." She vehemently disagreed with him: "This is not just a couch!" He pounded one of the pillows into the couch to accentuate each word: "It's - Just - A - Couch!", and then gestured toward all of their consumer possessions to teach her a lesson:

This isn't life! This is just stuff. And it's become more important to you than living. Well, honey, that's just nuts.

As she left the room on the verge of crying, he called after her as she ran upstairs: "I'm only trying to help you."

Jane and Ricky - Their Feelings About Their Fathers:

Jane again asked Ricky (stripped naked) to stop filming her: "It's weird, watching myself. I don't like how I look," and refused to be told that she was beautiful: "I'm not gonna sit here for that shit." She took control of the camera and turned it on him, and asked how he felt being 'naked' (or vulnerable) in front of the lens. Her question about his long incarceration in a hospital brought a long answer, revealing his long-standing hatred for his disciplinary father:

When I was fifteen, my dad caught me smoking dope. He totally freaked and decided to send me to military school. I told you this whole thing about structure and discipline, right? Well, of course, I got kicked out. Dad and I had this huge fight. He hit me, and the next day at school, some kid made a crack about my haircut, and I just snapped. I wanted to kill him. I would've killed him if they hadn't pulled me off. That's when my dad put me in the hospital. Then they drugged me up and left me in there for two years.

As they smoked a joint together, he commiserated with her about how she felt about her own hated father. He filmed her as she described how upset she was about his inappropriate feelings towards Angela. She expressed how she wanted him to be killed to relieve him of his misery. [Note: The scene was a reprise of the film's opening prologue]:

He's a total asshole. He's got this crush on my friend Angela, and it's disgusting...It'd be nice if I was anywhere near as important to him as she is. I know you think my dad's harmless, but you're wrong. He's doing massive psychological damage to me...How could he not be damaging me? I need a father who's a role model, not some horny geek­boy who's gonna spray his shorts whenever I bring a girlfriend home from school. What a lame-o. Someone really should just put him out of his misery.

Ricky volunteered to help: "Want me to kill him for you?" She sat up and asked: "Yeah, would you?" She had been saving babysitting money that amounted to about $3,000, and could use it to pay him. A boob job that she had planned on having could wait. He wasn't sure she was entirely serious: "You know, that's not a very nice thing to do, hiring somebody to kill your dad." She admitted she was "not a very nice girl," but then said she was just putting him on: "You know I'm not serious, right?" They were beginning to have feelings for each other: "You know how lucky we are to have found each other?"

Premonitions of Problems, and Misunderstandings About Lester:

From a bird's eye view above the neighborhood, Lester again narrated:

(voice-over) Remember those posters that said, 'Today is the first day of the rest of your life?' Well, that's true of every day except one. The day you die.

Lester had whipped his body into superb physical shape and was swiftly jogging down the street, with headphones playing The Who's "The Seeker." After his run, he fixed himself a high-protein smoothie shake in his kitchen, where he listened as Jane asked her mother for permission to have Angela again spend the night, although they hadn't been seen together for awhile. Jane confronted her dad about her embarrassment over his behavior toward her friend: "Dad! You stare at her all the time, like you're drunk! It's disgusting!" Lester warned her about bitchiness that could be hereditarily passed on from Carolyn:

You better watch yourself, Janie, or you're gonna turn into a real bitch, just like your mother.

Next door, when Ricky left for school with Carolyn and Jane, the Colonel watched as Lester gestured for Ricky to call him (for his next pot purchase). Fearing that his son was gay, however, Ricky's troubled father interpreted the gesture as a personal one. He rummaged through Ricky's room looking for drugs or other incriminating evidence, and happened to play a few of his son's video-cam recordings. He found and played Ricky's video footage of Lester working out in the nude, filmed through the garage window, and wrongly concluded that both his son and Lester were gay and involved in a homosexual relationship.

Carolyn's Adulterous Affair Revealed:

Lester reported for work at the fast-food burger joint, flipping burgers, when he heard his wife's voice ordering at the drive-thru window - with a second order from a male voice. At the pick-up window, Lester watched as his adulterous wife Carolyn (who had just had another sexual "workout") was being kissed by her trysting partner Buddy. He startled them both with the cheerful catchphrase:

Smile! You're at Mr. Smiley's.

Carolyn lied about having just attended a seminar with Buddy. But Lester wasn't fooled and had caught them red-handed, as he reminded Buddy: "We've met before, but something tells me you're going to remember me this time." He was facetious with the busted couple: "Honey, it's okay. I want you to be happy. Would you like Smiley Sauce with that?" When she ordered him to "stop it," he rebutted her: "No, no. You don't get to tell me what to do. Ever again."

Later, in the Top Hat motel parking lot, both Buddy and Carolyn decided to "cool it" because of his own "potentially very expensive divorce." Carolyn agreed and understood: "In order to be successful, one must project an image of success at all times." However, she realized that she had not lived up to her credo. She caught herself crying in a despairing moment of weakness, but ordered herself to "Stop it!" - followed by a primal scream.

Lester's Pot-Deal with Ricky Misinterpreted by Colonel Fitts:

Now looking fit and mean, Lester continued to pump iron in his modified garage during a heavy rain, to the tune of Free's "All Night Long," He admired his toned muscles, but showed frustration that his hidden bag of pot was empty. He paged Ricky's beeper for a refill, but Ricky gave an excuse to his uneasy and watchful parents about going next door to return Jane's geometry book.

Meanwhile, Angela was driving Jane home in her BMW and intrusively inquisitive about her sex life: "So you and psycho boy are fucking on like, a regular basis now, right?...Come on. You can tell me. Does he have a big dick?...Why don't you want to talk about it? I mean, I tell you every single detail about every guy that I fuck." Jane became irritated and annoyed by the prying questions and didn't want to talk about it, causing Angela to complain: "Oh, so now that you have a boyfriend, you're like, above it? We gotta get you a real man."

Through the Fitts' kitchen window, the Colonel peeped into the Burnham's garage and saw Lester (without a shirt) give Ricky a wad of bills and put his arm around him. Fitts watched as Ricky squatted down to instruct Lester on how to roll a joint, while Lester reclined back with his head cradled in his hands. From the Colonel's POV, with a window divider in the way, he thought his son was performing oral sex on Lester, when he was only rolling him a joint. When Angela's car pulled into the driveway, causing both Ricky and Lester to panic and scurry away, Fitts was incredulous - now confirming for himself that both of them were gay.

Lester was cooly posed in the kitchen, ready to show his new physique off to Angela, and as expected, she admired his brawn: "Wow! Look at you. Have you been working out?...You can really tell. Look at those arms." She flirtatiously reached out and felt his biceps, and he asked: "You like muscles?" She was suddenly made insecure and intimidated by his new forward attitude.

When Ricky returned him, his father pounced and asked about the wad of cash in his hand. Ricky denied what his father was implying: ("I saw you with him...What did he make you do?") - that he had been paid for sex by Lester. The Colonel was furious about their suspected liaison: "I will not sit back and watch my only son become a cocksucker!" He backhanded Ricky across the face and threatened expulsion from the house: "I swear to God, I'll throw you out of this house and never look at you again....I'd rather you were dead than be a fuckin' faggot." Ricky decided to give in to his father and admit being gay rather than being a drug-dealer:

You're right. I suck dick for money...Two thousand dollars. I'm that good...And you should see me fuck. I'm the best piece of ass in three states.

Ricky anticipated the violent reaction his father would have - he was thrown out of the house: ("Get out!! I don't ever want to see you again!"), as he expected, and he welcomed being freed from his father's tyranny. His last words to his father were: "What a sad old man you are." He then calmly said goodbye to his frightened, but passive mother in the kitchen who had overheard their argument, and told her: "I wish things would have been better for you. Take care of Dad." He rushed next door to the Burnhams.

In Jane's bedroom in the next scene (after Carolyn's breakdown), Jane and Angela were at odds with each other. Jane questioned their friendship ("I don't think we can be friends anymore") due to their vastly-different attitudes - mostly about sex. Angela even dared to defy Jane's wish ("Just don't fuck my dad, all right? Please!") - and non-chalantly responded: "Why not?" Ricky entered and asked if Jane would join him in running away to live in New York that evening. Angela rebuked the idea and advised Jane: "You guys can't be serious. You're just a kid. And he's like, a mental case. You'll end up living in a box on the street." Ricky said they could live off his drug earnings of $40,000 dollars, and could get set up in the city with assistance from other drug-dealing friends. Angela claimed that she was Jane's caring friend, but Ricky warned Jane about Angela's phony and fraudulent facade that Jane had been using to prop up her low self-esteem:

She's not your friend. She's somebody you use to feel better about yourself.

When Angela continued calling the non-conformist Ricky a "psycho" and a "freak," Jane sided with him - and the two female teens had a major falling out. Ricky even called her what she had earlier feared - ordinary:

Jane: "Well, then, so am I! And we'll always be freaks and we'll never be like other people. And you'll never be a freak 'cause you're just too perfect."
Angela: "Yeah, well, at least I'm not ugly."
Ricky: "Yes, you are. And you're boring. And you're totally ordinary. And you know it."
Angela: "You two deserve each other."

Angela sat sobbing on the stairs.

Carolyn's Breakdown on the Freeway:

On a rainy freeway that same evening, Carolyn's SUV was parked on the side of the road with its flashers blinking. She was listening to one of her motivational tapes about the importance of 'me-centered' living and the prevention of victimhood: "Only by taking full responsibility for your actions - and their solutions - will you ever break free from the constant cycle of victimhood. You are only a victim if you choose to be a victim. We all have the power..." She opened her glove compartment and reached for her Glock 19 revolver. Moments later, she was repeating the mantra: "I refuse to be a victim," and put the revolver in her purse. She drove off to return home, to resolutely confront Lester.

The Mistaken Homosexual Encounter in the Garage Between Colonel Fitts and Lester:

After the flare-up in Jane's bedroom, Lester was performing pull-ups in the garage when he saw a transfixed and staring Fitts approaching, soaking wet. Lester opened his garage door and wondered if he was there to speak to Ricky: "You want me to get Ricky? He's in Jane's room." He asked if everything was OK with the Colonel, who appeared disoriented and didn't respond. Lester also added that his wife was not home and blithely speculated she was promiscuously involved:

Probably out fucking that dorky prince of real estate asshole. And you know what? I don't care....Our marriage is just for show. A commercial for how normal we are, when we are anything but. (both grinned)...

A repressed gay man, Fitts felt that he had been given a go-ahead invitation to proceed. Lester noticed him shaking from the cold rain, and suggested non-sexually: "We really ought to get you out of these clothes," and he put his hands on Fitts' shoulders. The Colonel faltered and hesitated with intense embarrassment: "" as Lester encouraged him: "Just tell me what you need." Fitts crumpled into Lester's embrace, and then kissed him. Lester was stunned and gently rebuffed him:

Oh, Whoa, whoa, whoa. I'm sorry. Y-You got the wrong idea.

Shamed and broken, Fitts staggered away and would not forget his intense shame at the emotional slight.

Angela's Aborted 'Seduction' by Lester:

Lester - with a beer in his hand - left the kitchen when he heard Neil Young's "Don't Let It Bring You Down," played by Angela on the living room's stereo. He asked in a fatherly way if she was having a "bad night." They both concurred that they were experiencing "strange" evenings. Angela explained her breakup with Jane: "Jane and I had a fight. It was about you. She's mad at me because I said I think you're sexy." After she took a sip of his beer, he bluntly invited her to seduce him: "So, you gonna tell me? What do you want?" She reversed the question back to him: "I don't know...What do you want?" The seemingly-slutty Angela wanted to hear him praise her beauty and un-ordinary-ness before proceeding, and he complied:

Lester: "Are you kidding? I want you. I've wanted you ever since the first moment I saw you. You are the most beautiful thing I have ever seen." (he kissed her forehead)
Angela: "You don't think I'm ordinary?"
Lester: "You couldn't be ordinary if you tried." (he continued kissing her cheek and neck)
Angela: "Thank you. I don't think there's anything worse than being ordinary."

Before the seduction of the very vulnerable young teen in the family's living room, Angela reclined back onto the sofa as he pulled off her jeans. He caressed her long legs and her face before unbuttoning and opening her blouse to reveal and expose her naked breasts. But then, in spite of all her braggadocio about sex, she confessed that she was surprisingly-virginal: "This is my first time." He laughed: "You're kidding." She nervously apologized: "I'm sorry. I still want to do it. I just thought I should tell you in case you wondered why I wasn't. better." He realized that he must appropriately decline. After he aborted intercourse, Angela was confused by his inaction: "What's wrong? I thought you said I was beautiful." He assured her: "You are beautiful. You are so beautiful - and I would be a very lucky man." Interpreting his refusal as a personal rejection of her beauty, she was humiliated: "I feel so stupid," but he gently told her: "Dont...You have nothing to be sorry about...It's OK, everything's OK" - and hugged her.

The Shocking But Inevitable Ending:

As Carolyn pulled up in front of the house, the bright red front door came into focus. Lester had fixed Angela a turkey sandwich in the kitchen, to bring about some normalcy, when she admitted: "I'm still a little weirded out, but I feel better." He asked about his daughter Jane's temperament and life:

Lester: "How's Jane...I mean, how's her life? Is she happy? Is she miserable? I'd really like to know, and she'd die before she'd ever tell me about it."
Angela: "She's, uh, she's really happy. (she rolled her eyes) She thinks she's in love."
Lester: (smiling) "Good for her."

He was surprised when she asked about his state of mind: "God, it's been a long time since anybody asked me that. (pause) I'm great." She left to go to the bathroom. Contented by his answer to her ("I'm great"), he picked up the framed family photograph on the counter, and wistfully looked at it while seated at the kitchen table. He reacted after intently studying it - reaching an epiphany: "Man, oh man. Man, oh man, oh man." There was a significantly-placed vase of blood-red roses on the table in front of him.

The film's ending was still a shock when Lester's death actually played out. Lester was shot in the back of the head by an unseen intruder. As the camera panned slowly toward the right, a gun slowly appeared on the right side of the frame, and then after slowly panning back to the left, the white-tiled kitchen wall was splattered with blood and brains sailing through the air. Daughter Janie and her boyfriend Ricky Fitts, who were upstairs (they had been lying on red-tinged bedsheets in her bedroom) and were alerted to the gunshots, were the first to enter the kitchen and see the deep red blood and body. Jane reacted simply: "Oh, my God!" Ricky stared and smiled quizzically at the sight of Lester's enigmatically-smiling face resting (with his eyes open) in his own pool of blood ("Wow!"). Had Lester ultimately found his own vision of 'beauty' and happiness?

Lester's voice-over narration began, returning to a few seconds before a fatal gunshot sounded in the kitchen. A number of gunshots were heard during his flashbacked narration - although there was only one deadly shot.

(voice-over) I had 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.

Flying over a blanket of clouds, he described some of the meaningful experiences of his life (with a flashbacked montage of images, some black and white from the past):

(voice-over) For me, it was lying on my back at Boy Scout camp, watching falling stars. (gunshot) And yellow leaves from the maple trees that lined our street. (gunshot)

In the Burnham home's bathroom where she was applying red lipstick, teenaged Angela turned toward the sound of a gunshot.

(voice-over) Or my grandmother's hands and the way her skin seemed like paper.

With a gun in her hand, deep red-dressed Carolyn was approaching the front door of the house in the rain when she heard the distant gunshot .

(voice-over) And the first time I saw my cousin Tony's brand-new Firebird.

Following the gunshot, the dazed Col. Fitts had rushed into his home, where he was shown wearing latex gloves and breathing heavily - with blood on his white T-shirt. His gun rack showed one conspicuously-missing weapon. Lester's death came from one shot to the head by his shamed, violently repressed and latent homosexual neighbor: Marine Col. Frank Fitts. The self-loathing and conflicted Fitts felt shamed that he had earlier misinterpreted Lester's friendship in the garage and had kissed him, but had his advances rejected.

(voice-over) And Janie. And Janie. And Carolyn.

Lester imagined four year-old Janie in a Princess costume with a lighted sparkler. Carolyn entered her home and went into a manic breakdown. She opened the front closet door and stuffed her gun in a clothes' hamper, and then pulled some of the hanging clothes (with Lester's scent) to her face as she wailed uncontrollably. Undoubtedly, Lester had been murdered by Colonel Fitts - not by her. Lester lovingly imagined Carolyn happily laughing on a spinning-cup amusement ride.

And despite his death, Lester expressed his redemptive, enlightened feelings of "gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life" - as the video of the white plastic bag randomly whirled about in the wind. He had found the beauty he was looking for - but only at the moment of his death. His last words essentially reminded everyone of the ubiquitous reality of death that would occur "someday" for all. A birds-eye flying aerial view of the neighborhood was zoomed backwards toward the sky as the voice-over concluded:

(voice-over) 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: (the screen went black) you will someday.

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