Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

American Beauty (1999)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

American Beauty (1999)

In Sam Mendes' Academy Award-winning Best Picture:

  • Lester Burnham's (Oscar-winning Kevin Spacey) opening voice-over as he awoke and then masturbated in the shower, described his unhappy life - and foreshadowed his own death: "My name is Lester Burnham. This is my neighborhood. 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. Look at me, jerking off in the shower. This will be the high point of my day. It's all downhill from here. That's my wife Carolyn. See the way the handle on those pruning shears match her gardening clogs? That's not an accident. That's our neighbor, Jim, and that's his lover, Jim...Man, I get exhausted just watching her. She wasn't always like this. She used to be happy. We used to be happy. My daughter, Jane. Only child. Janie's a pretty typical teenager - angry, insecure, confused. I wish I could tell her that's all going to pass, but I don't want to lie to her...Both my wife and daughter think I'm this gigantic loser. And they're right. I have lost something. I'm not exactly sure what it is, but I know I didn't always feel this -- sedated. But you know what? It's never too late to get it back"
  • the stark dinner table scene in which Lester non-chalantly told his family he had quit his job: ("...and then I told my boss to go f--k himself, and then I blackmailed him for almost $60,000. Pass the asparagus"); frustrated for not being listened to, he tossed the asparagus plate at the wall
  • the scene of Lester's entrancement with high school teen blonde vamp Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari); she made her dramatic entrance during a half-time Dancing Spartanette routine to the tune of "On Broadway"; the music slowed down as Lester, sitting high in the bleachers, became entranced, transfixed and focused on Angela; staring at her and sexually desirous of her in his fantasies, his jaw dropped as the spotlight fell on her and she became the only one on the gym-floor in his view - and he was the only one in the stands; she teasingly winked at him and then performed (in his projective mind) a personal, one-on-one clothed striptease for him - she gave a knowing look, then unzipped the front of her uniform, causing a torrent and profusion of red rose petals to spill forth from her bare chest
  • the digitally-created fresh rose petals - fantasies in the mind of Lester - that often covered the seductive image of Angela
The Red Rose Petals Theme
  • after meeting Angela, a friend of his 16 year-old daughter Jane (Thora Birch), Lester fantasized about her in a bathtub covered with rose petals - in reality he was caught masturbating during sleep next to his shocked, disgusted and cold-hearted wife Carolyn (Annette Bening); Lester at first denied it, then admitted: "Oh, all right. So shoot me. I was whackin' off. That's right. I was chokin' the bishop, chafin' the carrot. You know, sayin' 'hi' to my monster....Well, excuse me, but some of us still have blood pumping through our veins"
  • the videotaped image (made by next-door drug pusher Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley)) of an empty plastic bag swirling around and around in the wind in an empty parking lot and his revelation: (Do you want to see the most beautiful thing I've ever filmed? 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. And this bag was just, dancing with me, like a little kid beggin' me to play with it - for fifteen minutes. And that's the day I realized that there was this entire life behind things, and this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know that there was no reason to be afraid, ever. Video's a poor excuse, I know. But it helps me remember - I need to remember. Sometimes, there's so much beauty in the world - I feel like I can't take it, like my heart is just going to cave in")
  • the scene at the fast-food burger joint: ("Smile! You're at Mr. Smiley's") when Lester served his adulterous wife Carolyn when she was driving through with her trysting partner Buddy 'The King' of Real Estate Buddy Kane (Peter Gallagher)
  • the scene in which Lester's homosexual neighbor - retired Marine Col. Frank Fitts (Chris Cooper), who had misunderstood and thought that Lester was gay, confronted him in his open garage during a rainstorm and kissed him; Lester rebuffed him: "I'm sorry. Y-You got the wrong idea"
Awkward Homosexual Kiss from Col. Fitts
Aborted Seduction Scene with Angela
  • the actual seduction scene of the vulnerable, seemingly-slutty and surprisingly virginal Angela, when Lester opened her blouse and removed her pants, but it was aborted when she confessed: "This is my first time...I'm sorry. I still want to do it"
  • the shocking ending in which Lester was shot in the back of the head by an unseen intruder (Col. Fitts); at the moment of his death, Lester spoke in 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.... 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"

Lester Waking Up and Showering

Stark Dinner Table Sequence

Ricky's Videotape of Plastic Bag Dancing in Wind

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

Lester's Murder

Gay Neighbor - Marine Col. Fitts (Chris Cooper)


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