Sunday, April 27, 2008

American Beauty

I was discussing movies with Swati today when she asks me " what do you really like about this movie ? " while we were discussing American Beauty. Humm!! I'd never given it so much of thought.

The movie begins with Kevin Spacey introducing himself in the narrative. " My name is Lester less than a year I will be dead. Of course I don't know that yet, and in a way, I am dead already." Now that simply "kills" the prospect of having an interesting climax, does it not?

Next, we know that Lester's life is beset by sexual frustrations and he decides to take matters in his own hands, in the only way he likes - literally. His sarcasm only goes to highlight his depression when he says "this will be the high point of my day. It's all downhill from here." Can it really catch your interest?

"My job consists of basically masking my contempt for the assholes in charge", says Lester, who in his own words, has, for 14 years, been a whore for the advertising industry. In the first 10 minutes of the movie, one cannot overlook the dialogues which are humourous and brutally honest. But you're left wondering where does all this lead to?

" It's a great thing when you realize you still have the ability to surprise yourself." The debutant director Sam Mendes definitely believes in this adage and also in his characters and the script. Add to that the memorable sound track and cinematography that's from the top drawer. The ingredients seemed well set for a perfect recipe, but the seasoning which the audiences savoured long after the movies release in 1999 was provided by Kevin Spacey. In his oscar winning performance, Spacey gets us to love the loser. He suddenly emerges from the stereotypes and turns them upside down.

" Today is the first day of the rest of your life ". He revels in the decay and disharmony of his miserable life as he finds inspiration in the form of a mini-skirted Angela Hayes, his daughter's cheerleader friend. His lust for the teenager brings back all the exuberance of his adolescent years as Lester takes to weed, the gym and a job at a burger joint. With some unforgettable tracks from Bob Dylan and The Who in the background, Lester seems to catch up on all the joys lost during his apparently comatose years.

This however is not lost on his family. " I need a father who's a role model, not some horny geek-boy who's gonna spray his shorts every time I bring a girlfriend home from school." says Jane, who's yet to experience and appreciate paternal affection. And now you suddenly witness the dark humour of Lesters life, with greater emphasis on the dark side. The movie reaches the climax, encompassing whiplash changes of mood, orchestrated with exquisite control and fluid grace. Lesters life, unlike what the movies posters and his fantasies had us believe, is no bed of roses. And with the movie, his life comes to an end.

But it is not without its share of irony, neatly wrapped under layers of poignancy. There is a scene where Ricky, Jane's wierdo of a boyfriend is transfixed by an image of a plastic bag caught on video, whipped around by the wind in an empty parking lot.
" It was one of those days when it's a minute away from snowing and there's this electricity in the air. This bag was, like, dancing with me. And that's the day I knew there was this entire life behind things." That probably sums up what Sam Mendes wanted audiences to see through the eyes of all his neatly sketched characters in American Beauty.

I'm still to get over Lester's posthumous soliloquy,

"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. 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 really 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."

I certainly have no idea of what it is to experience the last second of my life. I 'm left wondering what images will flash in front of my eyes in the last 100 metres of my free-fall. As it stands, I'm sure I've certainly not lived a great life, not great enough to die for. But a movie like American Beauty does open my eyes. It inspires me to savour every moment of my life and render it worthy of a pleasant viewing as it flashes in front of my eyes, someday.


MISSquoted** said...

What makes this movie so special for me? The fact that it chooses it's characters with much deliberation, concentrating on variety. So we have our quintessential loser Mr. Spacey who ups his quotient by giving us that lopsided, defeated smile and cribs constantly. But his wife who is going through hard days, and is possibly as much of a 'loser' at her work as is her lets-stay-together-for-the-sake-of-janie betrothed. But she draws the curtains and cries. Janie finds solace in the strong arms of her lover, on his bed no less. And her best friend takes delicate steps towards Mr. Loser himself, in her flimsy underwear. Everyone is battling their demons in their own special way, and then running of for a jog to sweat it out. American beauty lies in a flying bag, it lies in a maple trees and papery thin skin, it lies in the intensity of love, lust and locking away your secrets, it lies in these intense moments through your mundane lives. And more than anything else it lies in the fact that its diversity converges at that final moment of wakefulness, when no matter who you are you will remember and relive you own beautous flashes stretching on forever.

Sudhir pai said...


well said! This comment of yours will be highly quoted in the future, madame!

Speaking of which, it occurs to me that I'd hardly thought so much about the other characters in the movie.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure I've certainly not lived a great life, not great enough to die for.

But great enough to be lived out.

/aside (That was the only sentence in the whole post that caught my eye. :) )

Sudhir pai said...

Really?? That was the only one??

Indisch said...

Hey, great post dude! If only other things were as easy!

Sudhir pai said...

were as easy?? I didn't get that. But thanks for the compliments,amrit!

Randomizer said...

Man, 'American beauty' and 'Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind' are two movies that are going to be really hard to beat on my list.

Both these movies have the most amazing soundtracks, casts and direction. Few scenes in film history will be as memorable as the last minute of American Beauty... especially the seemingly ordinary but immensely beautiful scene of the plastic bag dancing in the wind... with of course, the amazing narration by Kevin Spacey.

I must've seen this 5 times already and each time, you notice and admire a new scene or line from the film. I can't wait to watch it again :)

Sudhir Pai said...

@ randomizer:
oh...i gotta try this...i'll watch american beauty again. :)

and i cannot tell you enough abt how much i admire spacey as an actor!

have you watched 21 ?