Free agency, it’s something that Americans have fought wars to obtain, and wars to avoid. Humanity has a love-hate relationship with personal responsibility, but as we all know, there are some people who hate it more than others. People who never want to take responsibility for their actions and people that expect everyone else to take care of their problems. Then there are those who think that at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what we do, what is going to happen is going to happen, it’s fate, destiny, whatever you want to call it, it’s unstoppable. The individual doesn’t stand a chance against the powerful forces of the universe whether they are working for or against them. Of course, it’s easy to imagine who would benefit from a public who universally believed this. That no matter what they did, things would all just happen the way that they are supposed to and there’s nothing you can do as an individual to stop it.
This is the underlying message found in the film that won the Oscar for best picture in 1999. A time before 9/11, and the perpetual wars we’ve been fighting in the middle east since. A time before the mass adoption of the most powerful propaganda and surveillance tool of all time, the smart phone, and a time before the Patriot Act that allowed the ruling class to use this technology against its own people. A film aptly named: “American Beauty.”
American Beauty was produced by Steven Spielberg’s Dreamworks and the Cohen Company. It was written by Alan Ball, directed by Sam Mendes, and stared the now infamously alleged gay, pedophile, rapist, Kevin Spacey. In many ways, American Beauty is a movie about fate and how leftist boomers dealt with one thing that is in fact inevitable, getting old. At least that’s the surface level story line that the movie critics would write about. What they would leave out of their rave reviews is that it was a film about the inevitability of many things, specifically pedophilia, infidelity, homosexuality, drug use, and murder. But what else did you expect, after all, it won best picture.
The film opens with a bit of misdirection, which is appropriate for a film that is itself a piece of misdirection. We see a young woman who is being recorded by who we presume is her boyfriend. She complains that her father is pathetically hitting on her friends and that someone should put him out of his misery to which the man behind the camera seems to agree to do just that. This is opening is a complex device with several moving pieces. It accomplishes several things at once all the while grabbing the attention of the audience and misdirecting them with the skill of a magician. First, the most obvious thing that is happening is that the audience is being led to believe that whoever is behind the camera is going to kill her father, because of the voyeuristic amateur handheld angle, and the first person perspective of this scene, there is something else happening.
Films almost never use a first person perspective because it changes how people relate to the scene. When an actor makes eye contact with audience it makes people feel uneasy because it shatters the illusion that they are simply a fly on the wall in this alternate universe but they have now become participants in the story, if executed correctly, or it might have the opposite effect if executed poorly and the audience is no longer able to suspend their disbelief and becomes painfully aware that they are watching a movie.
In the case of American Beauty, it is expertly executed. Watch as the actress goes from completely ignoring the audience, then when the voice from behind the camera, or the audience suggests murdering her father, she slowly brings all of her attention all of her focus and puts it directly on you through the camera lens with an intensity you can feel.
So right at the beginning in a subtle way, the filmmakers have just simulated a situation in which many of the viewers especially the younger viewers near her age, even if it’s just in a subconscious way, want to kill her father. And if that’s not enough of a mind fuck, the baby boomers in the audience watching this same scene likely have an additional takeaway that is lost on the younger viewers. The fear of being old and lame, the subject of this ridicule, not cool, disgusting to young women and so much so they want to kill you. We’re not even a minute into the film and some of the oldest parts of the brain, the animal brain that is susceptible to suggestion has been lit up like a Christmas tree.
We now shift to an areal shot of Anytown USA and listen to the narration of Kevin Spacey’s character, Lester Burnum, the man whose murder was just being contemplated and to the surprise of many in the audience, right after introducing himself he says something that main characters in movies never say:
“I’m 42 years old, and in less than a year, I will be dead.”
By telling the audience how the story must inevitably ends before it begins, it changes how they will perceive the rest of the film. Lester’s fate has already been written. We know that no matter what he does, no matter what decision he makes, he is going to die. The future is already written and he has no control over his destiny.
We then go through a montage of life that is eerily similar to many of the movies of that era. The late 1990s was the decade after the booming 80s and the dot com bubble was about to burst. Companies seemed hellbent on using technology, cubicles, and efficiency experts, to squeeze every last drop of productivity out of the american worker. A movie that does an excellent job of covering this phenomenon is Office Space, which I highly recommend if you haven’t seen it, but this was a reality that was reflected in several movies including Fight Club and even The Matrix. The late 90s was a time of corporate oligarchs micromanaging their wage slaves to a degree never before seen in history and it was taking it’s toll on the sanity on Americans, or as they said in Office Space:
“We don’t have a lot of time on this earth! We weren’t meant to spend it this way. Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about about mission statements.”
Lester is an unwilling participant in this system. On top of that his wife is cold and dissatisfied with him. She is a feminist and her feminism has successfully fooled her into aspiring to be a good taxpayer even if it means being a terrible mother. Lester lives next door to a gay couple, who, and this probably has nothing at all with the writer being gay, are perfect in every way and are the only positive role models in the entire movie.
The films does what Hollywood movies have been doing for decades. It attempts to humiliate straight white men and show them as inferior to the women in their lives, no surprises there, so lets move on.
After experiencing a slice of the unhappy family’s miserable life, Lester the aging boomer goes to a high school basketball game to see his cheerleader daughter. It’s not long before he begins fantasizing about one of his daughter’s friends.
He becomes infatuated with her and behaves like, well, kind of like a straight Kevin Spacey would have acted in that situation. His daughter’s friend, to his delight and to the horror of his daughter is receptive and flirtatious.
Here is where I want to interject something:
I was very young when this movie came out and I believe I saw it at a friends house right after it went on video, might have even been on VHS. I thought this actress, Mena Suvari, was the hottest girl in the world or close to it and honestly, I just watched the movie because I was hoping she would be topless in this film. Think of how many subconscious messages get planted into the minds of young people who just want to see an actress naked or watch dinosaurs fight. There is so much of this movie, and many others that I watched when I was younger and I was completely unaware of the subversive programming that was going on. Its especially unnerving thinking about this knowing that I wasn’t exactly just some mindless NPC, I was just young and stupid. The power that these people have in shaping our culture and politics can not be overstated, at any rate, back to the story.
We now really meet the man behind the camera. The audience is brought back into the first person perspective as we watch an awkwardly long shot of Lester’s daughter Jane, the girl from the intro to the movie, walking up the path in front of her house, and once again she makes eye contact with the audience. This time the audience is spared playing the part of the camera man when her neighbor, Ricky Fitts formally becomes part of the story by coming out of the shadows. Jane seems to dislike him immediately for being creepy, but secretly enjoys the attention.
Speaking of being creepy, the next morning Lester sneaks into his daughter’s room while she is taking a shower and calls up her hot friend only to hang up on her like the juvenile he is reverting into. The so called midlife crisis that seemed to plague that erupted in the baby boomers was beginning to take hold. This is something we will see snowball and is not entirely inaccurate. I had friends with creepy baby boomer parents that would show up, especially after a divorce, to our parties and try to hit on women. It was if one day they just woke up and realized they were adults and in an act they would likely characterize as defiance but i would characterize as denial, they would try to live as if the previous 20 years had never happened. I don’t think this film was promoting this behavior by accurately depicting it, I think it was promoting this behavior by actively excusing it.
We now meet Ricky Fitt’s family. His father is Hollywood’s stereotype of a conservative, militant, controlling, angry, homophobic. His mother acts as if she is either heavily medicated to deal with the stress of being married to such a tyrant or is suffering from some extreme case of PTSD unique to the wives of fascists. The perfect gay couple welcomes them to the neighborhood with a basket of some sort and Mr. Fitts is uncomfortable about having gay neighbors.
He also seems weirdly preoccupied with his son becoming gay, which has always been this leftist trope. They would often accuse those who opposed normalizing homosexuality as being secretly homosexual themselves. Its always projection with the left. Every single time. The writer of the film was projecting his own worldview onto his imagined right wing boogie man.
Ricky sees Janie at school and impresses her with his confidence. He might be a complete weirdo that films her from the shadows next door, but he has confidence, and chicks dig confidence.
Ricky also see Janie’s father at some networking event his wife has dragged him to. Lester reverts even further into a juvenile by sneaking behind the building to smoke pot with Ricky while his wife, driven by hypergamy, shamelessly hits on a colleague.
Lester’s midlife crisis goes into high gear, he begins to fantasize about his daughter’s friend, and when his wife catches him masturbating they have a fight. This is when Lester ceases to be submissive to his wife. It’s odd that the catalyst for his so called awakening would be his lust for his daughter’s underage friend but it also reflects how Lester is justifying his behavior by ignoring the last 20 years of his life because they didn’t turn out exactly as he had hoped. He will now, as many of my friends parents did in real life, try to undo two decades of perceived failure by pretending they didn’t happen. Lester even goes so far as quitting his job and getting a job at a fast food joint while his success driven wife begins a hypergamous affair with the colleague from the party.
While all that is going on, Janie’s, who seems to be completely ignored by both her parents, another reality that isn’t being promoted simply by accurately depicting it, but once again by virtue of excusing the behavior of her parents, because selfishly focusing on themselves is so vital to their existence they must explore these whims they are having even if it means ignoring their responsibility as parents completely, something else I saw many of my friends parents do in real life.
The funny thing is, the whole time the filmmakers are excusing this reprehensible behavior, they attack the conservative family with a stay at home mom. Sure, she’s there physically, but she is so emotionally and maybe even physically abused that she may as well not be, the father, isn’t just a violent abusive homophobe but, wait for it, an actual Nazi. Yes, the left has been calling everyone to the right of Karl Marx a Nazi for as long as I have been alive, and in the 90s they must have been convinced we all had secret Nazi rooms.
One of the more famous scenes of the movie is when Ricky and Janie are watching a video that Ricky shot of a plastic bag blowing around in the wind. It is here that the filmmakers reinforce the idea that we are all just products of circumstance. We are all just swept up by the powerful forces around us and there is nothing we can really do. Lester has no control over his lusts and his midlife crisis was just an inevitable part of his story, his wife was destined to feel unfulfilled until she experienced the embrace of a man that understood her ambition, Ricky, Janie, and the rest of them are just plastic bags caught in the wind without direction or power over their fate.
And that is how the last day of Lester’s life plays out. A string of fateful events setting off chain reactions, Including Lester’s wife accidentally going through the drive-through where Lester has started working with the man she’s been cheating on him with.
I’m skipping over some of the minor subplots to move things along but Lester’s bad day drives him to buy marijuana from the guy having sex with his daughter and Ricky’s dad, because he’s a Nazi lunatic, mistakenly thinks that Ricky is giving Lester a blow job, and being the homophobic psychopath that he is, he snaps and beats the shit out of his son Ricky.
Meanwhile, Lester’s wife, who bought a gun after she first cheated on Lester, went to a gun range and of course has been murderously mad with power ever since, is psyching herself up with motivational speaker tapes to get up the nerve to kill Lester.
Ricky convinces Janie to run away with him, after THOT patrolling her hot friend and calling her a basic bitch.
That’s when the most inexplicable scene in the entire movie happens. When I saw this movie back in 2000 or whenever it was, it seemed so out of place and unbelievable that i thought they just didn’t know how to end it, but that was before I understood the psychology of the left. Ricky’s dad shows up unannounced and crying, Lester tries to comfort him, then, seemingly out of nowhere Ricky’s dad, the Nazi homophobe kisses Lester. He can no longer hold back his burning homosexual desires that make him such an asshole and in a moment of weakness it slips out.
This is how the left thinks. You see it over and over again. All the men that say they are feminists on the left, end up being the biggest abusers. That is how the left operates. They overcompensate to hide whatever it is they feel guilty about and they project that onto others. They assume that because their mind works that way, thats how everyone else must operate too. Lots of people do this, not just the left, honest people are easiest to fool for example, because they assume everyone is as honest as they are, but this a fundamental aspect of leftist thinking. They think that the only reason this guy would appose a homosexual lifestyle is if he was overcompensating for his own latent homosexuality. It wasn’t just expressed in this film either, it was common to accuse people who were uncomfortable around gay people of being gay themselves and you will see this archetype in several movies and TV shows in this era when the push to normalize homosexuality was reaching the high water mark.
So now Lester is confused but doesn’t freak out, he lets the secretly gay Nazi guy down easy and he wanders off back into the rain. When he goes inside he finds the object of his underage desires alone in the dark. He quickly moves in and seduces her. He is about to have sex with her when she mentions that she is a virgin. Apparently this is what snaps Lester out of his midlife crisis. He has a rare moment of self reflection. He is aware of the vast difference in age, and meaning, this sexual encounter will have and he changes his mind.
He has an epiphany, he seems to realize how lucky he was this entire time to have a wife and a family, but then, because we are all just plastic bags flying around in the wind and what we think and do makes no difference at all, Lester is killed, not by his wife mind you who was driving to the home to do him in, but of course by the secretly gay homophobic Nazi, because, well, i mean, Nazis, hello, they fucking just do that shit.
And that’s pretty much the end.
The audience is treated with some vignettes of how the people in Lester’s life react to his death and a bit of narration from Lester himself who says he’s not angry about being killed, and that you should stop trying to obtain perfection or beauty and just relax and let life happen to you because in the end it doesn’t matter what you do anyway.
That is when we get the real meaning of the title. The American Beauty isn’t Lester’s underage sex fantasy, it’s the american dream. Its different things for different people in the film and in life and if they truly knew how trivial they were how insignificant they were, they would find just as much enjoyment in watching a plastic bag float around in the wind as they would trying to do something meaningful and important with their lives. The moral of the story is clear. Don’t try to hard, there is beauty in just going with the flow, mediocrity, and what you call beauty and your ambition and dreams are just fools errands. Unless of yours you are the gay couple then, anything is possible, but no seriously, stop trying, just check out of life and work at a burger joint since in the end it doesn’t really matter because we all die anyway so you might as well give up on this pipe dream of free agency.