#63: American Beauty (1999)

When and how did I watch this?

December 29th, 2016, on Amazon Prime.

Had I seen this film already?

Yes, over ten years ago.

What did I know about the movie before watching it?

Despite only seeing it once, much of the film has stuck with me. I remember the strange infatuation Spacey’s character had on Suvari’s, and some of the bizarre imagery used to illustrate it. I also remember peers mocking the bag scene. At 19 or so years old, the symbolism was not lost on me.

What do I know about it now?

I must’ve watched some of this on TV,  because I didn’t remember the nudity.  It made me uncomfortable; both instances were rooted in discontentment and disillusionment.  The whole film is about this, and the struggle to wake up from something like a coma – a condition Spacey as Mr. Burnham alludes to, and successfully evades, although by what might be perceived as antisocial or immoral means. He befriends Ricky, a pothead who makes a fortune selling the stuff, yet bears liberty that Mr. Burnham craves and then eventually ingests himself. Lester’s transformation results in a profound reverberating effect that influences his family and neighbors to act differently as well. Lester eventually finds contentment in his life just before the conclusion; a touching montage drew some tears, I admit. The score is haunting; the cinematography is gripping, using tons of deliberate pans, zooms, and still frames to generate tension; Spacey is spectacular, but pretty much everyone else contributes and conveys their respective characters brilliantly.

What are some themes in the film?

Apathy, materialism, the American middle class, hypocrisy, loss of innocence, insecurity

Did this affect me personally?

The conclusion had me crying – the film feels different as a 35-year-old man with a wife and kids. It was also interesting how I was emotionally invested in all of the characters, sympathizing with each of them in the end.

Why is this ranked #63?

While some might believe the film is overrated, it won an Oscar for Best Picture along with a handful of other awards. It still resonates with middle class America and our penchant for materialism as a society.

Did my wife watch/like it?

I made her sit and watch this one. She liked it, though not as much as I did.

Would I watch it again?

Yes, but probably an edited version. What a tremendous film with excellent replay value.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

The release date suggests that most of my peers have seen this. It’s definitely worth a watch, but make sure the kids are asleep. I guess that goes for a lot of these films.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

“How hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God!” I mentioned to my wife at the start that it’s a film about what happens when you don’t put God first. Before dismissing my interpretation as dogmatic, let me remind you that the film is intensely spiritual in nature. Surely the characters have a dogged approach to life, and perhaps have hedonistic, atheist leanings at times, but they are conscious of regrets, repentance, and a true sense of morality in the end. Great films make you examine the world around you or force a perspective you weren’t consciously aware of, and will often force self-confrontation if done correctly. American Beauty, at the core, reminds us of what beauty looks like – and the converse – as God intended for us to see it.

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