In light of recently acquiring tons of time to kill, I’ve been watching an unhealthy number of movies. Really, it’s almost gotten to the point where I don’t want to watch another movie ever again. And they’ve been all across the place – everything from The Imitation Game (excellent), the first two parts of The Godfather (also great, but subtitles are necessary), The Interview (cringe acting, but apt humor), and most recently, American Beauty. None of the movies elicited too great a reaction from me, but I’d like to discuss the latter movie, because it was surprisingly profound. And also, if you can’t tell, I’m bored.
To scratch the surface, it’s a satirical take on the American way of life. It takes a light spin on the life Americans lead, and reverses a couple of roles to poke fun at the established order with which we’re so comfortable. Yeah, it was a pretty pervy movie, but necessarily so; although, however, I would be willing to bet that if the movie was made today, there would be a ton of complaints on some of the sexual nature of the film. Regardless, it was an excellent movie, and one that turned out to be surprisingly deep. But enough beating around the bush.
I’d like to discuss a couple of the themes that I thought were prevelant. First and foremost – the frontier myth. The illusion that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence – that what we do not have is infinitely better than what we do have, and so ensues the pursuit of said frontier. In this case, I believe that every character’s frontier was another character; and, in the case of Lester, another major frontier was a carefree way of life, one with complete disregard of the bullshit expectations society had set on him – essentially returning him to his teenage years. And he did succeed in that, but once he reached the culmination of that life (getting laid by the hottest girl in school), he came to his senses, and rather than destroying such innocence and beauty, he returned to his actual parental role – he came a full circle. And just when he was ready to resume his normal life, it was tragically ended.
Did any of the characters succeed in reaching their frontier? Well, it’s an inherently loaded question, because the name of the complex itself is the frontier myth. Meaning it’s a falsehood – it isn’t true. Because if in fact you ever do reach your frontier, something else will replace it – and you’ll realize that you’re never going to be happy with what you have, that having enough is never having enough. So, even after the characters succeeded in achieving what they wanted, they realized it wasn’t truly what they wanted – and then it was all shot to hell with a bullet. Let me list it out.
Lester – he wanted to lead a life in which he didn’t have to give a fuck (his words, not mine). He wanted to sleep with his daughter’s best friend. He wanted to be the pot-smoking carefree teenager who didn’t have to put up with his disfunctional family. And he did achieve all of that; well, almost of all that. I’m of the opinion that he came to his senses when he realized that the girl he was fantasizing over (perhaps for the reason that he was lead to believe she was a dirty cheerleaded (I don’t know, you know the stereotype I’m talking about)) was young and innocent, and he didn’t want to destroy that. He realized that his frontier was built on a misconception, and he realized at that moment that what he was doing was wrong. He had to support his family, he had to fix his family life, because, try and will as he might, he just couldn’t be a teenager – circumstances wouldn’t allow it. So he came to accept that his frontier was nothing but superficial. But by the time that happened, he was dead. Very tragic, but life is like that.
Carolyn – she wanted to be successful. Plain and simple. And the means of doing it were escaping from the life she was living. She cheated on her husband. She blamed her family problems on him. And in the end, she did it so much that she was ready to kill him. Didn’t get the chance, though. Her frontier was arguably achieved, I’d say – for a period, she certainly did lead another life than the one she was so fed up with. But in the end, reality caught up with her – she knew she couldn’t escape her life in the end. And that final frontier, that killing her husband would solve her problems? It was taken away from her. This truly was a tale of terrific tragedy.
Jane – she, more than anything, wanted to escape from her estranged family. She did so by latching herself onto the one misfit who seemed to be able to connect with her. She even planned to elope with him, so desperate was she to just get away. And even when she claimed she was joking about wanting her dad done, it sure as hell didn’t sound like a joke when she discussed it. She was maybe the one character who seemed content when she reached her frontier – she really thought her life’s problems were solved. Maybe that’s just youthful ignorance. Life may be beautiful, but it sure as hell isn’t perfect.
Angela – she wanted to be special. And she made a great show of it, too. For most of the movie, we thought she was everything she claimed to be (or maybe I’m just very gullible). I think everything she purported to be was her frontier. She wanted nothing more than to be something extraordinary, because, after all, there’s nothing worse than to be ordinary life. Interesting quote, and depressingly true. I also think that she was ready to reach her frontier, but Lester spared her the pain of learning that it wouldn’t change anything. Such is life.
If you’ve gotten this far, I’ll finish this post off in a couple days, because I’ve got an inclination to make this one long. Well, there certainly is a lot more to discuss. I’ll just edit this post then. In the interim, watch the movie. It’s a beauty.