His wife, Carolyn, is an ambitious real estate broker; their sixteen-year-old daughter, Jane, abhors her parents and has low self-esteem. The Fitts' teenage son, Ricky, obsessively films his surroundings with a camcorder, collecting hundreds of recordings on video tapes in his bedroom. He also secretly deals marijuana , using a job as a part-time bar caterer to help keep it secret from his father. Having been previously forced into a military academy and a psychiatric hospital, Ricky is subjected by Col.
Fitts to a strict disciplinarian lifestyle. Jim Olmeyer and Jim Berkley, a gay couple who live nearby, welcome the family to the neighborhood; Col. Fitts later reveals his homophobia when angrily discussing the incident with Ricky. Lester becomes infatuated with Jane's vain cheerleader friend, Angela Hayes, after seeing her perform a half-time dance routine at a high school basketball game.
He starts having sexual fantasies about Angela, in which red rose petals are a recurring motif. Carolyn begins an affair with a married business rival, Buddy Kane. He buys his dream car and starts working out after he overhears Angela tell Jane that she would find him sexually attractive if he improved his physique. He begins smoking marijuana supplied by Ricky, and flirts with Angela whenever she visits Jane.
The girls' friendship wanes after Jane starts a relationship with Ricky; they bond over what Ricky considers the most beautiful imagery he has ever filmed: Lester discovers Carolyn's infidelity, but reacts indifferently.
Buddy ends the affair, fearing an expensive divorce. Fitts becomes suspicious of Lester and Ricky's friendship and later finds his son's footage of a nude Lester lifting weights, which Ricky captured by chance.
After watching Ricky and Lester through Lester's garage window, Col. Fitts mistakenly concludes they are sexually involved. He later beats Ricky and accuses him of being gay.
Ricky falsely admits the charge and goads his father into expelling him from their home. Carolyn is shown sitting in her car, where she takes a handgun from the glove box. Ricky goes to Jane, finding her arguing with Angela about her flirtation with Lester. Fitts confronts Lester and attempts to kiss him; Lester rebuffs the colonel, who flees. Lester finds a distraught Angela sitting alone in the dark; she asks him to tell her she is beautiful.
He does; the pair kiss, but moments before they are about to have sex, Angela admits she is a virgin and Lester decides not to go through with the act.
Instead, they talk, and bond over their shared frustrations. Angela goes to the bathroom and Lester smiles at a family photograph in his kitchen. An unseen figure points a gun at the back of Lester's head; a gunshot sounds and blood sprays onto the wall in front of him. Ricky and Jane find Lester's body, while Carolyn is seen crying in the closet. Fitts returns home, where a gun is missing from his collection. Lester's closing narration describes meaningful experiences during his life; he says that, despite his death, he is happy because there is so much beauty in the world.
Themes and analysis[ edit ] Multiple interpretations[ edit ] Scholars and academics have offered many possible readings of American Beauty; film critics are similarly divided, not so much about the quality of the film, as their interpretations of it. Mendes is indecisive, saying the script seemed to be about something different each time he read it: It was funny; it was angry, sad. Booth concludes that the film resists any one interpretation: It is more tempting to summarize it as 'a portrait of the beauty underlying American miseries and misdeeds', but that plays down the scenes of cruelty and horror, and Ball's disgust with our mores.
It cannot be summarized with either Lester or Ricky's philosophical statements about what life is or how one should live. According to Booth, the film's true controller is the creative energy "that hundreds of people put into its production, agreeing and disagreeing, inserting and cutting". The monotony of Lester's existence is established through his gray, nondescript workplace and characterless clothing. He masturbates in the confines of his shower;  the shower stall evokes a jail cell and the shot is the first of many where Lester is confined behind bars or within frames,   such as when he is reflected behind columns of numbers on a computer monitor, "confined [and] nearly crossed out".
Pennington argues that Lester's journey is the story's center. Mendes called it "the most satisfying end to [Lester's] journey there could possibly have been". With these final scenes, Mendes intended to show Lester at the conclusion of a "mythical quest". After Lester gets a beer from the refrigerator, the camera pushes toward him, then stops facing a hallway down which he walks "to meet his fate".
Mendes said that Ricky's staring into Lester's dead eyes is "the culmination of the theme" of the film: Anker argues that the film's thematic center is its direction to the audience to "look closer". The opening combines an unfamiliar viewpoint of the Burnhams' neighborhood with Lester's narrated admission that this is the last day of his life, forcing audiences to consider their own mortality and the beauty around them. If he's already dead, why bother with whatever it is he wishes to tell about his last year of being alive?
There is also the question of how Lester has died—or will die. Hall disagrees; she says by presenting an early resolution to the mystery, the film allows the audience to put it aside "to view the film and its philosophical issues".
He shows Jane what he considers the most beautiful thing he has filmed: He says capturing the moment was when he realized that there was "an entire life behind things"; he feels that "sometimes there's so much beauty in the world I feel like I can't take it On the cusp of having sex with Angela, he returns to himself after she admits her virginity. Suddenly confronted with a child, he begins to treat her as a daughter; in doing so, Lester sees himself, Angela, and his family "for the poor and fragile but wondrous creatures they are".
He looks at a picture of his family in happier times,  and dies having had an epiphany that infuses him with "wonder, joy, and soul-shaking gratitude"—he has finally seen the world as it is.
First seen in drab colors that reflect his passivity, Lester surrounds himself with red as he regains his individuality. In these scenes, the rose symbolizes Lester's desire for her. Lester's attempts to relive his youth are a direct result of his lust for Angela,  and the state of his relationship with Carolyn is in part shown through their lack of sexual contact.
Also sexually frustrated, Carolyn has an affair that takes her from "cold perfectionist" to a more carefree soul who "[sings] happily along with" the music in her car. Fitts reacts with disgust to meeting Jim and Jim; he asks, "How come these faggots always have to rub it in your face?
How can they be so shameless? Fitts' reaction is not homophobic, but an "anguished self-interrogation". Lester's transformation conveys "that he, and not the woman, has borne the brunt of [lack of being]" [nb 3] and he will not stand for being emasculated.
Although the film portrays the way Lester returns to that role positively, he does not become "the hypermasculine figure implicitly celebrated in films like Fight Club". Hausmann concludes that Lester's behavior toward Angela is "a misguided but nearly necessary step toward his becoming a father again".
Fitts is so ashamed of his homosexuality that it drives him to murder Lester. Fitts' repression is exhibited through the almost sexualized discipline with which he controls Ricky. Fitts represents Ball's father,  whose repressed homosexual desires led to his own unhappiness. Fitts to delay revealing him as homosexual, which Munt reads as a possible "deferment of Ball's own patriarchal-incest fantasies".
Although the plot spans one year, the film is narrated by Lester at the moment of his death. Each image is broadly similar, with minor differences in object placement and body language that reflect the changed dynamic brought on by Lester's new-found assertiveness. Ricky films Jane from his bedroom window as she removes her bra, and the image is reversed later for a similarly "voyeuristic and exhibitionist" scene in which Jane films Ricky at a vulnerable moment.
While the cheerleaders perform their half-time routine to " On Broadway ", Lester becomes increasingly fixated on Angela. Time slows to represent his "voyeuristic hypnosis" and Lester begins to fantasize that Angela's performance is for him alone. This nondiegetic score is important to creating the narrative stasis in the sequence;  it conveys a moment for Lester that is stretched to an indeterminate length. The effect is one that Stan Link likens to "vertical time", described by the composer and music theorist Jonathan Kramer as music that imparts "a single present stretched out into an enormous duration, a potentially infinite 'now' that nonetheless feels like an instant".
The sequence ends with the sudden reintroduction of "On Broadway" and teleological time. The most obvious use of pop music "accompanies and gives context to" Lester's attempts to recapture his youth; reminiscent of how the counterculture of the s combated American repression through music and drugs, Lester begins to smoke cannabis and listen to rock music.
Miller argues that although some may be over familiar, there is a parodic element at work, "making good on [the film's] encouragement that viewers look closer". Toward the end of the film, Thomas Newman 's score features more prominently, creating "a disturbing tempo" that matches the tension of the visuals.
At first appropriate, its tone clashes as the seduction stops. The lyrics, which speak of "castles burning", can be seen as a metaphor for Lester's view of Angela—"the rosy, fantasy-driven exterior of the 'American Beauty'"—as it burns away to reveal "the timid, small-breasted girl who, like his wife, has willfully developed a false public self".
He joined the United Talent Agency , where his representative, Andrew Cannava, suggested he write a spec script to "reintroduce [himself] to the town as a screenwriter". Ball pitched three ideas to Cannava: He channeled his anger and frustration at having to accede to network demands on that show—and during his tenures on Grace Under Fire and Cybill—into writing American Beauty.
The producers met with about 20 interested directors,  several of whom were considered A-list at the time. Ball was not keen on the more well-known directors because he believed their involvement would increase the budget and lead DreamWorks to become "nervous about the content". Beth Swofford of the Creative Artists Agency arranged meetings for Mendes with studio figures in Los Angeles to see if film direction was a possibility.
Ball felt that Mendes liked to look under the story's surface, a talent he felt would be a good fit with the themes of American Beauty. In about —92, Ball saw a plastic bag blowing in the wind outside the World Trade Center. He watched the bag for 10 minutes, saying later that it provoked an "unexpected emotional response".
Ball produced around 40 pages,  but stopped when he realized it would work better as a film. All the main characters appeared in this version, but Carolyn did not feature strongly; Jim and Jim instead had much larger roles. Fitts, a man who "gave up his chance to be himself". He said the juxtaposition produced a starker contrast, giving each trait more impact than if they appeared alone.
Fitts' service in the Marines, a sequence that unequivocally established his homosexual leanings. In love with another Marine, Col. Fitts sees the man die and comes to believe that he is being punished for the "sin" of being gay.
Ball removed the sequence because it did not fit the structure of the rest of the film—Col.