Prompts-”You’re my girl.” “Oh sweetheart, I’m much more than that.” “Lets go fuck some shit up Doll face.” and “I’ve never seen someone so sweet yet so badass.”
i want boots
“You’re my girl,” One of Jason’s hands was in your back pocket and the other held a cold gun. His stubble covered chin ran against your cheek as you loaded you own gun. Today you two would be taking down the biggest drug lord in Gotham.
“Oh Sweetheart, I’m much more than that.” You turned around with one last click, indicating that your gun was loaded, and placed a swift kiss to Jason’s lips.
You hopped out of the van, Jason following in suit. You two walked up to the building, a new found confidence surrounding both of you. Your leather jacket provided little warmth in the chilly Gotham air, but it provided many spots for you extra bullets and knifes.
You and Jason had been tracking this guy for what felt like years and now you both knew where he was. You both had studied his men and him and you realized that he may be scary, he and his mean were weak. You and Jason had this covered, this scum bag was going to die.
Jason walked behind you and placed a kiss behind your ear, which made you shiver. He chuckled and bit the shell of your ear before pulling away, which made you only want him to stay.
“Lets go fuck some shit up Doll face,” You laughed at the unusual nickname before swinging open the door.
Like you both expected all of the men were asleep around an old table and many empty bottles of booze. Their bodies barley even flinched at the loud creak of the door opening. Rushing in, both of you grabbed all of the bags of drugs and quickly got them away from from the men. In the process of getting the many bags away from them, their boss slipped into the room with even more men behind him. Turning to face him, you paled slightly and Jason stilled.
“Well, ain’t it just the two best people in the Gotham.” The man smiled at the two of you with his gun raised.
“Nice to see you too, homie.” This probably wasn’t your best word choice but hey, it confused him.
“Go!” Jason’s loud voice was your cue to start shooting. In just a few moments many of his men were down on the ground, dead. Jason had one man in a head lock while he made the man watch you kick complete ass.
“I’ve never seen someone so sweet yet so badass,” Jason smiled as he shot the man in the head, causing him go limp in his arms. Jason walked over to you were had tied up the gang leader to a chair.
“Well Baby, there’s one more thing to do.” You both laughed and then Jason watched as you shot the man in the head.
“Oh, how I love you.” You pulled you to his chest and kissed your forehead as he lead you out of the building, both of you laughing.
This pains me to say it and I apologize, but I feel compelled to write a comprehensive exegesis on American Beauty, or at least, something to address the flood of messages left in my inbox overnight. I understand if a number of you folks wish to unfollow me; that’s certainly okay. I probably would do the same given this recent influx of boring old text posts. What really drives me to continue beating this dead horse are those numerous messages so passionately expressing their estimations on this topic, suggesting that this is a film worth arguing about. I remain nonplussed however at the lack of careful consideration levied against the filmmaking tools and techniques that tie into the film’s themes, characterizations, and narrative.
Yes, giving a critical appraisal of a work of art is subjective, such as voicing judgment on the quality of a performance or the effectiveness of a scene in arousing its intended emotions. Such things are endlessly debatable, and I definitely don’t insist that what I have to say is correct. However, I don’t want to overlook the knotty issue of representation in this film, which has more stake than simply arguing artistic value. As I’ve said before, American Beauty locates as its savior protagonist a moneyed, white, heterosexual, pedophiliac, American “everyman” who’s dismayed with life but is unsure why, setting up the kind of mind-numbing redemptive arc about ungrateful characters whose redemption feels unearned given their ultimately shallow worldviews.
Kevin Spacey’s character, Lester, responds to suburban entrapment by way of infantile regression. He shirks his responsibilities at work, with his family, and with his basic morals, suggesting that these actions are rebellious against the prison-like, disciplinary nature of bourgeois suburban life. So yes, while the film is open to interpretation, director Sam Mendes still highly directs its viewers as to the primary themes driving this narrative. Visual evidence such as those prisonic bars on the computer screen, claustrophobic interiors, and that expressive use of the color red (the latter two borrowing from Douglas Sirk) should clue us into the thematic objectives of this film, opposing the claim that a number of you have left in my inbox saying that this film isn’t about suburban ennui and anxiety at all.
The success of Mendes’ commentary on contemporary suburbia is of course, arguable. I think what American Beauty has to say about dysfunctional families, boredom, and consumerism is shallow and reductive, but this point doesn’t damn the entire film for me. What damns it lies in how the film asks audience sympathy for Lester while periphery characters like its women and the one gay character assuage his anxieties, upholding traditional and safe values not at all progressive or revolutionary as the film purports itself to contain. Rather, all other characters surrounding Lester service his moneyed / male / heterosexual / pedophiliac desires, revealing the narrow worldview this film actually has on American middle class life in 1999. All other characters revolving around Lester are simply insulting and reductive: his shrill, materialist wife who literally beats herself up over her failings is laughably hyperbolic; the film’s closeted gay character is essentially thrown away as villainous (literally a Nazi); the two teenage girls are robbed of dissenting voices – which fits the film’s underlying themes on suburban anxieties – but Lester still ends up the savior of the film and not a damnable figure who damages those around him.
Most egregious of all lies in the film’s depiction of sexual politics and how little it really has to say about social ills and the damaging psychology of its characters. Lester’s decision not to bed the underage girl is ultimately the catalyst for his redemption, concluding his narrative arc at the end of the film, a conclusion that excuses his infantilism and remains too easy and, frankly, too insulting of a conclusion. Not succumbing to pedophilia shouldn’t be valorized as heroic but rather as everyday, basic moral sense. His decision really isn’t profound at all. And let’s not forget about the actual reason he didn’t continue hounding after this girl. Lester doesn’t so much realize the depravity of pedophilia but the importance of maintaining the girl’s virginity after she expressly tells him so. It activates some bizarre paternal switch that maintains patriarchal superiority over female virginity, perpetuating misogynistic myths on female sexuality. Moreover, I’ve even encountered some messages claiming that this underage character isn’t a little child at all and that her actions are natural in her sexual/social development. That still doesn’t excuse the fact that she is underage, and it probably undermines Kevin Spacey’s character even more for preying upon a young woman not yet sexually mature enough to make adult decisions.
And of course, we can’t talk about American Beauty without talking about that floating trash bag scene that a few of you have requested I discuss. Some folks have argued that this film is critical of these characters, even potentially reaching for satirical import. Again, my point doesn’t represent a universal judgment but just another perspective open to questioning, but I disagree with this claim given the mounting evidence that Mendes sprinkles throughout the film to invite sympathy for these characters. As I’ve suggested before, the film focalizes its action primarily through the eyes of Lester, leaving all other characters servicing his privileged status. When we do get scenes focused on its periphery characters like that trash bag scene, American Beauty provides a number of cinematic devices that clue us into the “seriousness” of the moment, cueing our emotions like clockwork and begging for audience sympathy. For instance, the music during the trash bag scene swells into emotional, heartstring-tugging tomfoolery, clearly underlining the purported profoundness of that trash bag monologue. The camera movement slowly pushes in towards the television screen, stressing the significance of that damnable bag floating around in the wind, and the resulting close-ups of these two characters compels the audience that they’ve seen something profound, visually coaxing us to mimic their speechless expressions onscreen. Everything is simply calculated and controlled for maximum emotional impact – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing because plenty of films do this to agreeable effect – but American Beauty’s lack of deep, critical engagement and its shallow commentary on social ills betrays the scene of any profoundness. Instead, it’s a film left really without much to say except for the unjust redemption of a perverted man-child and his sorry pseudo-justifications for his actions.
Lastly, I’m disappointed that a few comments have disparaged my opinion on American Beauty as “hipster trash” for dissenting against a film with a high Rotten Tomatoes rating. I’d invite you folks to unlatch yourselves from holding numerical scores as an end all for critical inquiry. In fact, holding numerical value as the zenith of worth reduces these works to nothing more than quantifiable objects, disingenuously contradicting initial assertions that art is of course, subjective. That’s why I’d like to at least try and be constructive with these rambling thoughts on American Beauty. Instead of congratulating a film as reductive as American Beauty, I’d recommend the filmmakers that this film owes a great deal to: Douglas Sirk and Nicholas Ray. Watch Ray’s film Bigger Than Life, a film that didn’t have to delve into pedophilia or self-flagellating housewives to express suburban entrapment, and with more meaningful impact to boot. Also, Todd Solondz’s Happiness (released a year prior to American Beauty) beats Mendes to the chase, dissecting its sexual politics and bourgeois unfulfillment with greater success than a million floating trash bags could ever accomplish.