American Beauty was distributed by Dreamworks in 1999 and won 5 Oscars, including one for cinematography. It was based on a play written by Alan Ball, and was directed by Sam Mendes. It is about a suburbanite nuclear family that has gone super critical, superficial and materialistic. There are three people in the family, the father: Lester Burnham is played by Kevin Spacey. He is the narrator and leading character, a forty two year old married man, he earns ? 60, 000 a year as a writer for a magazine and is bored with his life.
The wife and mother is called Carolyn and is played by Annette Benning. She is a false, cheerful, status-seeking perfectionist. The daughter is called Jane and is played by Thora Birtch. She is in her teens, self critical and typical adolescent. In the film, we see that Lester is bored with his life, Jane is unhappy with the way she looks and Carolyn is always trying to be perfect and trying to get Lester and Jane to be the same, she wants the family to live the ‘American Dream’.
The film begins with an arial view of the area where Lester lives, with Lester’s voice in the background, almost as if he is looking down on it. The film is basically all about the ‘American Dream’ falling apart. The ‘American Dream’ is something all Americans can strive for, it encourages all Americans to believe that opportunities are limitless-regardless of social class. It is through the believe that desire and hard work we can be something more than what we are, that nothing is out of reach, it feeds on dissatisfaction and encourages people to strive for perfection.
The symbolic and technical codes support the narrative codes in the film. The first time you watch the film you concentrate on the plot and therefore don’t notice the symbolical and technical codes. The second time you watch it you do notice them and they make the plot more interesting. In the establishing shot we see the area the Burnham family live in from above. The roads are all in straight lines, symbolising perfection.