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American Beauty - Does the Film Portray Realistic Heroes?

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Introduction

?Successful films present characters are both heroic and realistic? To what extent do you agree with this view? The premise of this topic suggesting that characters are both heroic and realistic is too narrow and generic to apply for most films and indeed all films of high literary merit whose aim is to impart philosophical ideas on an audience ready to be challenged. In Sam Mendes? American Beauty the characters portrayed are eclectic and differentiated from the mould of being both heroic and realistic. These characters to focus on are Lester Burnham, the narrator and protagonist, Carolyn his wife and arguable antagonist and Ricky Fitts the fringe character who may be considered the true hero of this commentary on American society. Where the premise does ring true somewhat is in the characterisation of the main character Lester Burnham who is very realistic and reflective of the modern middle-aged American man while also developing into a hero once he finds his identity after experiencing a mid life crisis. This isn?t always so though and in the beginning of the film Lester Burnham is a self-confessed loser who is lauded by his own family. ...read more.

Middle

Also low angle shots are employed while he is jogging conveying how he now has a new lease on life and is more assured of himself. Here we see a realistic hero served up to an audience for a purpose. Through the positive characterisation of Lester Mendes wanted to advertise him as a role model of someone who lives life for himself and doesn?t let convoluted American society views such as materialism and superficial beauty cloud his mindset. From here the crux of the premise can be addressed: certain characters are portrayed positively and others aren?t which is because the director has intentions on how the audience should react to certain characters. Through a positive portrayal of Lester Mendes wanted to promote anti-authoritarianism and conforming to hypocritical middle class America. A reversal of this characterisation is seen with Carolyn Burnham who is arguably the films main antagonist. Carolyn is far from heroic as she is first presented to the audience cutting an American Beauty rose from its stem in order to horde its superficial beauty. Film techniques of costume convey Carolyn as a self-absorbed aspiring real estate agent who dresses in formless business suits to conform and suit in her opinion the aspects which her job entails. ...read more.

Conclusion

The main theme of American Beauty is where beauty can really be found in this world and how it is not necessarily where people think. Ricky Fitts is a character who is intelligent and perceptive enough to understand this but he cannot be seen as realistic given his age (18) and the fact he manages to do this while also being a drug dealer who has been diagnosed with a mental condition. The unattainable ideal of the way living can be seen in Ricky Fitts and he is shown as unrealistic because the directors purpose is that he knows the audience will never be able to think like him. However Mendes does manage to juxtapose Ricky with the realistic portrayal of Lester to show that audiences can break out of its coma of materialism and obsession with image to find true beauty in the world. To conclude, Mendes has effectively presented his audience with a range of different characters with different attributes who all in unique ways contribute to the richness of the ideas he wanted to portray. Not all characters can be uniform in their one-dimensional attributes otherwise directors will not be able to have the tools available to get their message across when films are made these days. ...read more.

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