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Headscratchers / American Beauty

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  • The ending. Lester may have escaped into eternity with a little smile and a moment of epiphany, but the lives of his family and neighbors are about to become a living hell.
    • Creepily, his final narration indicates his belief that whatever hell anyone goes through, everyone will ultimately be happy...when they're dead like him.
    • I get the feeling that when the dust clears, they'll all be better for it. I feel like they were so detached from real life, maybe that will bring them back and learn to appreciate things the way he had. At least, that's what I hope.
    • An early draft of the screenplay (dig around, it's online) is actually bookended with scenes showing his daughter and her boyfriend behind bars and on trial for Lester's murder, the main evidence being the video footage shown at the very start of the film. I think in one draft at the end they're even found guilty. The Mena Suvari character is a key witness, gets "discovered" and ends up a TV star on a Baywatch-style show.
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    • That's something else that bugged me: the talked-about ending. Is Ricky such a packrat he wouldn't tape over/erase something incriminating?
    • Depending on if/when the video tape was confiscated by police, he might not have had time to. I imagine that if the police learned that the boy next door was frequently filming the house where a murder took place, they've very quickly want to see that footage if only to see whether it recorded anything of importance.
  • It's always just bugged me that this entire film could have been "solved" with the skillful applications of a marriage counselor, a few ass-whoopings and a vacation or two.
    • Er, yeah. The point of the movie is that all the characters (and, by extension, suburbia) are dysfunctional. Not seeing the problem here.
    • So suburbia is dysfunctional because it demands that men look after their families instead of running off?
    • Carolyn cheated first. She was the one running off.
    • To be fair, both of them were kind of running away; Carolyn cheated first in a physical sense first, but since Lester spent most of the movie lusting after a teenage girl one could argue that he wasn't exactly devoted to the marriage whole-heartedly and was retreating into fantasy. It's pretty clear both of them had checked out of the marriage long ago, although admittedly Lester did make a bit more of an effort to try and put it back together.
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    • Just never saw the "complexity" of the story. If the protagonists had stopped navel gazing and acted like responsible adults, the film would have ended after about 10 minutes or so. I like my stories with a little more "meat" on their bones.
    • That would be the point. They should, yes, by all rights have all acted more responsibly (with the possible exception of the kids, being, well, kids). But—they weren't. They were trapped in their dysfunctional neuroses—or trapped navel-gazing—that they couldn't see what life really could have to offer. They were trapped, so couldn't see what they should do, what they could be. That, again, is kind of the point of the story.
    • You might as well say "If this alcoholic just stopped drinking, his problems would be solved!". If you're an alcoholic, it's friggin' hard to stop drinking. And if you have deep-seated emotional problems like the people in this movie, it's hard to solve your problems.
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    • The film would have been over pretty quick, but no one would have won, no one would have been happy. The entire point of the film is that everyone was trying to break free and get what they want. Their feelings and irresponsibility wasn't the problem. The problem was that when they tried to be themselves for a change, someone else (or their own guilt brought around by social standards) got in the way and caused resistance. So yeah, a few ass-kickings and marriage counseling would have definitely stopped the conflict, but that doesn't mean it would have resolved the roots of it, just beaten everyone back into suppressing who they really were.
  • Why is it okay for Lester to lust after a high school girl, but when he suddenly finds out that she's a virgin, he thinks it's morally wrong? Lester's lust for her squicked me out as much as anybody, but she'd still be a kid, irresponsible, inexperienced, whether she was the slut that she claimed to be or not. Many adult celebrities who are of age are still children because they never had to deal with the real responsibilities of the world. I just don't get why her being a virgin comes into this. Why it's okay to take advantage of an emotionally unstable sexually active teenager but not an emotionally unstable virgin teenager.
    • The director's commentary says what they were going for in that scene is: Lester doesn't see her as a sex object any more, but as a daughter figure. It's not just that she's a virgin: the way she says it shows Lester that she isn't really ready for sex. It's also Lester seeing her body, and seeing that she's just a young girl. The pivotal scene between Lester and Angela really comes a few scenes earlier: Angela flirts, Lester flirts back ("You like muscles?"), and Angela backs off. Angela's not promiscuous, but she acts like it in order to manipulate desperate men; and Lester isn't desperate any more. He's given the perfect opportunity to take advantage of Angela, but no longer wants to.
    • It's not ok to take advantage of an emotionally unstable teenager, whether she's a virgin or sexually active. The girl's virginity simply reminded Lester that she's young, and the tone of her voice informed him that she was uncomfortable. He suddenly saw her as a person rather than a sex object.
    • The idea that Lester suddenly sees Angela as who she really is in that scene; a very young, vulnerable girl who becomes a daughter figure and not a sex object is reinforced by what happens straight afterwards. He wraps her up in a towel like how an adult comforting a child would. Then Lester makes Angela something to eat, asks if she is OK and talks about his daughter Jane, like a parent.
    • TL;DR: It isn't right for Lester to take advantage of her, and it never was. When he realizes this, he backs off. It's his Heel–Face Turn from Chaotic Neutral to Chaotic Good.
    • Lester was also realizing that he could potentially be ruining his own life and Angela's. When she vulnerably says "this is my first time" he sees that she's just a kid. A kid who can sometimes imitate a grown woman - but that it was all an imitation. And then he realized he was about to take advantage of a vulnerable young girl. Fancying her was part of a mid-life crisis and Angela telling him he was a virgin brought him back down to earth.
    • Up until that point, it was all fantasy. He was imagining her like some kind of siren, a beautiful woman who seemed to want him just as much as he wanted her. When he finally had the opportunity to make the fantasy real, he was confronted with the fact that this was a vulnerable young woman and he was in fact taking advantage of her, both through his actual seduction and the way he had sexualized her in his fantasies. A lot of this movie is about leaving behind the illusions that sustain you and finding out the truth behind them ("look closer"). Lester's final revelation just before he died was that once the fantasy was stripped away, he was a predator on the verge of committing an unspeakable act against a young girl. He stopped himself, even at the cost of the fantasy that had previously been motivating him to change his life.
  • How come Mrs. Burnham's sofa is a meaningless material possession, and Mr. B's (admittedly cool) 1971 Firebird isn't?
    • Carolyn was letting possessions like the sofa define who she was, while Lester certainly desired the Firebird but didn't let it get in the way of what was important in life, like love.
    • I daresay he wouldn't have minded having beer spilled in his car if they were having sex - making progress in their relationship. This is the line between Carolyn and Lester - he's willing to make concessions to bring them back together, Carolyn is not.
    • I presume that Mrs. Burnham doesn't really care about the sofa on a personal level. The sofa is only there to look nice and project "the image of success" to anyone who might see it. In contrast, Lester's firebird is something he really cares about. It's an expression of his personality.
  • How did Col. Fits know that Ricky had touched his Nazi plate? He didn't actually see Ricky do it, and it looked like the plate was put back the way it was. When and how did he find out?
    • Ricky left the cabinet door unlocked.
  • Why was Carolyn so angry when she saw Lester working out? I know we know why he's doing it but she couldn't unless she's insane or Sherlock Holmes. What exactly was so offensive about seeing her husband lifting weights?
    • I thought it wasn't really the fact he was working out but the fact that it was one of the things that had changed about him so quickly. She was disliking how different he was acting.
    • I thought she was mad at the pot smoking, rock music (she liked "elevator music," remember) and general adolescent behavior.
    • He's working out to make himself look better, paying even less attention to her than before, and listening to music she hates. She probably assumed he was having an affair and buffing up for his mistress.
    • Boiled down, Carolyn doesn't like change. She doesn't like the unpredictable or the unexpected. What Lester was doing (overall, not simply the pot-smoking or the workouts) terrified her and she confronted him in order to force him back into being the man with which she was familiar. Really, by that point she probably would have confronted him for any of his new routine, but the working-out came up first.
  • At the end, what's the meaning when Carolyn is shown looking into Lester's closet and breaking down crying while hugging his clothes? Was it because she had seen his dead body and didn't quite manage to touch him so instead she let out her grief on his clothes? Or had she possibly not seen him yet, but she was crying over his clothes out of grief over how she had acted and/or how much he had changed, thus she'd lost him? Or is it simply meant to be ambiguous?
    • I thought Carolyn had seen his body and was out of habit trying to put clothes away neatly (a big deal about how perfectionist she is is made) but breaking down.
    • She was also clearly planning on shooting him herself, but someone else got there first, and despite her rigid appearances at control she's clearly not an emotionally stable woman. Seeing him dead from what she's planned to do to him would probably bring the reality of how far she'd sunk crashing in on her; she was probably just overwhelmed by a lot of conflicting and complicated feelings at that point. Either way, it would seem unlikely that she hadn't seen him by that point, given that she clearly heard the gunshot as she was walking up to the house and would presumably make a point of finding out what caused it.
    • This may be a lot less deep than the above interpretations, but I assumed that she was hugging his clothes because they smelt like him. She just wanted to be reminded of her husband again and a person's smell can be a powerful reminder of their overall personality.
    • She didn't appear to be planning on killing him. She was at the gun range, which gave her confidence, and she was listening to the self-help lecture on the way home. She was planning to confront him, maybe make some changes in their relationship, but the gun was incidental, a McGuffin, not a Chekhov's Gun. After she found him, she ran to HIDE the gun by dropping her purse in the hamper in the closet. When she was there, she saw all his clothes and broke down crying, pulling the clothes down. And agreed, it probably had a lot to do with his clothes smelling like Lester.
    • I always thought it seemed like the scene with her in the car saying "I refuse to be a victim" was referring to herself. She was threatening herself with the gun, ready to kill herself because her perfectly crafted image of success had come crashing down. So she was holding the gun - a tool she could use to kill herself - and was telling herself she wouldn't use it. My guess is that when she arrives home, she hears the gunshot and remembers that she has a gun in her purse. She's in such shock at the situation that maybe she briefly thinks she might have done it. She's then horrified at the idea that she could have shot her husband and throws the purse away to distance herself from it. And she broke down crying because she was surrounded by her husband's things.
  • How the heck did the Colonel not smell the pot in Ricky's dresser? Ricky had kilos of it in Ziploc bags, and the smell easily passes through LLDPE. Were the Colonel's sinuses shot off in the war?
  • Why are Jane and Angela even friends? I get that Angela probably uses her as a Doormat to feel better about herself, but what is Jane getting out of it? They seem to have nothing in common besides being cheerleaders and Jane is clearly annoyed by Angela's vapidness throughout the movie.
    • They've probably been friends since childhood but have started to grow apart as they reach puberty and get closer to adulthood. However, they've still known each other for so long that they hang out together out of familiarity and apathy. The movie, after all, is full of people who keep falling back on old behaviours that might be unhealthy or even outright toxic simply because they've been doing so for so long that they can't really bring themselves to break the pattern.


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