.. oblems, so he denied his own sons existence. When Ricky returns from his hiatus from society, he realizes that to live freely he must create a faade too and use it against his father. Ricky creates a fake reality for his father. The jobs that Ricky supposedly holds he uses to pull in front of his fathers eyes. Ricky Fitts uses his fathers weakness against his own father.
With his father tricked into believing that he is disciplined and structured, Ricky can do what ever he wants. Ricky defies the rigid dictating of his father by subversively using an illusion for his own ends. Ricky uses these ends to live his life however he pleases. Ricky accepts everything for what it is; he does not deny the fact that there is beauty in almost everything. Rickys use of his camera to capture beauty is no coincidence.
Just as Ricky captures beauty with his camera, so, too does Sam Mendes in American Beauty. Rickys appreciation for beauty and freedom is unique. Not everyone experiences life that way. Some people are trapped amidst fakeness. Lester Byrnham is one of these people.
However, when he meets Ricky Fitts, Lester Byrnhams view on life begins to change. When Lester meets Ricky for the first time at the diner party, the two go outside and smoke up. Ricky leaves his catering job instantly to share a joint with Lester. While the two are outside sharing a moment, Rickys boss comes out and Ricky quits right on the spot. In utter disbelief, Lester claims, I think you just became my personal hero! It is an epic moment in Lester Byrnhams unhappy life.
Lester has an epiphany. He understands the beauty that Ricky sees in life. Lester learns that it is ok to do whatever he wants to do when he wants to do it. Upon leaving his first euphoric episode with Ricky, Lester exclaims I am in so much trouble, and then laughs it off. It is the turning point in Lesters life. Instead of being submissive towards Carolyn, Lester comes home high and dreams of a better life that exists. Lester realizes that he no longer needs to be submissive to make the faade of the Byrnham family look good.
Lester starts to act for himself. In the ensuing days, Lester quits his job, and starts flipping burgers; he starts working out, and he buys a 1970 red Pontiac Firebird the car [he] always wanted. According to Lester Byrnham [He] rules!! After making these monumental life changes, Lester experiences the beauty that Ricky Fitts has known all a long. Ricky knows that the freedom to live is the true beauty in life. To live for the present moment is the only way to experience the beauty in life. That is why Ricky videotapes everything; he tries to capture the present. By watching the present on tape, Ricky can look back on the beauty that once was.
When Lester buys his weed from Ricky, he tells Ricky that when he was a kid Life was great all [he] did was flip burgers, party and get laid. Lester had no worries, no stress, and no superficial faades to subjugate him as a teenager. So, Lester retreats to that state that once allowed him to see the beauty in life. He gets a job at Mr. Smilies, he smokes up almost everyday, and he begins to get into shape in order to return his body to its youthful physically fit state. Ironically, coming from such a fake and superficial household, Ricky teaches Lester Byrnham how to live. At a time when everyone around him thinks he is crazy, Lester Byrnham is truly the only sane person in the Byrnham family. Lester has the car he always wanted, the job that requires the least amount of responsibility as possible; plus he is working out and partying everyday. Lester Byrnham enjoys life to its fullest.
It seems that this is the most successful that Lester Byrnham has ever been in his life. Surrounded by people who judge success by the external, Lester emerges as the one who can truly see beauty and for that he is successful. Bob Dylan once said A man is successful if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do. By that definition, Lester Byrnham is the most successful man on earth. In between waking up and going to bed, Lester Byrnham lives each moment to its fullest. In the beginning of the movie, Lester Byrnham tells his audience that in less than one year he will be dead.
It is not a mistake that he makes this statement. Lester Byrnham wants the audience to know his fate. He wants people to know what happens at the end of the movie. Lester Byrnham does not want people to focus on what is ultimately going to happen to him in the end; he wants people to appreciate what he does in the present. He wants people to focus on how he lives for the present.
Lester Byrnham does not want to be judged upon what he ultimately becomes or what goals he accomplishes; he wants people to judge him on how he lives his life. American Beauty is a lot like a performance of Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet. Most people have seen these productions and know what happens in the end. Therefore people go to these productions to judge actors and actresses on how well they embrace the roles that they play. Audiences judge these plays on the sheer performances of those playing aCapulet or a Montague.
In a strange but true way, Lester Byrnham is no different. Everyone in the audience knows what happens at the end of American Beauty, just like they know what happens at the end of Romeo and Juliet. Therefore, the only thing to judge Lester Byrnham on is the way that he lives for the present. How good Lester Byrnham is at performing the play of life is how he wants to be valued. That is real beauty and true success. American Beauty.
Produced by Allan Ball and directed by Sam Mendes. 1 hr. 58 min. Universal, 1999. Videocassette.
Bibliography none Movies and Cinema Essays.