There are very few films I would want to see more than once; I’m not a film buff, but I always wanted to see Sam Mendes film American Beauty again. I remember from the first time about ten years ago, the stark beauty of the photography and the dark message about what was underneath the plastic superficiality of the American Dream. On the second viewing I was able to see clearly that the film is about the power of sex, passion and love and how it enabled the central character Lester, played by Kevin Spacey, to reach some sort of state of peace and even enlightenment. It is a film about the male path to enlightenment.
From the opening, the film is about life and death as Lester the narrator, who is 42 says that he will be dead within the year. There is a film of a plastic bag swirling and dancing in the wind as if alive and of a girl, his daughter casually wanting him to be killed. In a way he is dead already stuck in a job in advertising and with a family where they are all so separate and isolated. His only child, Jane is a lifeless cynical teenager and his wife, Carolyn, enthralled by the America dream, takes the job of making money seriously to fuel the perfect lifestyle she has with a large lifeless house and big car. She is more masculine than Lester, living through will and ambition to sell houses. “I will sell this house today” and in pursuit of career advancement, has passionate sex with a successful rival in real estate. He is the King and introduces her to the thrill and power of shooting. For Carolyn sex moves her from the second to the third chakra from sex and passion to power and she comes to the house near the end of the film with a gun , “I will not be a victim!”
The only simple heartful household are a gay male couple who welcome with flowers the new family to the neighbourhood. They are an even more dysfunctional family, again with an only child. The husband, Col. Frank Fitts comes near to a parody of the discipline obsessed ex-Marine; strongly homophobic and reactionary. He almost destroyed his son Ricky and had him committed to a psychiatric hospital for a while. Ricky has learnt to live with his controlling father by leading a double life, pretending to be even more reactionary than his father whilst drug dealing on the side. His mother has been turned into a shadow, looking like a walking corpse in her loveless and sexless married life. Ricky, a strange figure keeps a connection to life in his voyeuristic filming of people and of death. He sees the beauty in death and it is his film of a swirling plastic bag that is at the beginning of the film. He lives through his movie camera giving a detached but perceptive awareness of life around him. His defeat of numbed out life in the army and the psychiatric hospital and his awareness and his love of death and beauty symbolised by the video camera lay the foundation for his confronting his father and going for a chance of love with Jane, leaving his hopeless family behind.
Ricky’s household is almost colourless, but next door with Lester, Carolyn and Jane there is some colour. in the film red symbolises life and passion and Lester’s house has red roses and a red door. Red roses appear in many of the shots in the house, and in the garden are tended by his wife symbolising the feminine principle as the guardians of passion. The passion and lust they symbolise pour from the heart of Angela, (the Angel!) a friend of his daughter in the first hallucinatory scene where he imagines she is dancing for him alone. She is also ambitious to be a model and a star and plays the sexually sophisticated teenager determined to climb the ladder of success with her beauty and sexual allure. Lester’s obsessive thinking and lusting after her give him the impetus to leave his job and embark on self-improvement through working out to get his body into a better shape in the garage of his house; the back to basics of the base chakra and becoming embodied. In his imagination kissing Angela; red rose petals come from her mouth; another transmission of love. Passion is the key.
When Lester makes his sexual approach to her she tells him that she is a virgin and this shocks him out of his lust and he sees this beautiful young woman as his daughter and as the feminine in need of love and attention and above all protection; not as a sex object but as Shakti, the Feminine principle which he truly loves unconditionally. This moment is his awakening, his enlightenment and the opening of his heart. He had been at his third chakra in his body-building and his assertively standing up to his wife and now he moves to the level of the heart. At the end of the film having rejected everything not in alignment with his Soul he feels wonderful for the first time in years. “I’m great, really great” when asked how he is. In that moment he becomes enlightened. Even when his neighbour shoots him for exposing his repressed homosexual desires, he says “I suppose I should feel really pissed off by the end of my stupid little life”, but then he sees all the beauty and love of his life in flashbacks. He was able to avoid being stuck in half-dead survival mode and mired in the shallow consumerism of his plastic house; he moved through the willpower needed to leave, be assertive and develop his body without becoming attached or aggressive. His heart began to open in finding compassion for his deeply troubled neighbour Col. Frank Fitt and he was finally transformed by love for Angela and through her the Divine itself. At the end of the film the Beatles music supports this theme of love” Because the world is round it turns me on.” How can even death spoil that Vision of Love…