American Political and Economic History
Research Paper: Historical Perspective Films
American Beauty is a movie that takes place in the 1990s and it reflects the suburbia lifestyle and how it can affect people’s values and behavior. The movie revolves around Lester Burnham, a typical suburban husband and father, who is unsatisfied with his boring and stoic life. As a result of his mid life crisis, he decides to reinvent himself by quitting his job as an advertisement salesman, obsess over his teenage daughter’s friend, buy a new car, and work at a fast food restaurant. He is constantly feeling ignored and unloved by his wife and daughter. As the movie progresses, we meet his wife Carolyn, who is a real estate agent and she seems to be very invested in her career and tries to make her life seemed perfect. Lastly, we have Jane, Lester’s teenage daughter, who is unhappy because of his father lack of attention to her and she falls in love with her odd neighbor Ricky Fitts, who is a drug dealer and documentarian who lives with his stern homophobic marine father and speechless mother. Overall, American Beauty is about the sadness and loneliness shaped by society; therefore, the characters feel like they cannot be themselves and just be happy.
One of the historical events shown in this movie is the suburban life. Throughout the movie we can see Lester and Carolyn’s material possessions, comfortable lifestyle, and conformist attitude. Thus, this side of the movie reflects the emerging and growth of the suburban lifestyle during the 1950s. Because of the Great Depression and World War II, a lot of people were living in small apartments and neglected houses, often with other people. Therefore, when the suburban living style started to emerge, it improved the American families lives and gave them a new set of beliefs and attitudes. The suburban boom established the domestic ideal family as the model of American life. This image of a perfect wife with her perfect family living in a perfect house and neighborhood was reinforced in every single form of media. However, this ideal image didn’t show the actual reality of the suburban wife, who was really defined by housework, childcare, and boredom. Also, most of the suburban families had to have two sets of incomes in order to afford the middle class suburban lifestyle. As a result, women’s presence in the work force grew exponentially during this post World War II era. By 1960, 40 percent of women were either employed full- time or part time, while 30 percent of married women work to help their family income in order to maintain their suburban living style However, a lot of contemporary journalists, novelists, and social scientists criticized the suburban life as plain, conformist, and exclusive for the educated middle class. (Faragher John Mack, 2006)
There are many parts in the movie where it depicts the typical suburban attitude. For example, there is a moment in the movie, when Lester tells his wife that he decided to quit his job, and his wife starts to talk and worry about how is she going to maintain their mortgage and lifestyle all by herself. This shows that even though the suburban living style has its own perks, it also comes with its costs and how it can affects the family relationship with each other. Also, in another scene Carolyn is afraid of how Lester might spill some beer on the couch and she starts to yell at him about how expensive the couch was. This shows, Carolyn obsession over her material possessions and how these items are more than just things to her, there are her status symbols. Lastly, the main plot of the story is about how bored and tired Lester is about his life. He’s unhappy of his dull life, that’s is why is goes through by mid life crisis and starts to rebel against everything. He no longer wants to conform to his wife’s perfect suburban life image and decides to do things that would make him happy such as