Alan Ball, the screenwriter of 'American Beauty,' makes riveting use of the color red throughout the film. The first time we see Annette Bening, she's cutting bright red roses.
What does the color red mean in this movie?
The way Ball uses it, it refers to a concept: the life force, which, by nature, tries to defy the suppressiveness of suburban life. That's why, the first time we meet Annette Bening, she's cutting red roses. She's cutting the life force. Shortly thereafter, we see her emotional and spiritual control in action, such as during a painfully stilted family dinner. In the dinner scene we’re presented with the flowers in a glass vase fragile life force is in boundaries restricted
The dull colouring the background reveals that this family is colourless these nude grays dominate the frame it is an indication of a lack of life form pictures of the little girl (their daughter) in grey makes us an audience assume that there’s a lack of identity or life force (energy)
In the next image we have Carolyn as the only one wearing red in the picture in a way we can assume that she is like a vortex sucking the life force from each of her family members she holds each and every form of happiness from them
This is further emphasises by the fact she’s sitting in front and acts as an barrier for the Walter and her daughter
Blocks her husband’s sexual and youthful freedom blocks her daughter’s needs to be free from conformity
In the centre of the dinner table Is the vase once again representing the restriction of each character’s freedom… also note how far away it is from each person as though it is quite unattainable
Loss of power from the mother wearing pink which is a more muted version of red displaying that she’s losing a grasp on her power to restrict Laster
There’s no more roses on the dinner table as Lester has finally released his sexual desires he is no longer restricted in that glass vase
Red white blue colour of their house Idea of the American dream embodied in the house and their suburban family is a representation of the middle class
Back to the life force... For Kevin Spacey, the life force which suburbia can't repress is sex. And so, in his fantasies, Mena Suvari, his object of lust, floats on a bed of red rose petals, or soaks in a tub covered in roses. In their final, near-sexual encounter, a vase of red roses is evident.
Peter Gallagher's (The 'Real Estate King') bus stop posters have a red background, for he unleashes Annette Bening's pent-up sexuality.
For Spacey, red also symbolizes rebellion (a.k.a. the assertion of his individuality), another uncivilized impulse. When he buys the hot-rod of his boyhood dreams, it is, of course, bright red.
For Chris Cooper, the psycho ex-Marine, red is both sexuality and also the assertion of individuality. When he kisses Kevin Spacey, Kevin's bright red car is in the background.
This film has a lot to say about the assertion of one's uniqueness. Not everyone survives the quest for freedom from control. Some end up violent, like Cooper. But this is a subject for another article. Let's go back to red.
For Thora Birch, Spacey's dark-haired daughter in the film, red also is related to the assertion of individuality. When she storms away from the stilted dinner after telling off her parents, she wears a sweater with red flowers.
As we get closer to the ending The Prominance of red gets even more as the audience is waiting for the build-up of who has killed Lester
There's a scene with Cooper's near-catatonic wife, Allison Janney, where she's