CIN 100, Section 1990
Prof. Christiansen, Prof. Zhu
Mise-en-Scene: American Beauty
The shot I chose to analyze in American Beauty is the rainy garage scene (image is on last page of the paper) featuring the characters Lester and Col. Frank. This is a unique camera shot because it creates a tense feeling between these two characters, while at the same time staying true to American Beauty’s stylistic premise. A viewer who doesn’t even know the exact context of the shot will still pick up a similar vibe from the image like somebody who has seen the movie. Each detail, even the seemingly abstract, is so cleverly put into the scene that the audience basically becomes Lester for a second, and experiences the uncertainty in his mind as he looks over at Frank.
The setting of the shot is around Lester’s garage at night, and there is heavy rain outside. Lester’s garage door is open, which adds a whole new dimension to the shot because it reveals Frank surrounded by a much different backdrop compared to Lester. Rainy weather is often associated with feelings of sadness. So the weather alone here already makes this a partly dreary image, that most likely has serious connotations. One piece of scenery included in the setting is a set of candles. This could be viewed as a significant piece of the image because symbolically candles represent a source of light in the darkness, so it’s very much an object with a positive quality. And since the candles are placed right next to Lester, they might be a reflection of his happiness.
Also, there is a red car outside the garage— the color red is prominent in this movie. Often red roses are seen throughout the film, a red door and here a red automobile. This color Jamaleddine 2 possibly represents suppressed sexuality. I say this for two reasons: Lester often imagines his daughter’s friend surrounded by red roses when he is with her, so it makes an appearance in his sexual fantasies (and it’s no coincidence that Lester’s “dream car” is red). Also, soon after this shot, Frank tries to kiss Lester, which shows he is suppressing his sexual desires as well because it appears he is a closet homosexual. Then one other connection the color red might have is to blood. For example, when the red door is shown just before Lester is murdered by Frank. So the fact Frank is standing next to a blood red car in this shot might be foreshadowing his devious intentions. The lighting and weather also creates a strong contrast between the two characters in the scene. Lester is inside and is surrounded by candle light. According to Film Art An Introduction by David Bordwell and Kristen Thompson, this is known as “underlighting” since the light is coming from below the subject (132). Lester isn’t feeling the effects of the rain — it could be said he is on the happy side of the shot. Then there Frank who is soaked in rain and is standing in the darkness of the night, which implies he is on the sad side of the shot. The contrasting lighting gives the audience an idea of what each character is feeling—Lester is cheerful and Frank is miserable. Also, there is a bright light that illuminates the red car (above the car). This specific lighting is probably put there to point out this vehicle is very much an important part of the scene, so it’s much more than some ordinary background prop. Like I mentioned earlier, red’s specific symbolism is very important in American Beauty, and this color’s numerous cameos is an aspect of the movie the creators wants the audience to pay attention to and interpret.
Next, let’s take a look at their costumes and makeup, which also tells us a lot