Stereotypes In The Film "American Beauty"

2180 words - 9 pages

Stereotyping In Modern FilmStereotypes are extremely prominent in modern cinema, the first example that springs to mind is that of the film "American Beauty", directed by Sam Mendes, in 1999. Here is a seriocomic look at suburban America, which utilizes various stereotypes in order to make a broader statement on the symptoms supposedly brought upon us by living boring suburban lives. While the stereotypes work to the filmmakers' advantage in the film's cutting comic stages, once the film devolves into melodrama, the stereotypes become much more apparent, changing the film from a scathing satire to a parable of sorts.The plot of the film can be summarized by saying that it concerns the ...view middle of the document...

Ricky is an oddjob who enjoys filming nearly anything that catches his eye, or that he finds beautiful, including Jane, often without her knowing about it. He is the strange and beautiful outsider who turns everyone's lives upside down.Why Ricky is so strange is easily explained once one meets his family. His father, Colonel Frank Fitts is an army veteran who is so openly homophobic that one immediately recognizes that he will eventually be revealed to be a latent homosexual. He forces his wife and son to sit on either side of him while he watches old army films and laughs alone. He is aware that his son has a history of selling and using marijuana, and he routinely takes urine samples from him. Ricky's mother is a piece of work, as well. She has clearly lost her mind. She sits around the house staring at walls, not hearing when people talk to her. One funny scene involves Ricky bringing Jane over to his house, and Ricky's mother apologizing for what a mess their house is. The camera then cuts to an unnaturally immaculate living room, straight out of a home and garden catalog.This pretty much sums up all of the major players in "American Beauty". But the question is, what purpose do these stereotypes serve? It seems that it is to paint a portrait of middle class America, but there is a chance that the film is attempting to skewer these stereotypes. Much is made in Dyer's article of stereotypes serving as a shortcut. It describes a shortcut as being "a simple, striking, easily grasped form of representation." Now this would work if the film contained the stereotyped stereotypes, if you will, such as the black man, the alcoholic, or the dumb blonde. However, this film deals with more complex stereotypes, such as the bored American dad, the homosexual who isn't revealed as such until near the end of the film, and the marriage devoid of intimacy. For instance, there comes a moment in the film where a revitalized Lester Burnham makes a pass at his wife. He brings up old romantic memories of theirs, back when they were actually in love, and she changes the subject, ruining the moment by telling him he might spill his drink on their couch. While one senses that his wife is overly materialistic, her reaction is more believable because of the fact that she is most likely shocked by his sudden display of affection, and made uncomfortable by it. The idea that the stereotypes in this film are used as shortcuts does not really work in this case because the stereotypes are so fully explained by various methods such as voice over that they are not shortcuts at all, but are in the fact the actual substance of the film.Nor are these stereotypes manifested out of the "fortress of tradition." This would imply that the stereotypes of the film are used because of the conventions of the genre, and this film is anything but conventional. As a matter of fact, the film tries so hard to be "original" and "idiosyncratic" that it is clear that the last thing it intends to...

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