Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

American Beauty (1999)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

American Beauty (1999)

In Sam Mendes' Best Picture R-rated winning film - his feature film debut; it was a satirical and extremely dark comedy/drama about the emptiness of suburban life and a family's meltdown, and the last remaining year in the life of a husband in the midst of a mid-life crisis, experiencing both a spiritual awakening and a mental collapse:

  • Lester Burnham (Oscar-winning Kevin Spacey) delivered the opening voice-over as he awoke and then masturbated in the shower; he described his unhappy life - and foreshadowed his own death: "My name is Lester Burnham. This is my neighborhood. This is my street. This is my life. I am 42 years old. In less than a year, I will be dead. Of course, I don't know that yet, and in a way, I'm dead already. Look at me, jerking off in the shower. This will be the high point of my day. It's all downhill from here. That's my wife Carolyn. See the way the handle on those pruning shears match her gardening clogs? That's not an accident. That's our neighbor, Jim, and that's his lover, Jim...Man, I get exhausted just watching her. She wasn't always like this. She used to be happy. We used to be happy. My daughter, Jane. Only child. Janie's a pretty typical teenager - angry, insecure, confused. I wish I could tell her that's all going to pass, but I don't want to lie to her...Both my wife and daughter think I'm this gigantic loser. And they're right. I have lost something. I'm not exactly sure what it is, but I know I didn't always feel this -- sedated. But you know what? It's never too late to get it back"
  • during a stark dinner table scene, Lester non-chalantly told his family he had quit his job: ("...and then I told my boss to go f--k himself, and then I blackmailed him for almost $60,000. Pass the asparagus"); frustrated for not being listened to, he tossed the asparagus plate at the wall
  • soon, Lester became entranced with high school teen blonde vamp Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari), a friend of his 16 year-old daughter Janie (Thora Birch); Janie was beginning a love affair with her next-door videographer neighbor, pot-selling Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley). (She intentionally showed herself topless to voyeuristic Ricky, at one point in the film.)
  • Angela made her dramatic entrance during a half-time Dancing Spartanette routine to the tune of "On Broadway"; the music slowed down as Lester, sitting high in the bleachers, became entranced, transfixed and focused on Angela; staring at her and sexually desirous of her in his fantasies, his jaw dropped as the spotlight fell on her and she became the only one on the gym-floor in his view - and he was the only one in the stands; she teasingly winked at him and then performed (in his projective mind) a personal, one-on-one clothed striptease for him - she gave a knowing look, then unzipped the front of her uniform, causing a torrent and profusion of red rose petals to spill forth from her bare chest
  • the digitally-created fresh rose petals - fantasies in the mind of Lester - often covered the seductive image of Angela
The Red Rose Petals Theme
  • after meeting Angela, Lester fantasized about her in a bathtub covered with rose petals - in reality he was caught masturbating during sleep next to his shocked, disgusted and cold-hearted wife Carolyn (Annette Bening); Lester at first denied it, then admitted: "Oh, all right. So shoot me. I was whackin' off. That's right. I was chokin' the bishop, chafin' the carrot. You know, sayin' 'hi' to my monster....Well, excuse me, but some of us still have blood pumping through our veins"
  • next-door drug pusher Ricky Fitts videotaped an image of an empty plastic bag swirling around and around in the wind in an empty parking lot and his revelation: (Do you want to see the most beautiful thing I've ever filmed? It was one of those days when it's a minute away from snowing, and there's this electricity in the air, you can almost hear it. And this bag was just, dancing with me, like a little kid beggin' me to play with it - for fifteen minutes. And that's the day I realized that there was this entire life behind things, and this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know that there was no reason to be afraid, ever. Video's a poor excuse, I know. But it helps me remember - I need to remember. Sometimes, there's so much beauty in the world - I feel like I can't take it, like my heart is just going to cave in")
  • at the fast-food burger joint: ("Smile! You're at Mr. Smiley's"), Lester served his adulterous, surprised wife Carolyn when she was driving through with her trysting partner self-dubbed 'The King' of Real Estate - Buddy Kane (Peter Gallagher)
  • Lester's homosexual neighbor - retired Marine Col. Frank Fitts (Chris Cooper), had misunderstood and thought that Lester was gay (he thought he had witnessed his son Ricky performing oral sex on Lester). The Colonel confronted Lester in his open garage during a rainstorm and kissed him; Lester rebuffed him: "I'm sorry. Y-You got the wrong idea"
Awkward Misinterpreted Homosexual Kiss from Col. Fitts
  • as things came to a shocking, cathartic end, the vulnerable, seemingly-slutty and surprisingly virginal Angela was seduced by Lester when she stretched back on the living room couch, and he removed her pants, and then opened her blouse. He paused and then appropriately declined and called off having sex when she confessed: "This is my first time...I'm sorry. I still want to do it."

Aborted Seduction Scene with Angela
  • Lester was shot in the back of the head by an unseen intruder (Col. Fitts), as he looked wistfully at a family photography in the kitchen, reacting: "Man, oh man." The gun slowly appeared on the right side of the frame, and the white-tiled kitchen wall to the left of the frame was splattered with blood and brains, sailing in the air over a vase of red roses after the gunshot
  • at the moment of his death, Lester spoke in voice-over: "I had always heard your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn't a second at all. It stretches on forever, like an ocean of time.... I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me, but it's hard to stay mad when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once and it's too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst. And then I remember to relax and stop trying to hold on to it. And then it flows through me like rain, and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life. You have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry: you will someday"
  • daughter Janie and her boyfriend Ricky were the first to see the blood and body. Ricky stared quizzically at the sight. Lester's voice-over narration began at the moment of his death (see above). In the home's bathroom, Angela turned toward the sound of the first gunshot. Moments earlier, she had been seduced by Lester
  • following the gunshots, Fitts rushed into his home, where he was shown breathing heavily and with blood on his white T-shirt. His gun rack showed one missing weapon; Lester was murdered - not by his real estate agent wife Carolyn (who at the same time removed a gun out of the car's glove box and said to herself: "Lester, I refuse to be a victim") - but by his shamed and latent homosexual neighbor
  • despite his death, Lester expressed his redemptive, enlightened feelings of "gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life" - as the video of the white plastic bag randomly whirled about in the wind. He had found the beauty he was looking for - but only at the moment of his death. A birds-eye flying aerial view of the neighborhood was zoomed backwards toward the sky as the voice-over concluded.

Lester Waking Up and Showering

Stark Dinner Table Sequence

Ricky's Videotape of Plastic Bag Dancing in Wind

"Smile! You're at Mr. Smiley's"

Lester's Murder by Marine Col. Fitts (Chris Cooper)

The Murderer - Gay Neighbor Col. Fitts

Ricky (Wes Bentley) Staring Quizzically at Lester's Body


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