An interesting deconstruction of “American Beauty”

Courtesy of the ever-informative MaryAnn, who originally posted this in a comment thread here. She makes some fascinating points on the crisis of masculinity:

“Eek, now I feel on the spot. The crisis of masculinity, as I and others perceive it, is the disconnect straight American men feel from the traditional masculine model of their fathers and grandfathers because of the threat posed to it by women’s and gay liberation, and the difficulty of trying to redefine their own masculinity.

Okay. Here’s the short version. Lester feels unable to express his masculinity because his wife Carolyn dominates him financially and emotionally. Because she denies him sex, he seeks out unsuitable love objects (Angela) whom he can, in turn, dominate and who will not question his masculinity. In doing so, he also sublimates his incestuous desires for Jane.

Ricky serves as Lester’s doppelganger, the mysterious double every person supposedly has and who, in folklore, heralds one’s own imminent death when one sees him. To Lester, Ricky represents his own free younger self. Ricky provides Lester with both a conduit to his freedom (by selling him marijuana and introducing the idea of simply quitting one’s job) and a suitable (non-incestuous) sexual partner for Jane of whom Lester can approve. Of course, Ricky also fulfills his folkloric role by introducing Lester to his father the Colonel, who eventually kills him.

The Colonel is the latent homosexual who channels what he perceives as illicit desire and his fear at being discovered into an intense homophobia. His choice of the military as a career both lampoons and reinforces the military as a male charade (a performance of masculinity for a global audience) and haven for closeted gays. His own wife does not work, portraying the traditional homemaker role as a prison which reduces her to a ghost.

There is no happy medium between the roles of the Colonel’s wife, who keeps an immaculate house but has become less than human, and the “bloodless, money-grubbing freak” Carolyn has become.

Lester eventually arrives at a new definition of masculinity, sensitive without being gay, sensual without being sexually threatening, and resolves his incestuous feelings by reminding himself of the vulnerability of Jane and Angela. Of course, in so doing he renders himself abject in the diegesis of the film–he can no longer fit inside the confines of his world, and so must die.

Therefore, the film offers the not-very-comforting idea that to resolve the crisis of masculinity is to become a new sort of person that cannot fit into traditional American life, meaning you must be expelled from the community.

Whew! Hope you don’t think that’s too weird.

My husband maintains that the film is a sort of Zen text, which the filmmakers kind of validate in the DVD commentary. So I guess I did all that thinking for nothing. Ha. “

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