American Beauty

10 October 2016

Analyse how verbal AND visual features of a text (or texts) you have studied are used to give the audience a strong idea. “I’m not exactly sure what it is, but I know I didn’t always feel this… Sedated” Says Lester Burnham, a 42 year old father and husband. Some would consider the Burnham house the ‘American Dream” with Lester having a teenage daughter Jane and a beautiful wife Carolyn.

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But as we can see from this quote, Lester feels extremely imprisoned, not only with in his surroundings bit imprisoned by social constraints and the pressure to be the idealistic family living the American dream. Sam Mendez director of the beautifully crafted film American Beauty uses both diagetic and mimetic codes to explore the idea of imprisonment which is an idea that has a strong presence throughout the film. Lester Burnham lives in a house hold where his wife Carolyn is constantly in control of what he does and does not do.

Carolyn is so possessed by her super ego that she her main focus has become fulfilling her life with materialistic things that society deems ‘perfection’ in order to make her life perfect on the outside. Because of this Lester feels their marriage has become ‘false’ or ‘for show’ causing him to lose his passion for life. At the start of the film, through the use of diagetic voice-over, we are told by Lester that he feels ‘Sedated’ and ‘dead already’ “In less than a year I’ll be dead.

In a way “I’m dead already” This quote expresses how Lester feels imprisoned, and like is life is in fact not a life at all as he refers to himself as ‘dead already’ suggesting that we may as well be dead. This is most probably from Carolyn calling all the shots in their marriage, stripping Lester of his masculinity and making him live the life she wants him to live. This making Lester feel as if he has lost all freedom due to the lack of power and dominance in his life.

So from the use of the diagetic voice-over that Mendez uses the viewers see how Lester feels physically confined in his household which gives the audience a strong idea of imprisonment. Mendez has shown us that Lester feels imprisoned through the use of diagetic codes, but it is through the use of mimetic codes that we understand that Lester is metaphorically imprisoned. Lester’s workplace is a prime example of a pace where he is metaphorically imprisoned. Mendez uses the technique of positioning to place Lester in front of his computer where the audience can see his reflection in he screen. The writing on the screen looks as if it is bars, creating the look that Lester is trapped behind those bars, this portraying Lester as being incarcerated in a jail cell. He is constrained inside the screen, emphasising how he is even imprisoned with in his work. Colour and setting are also techniques that Mendez uses t emphasis the idea of imprisonment in Lester’s work. The colour blue is very present in Lester’s work being the colour of the walls that surround Lester.

Blue reinforces the idea of social constraint making Lester feel bound and claustrophobic in the small cubicles they work in. The cubicles and the repeated amount of squares in the office reinforce the foucauldian setting that Mendez had created and the panoptican setting which is a metaphor for modern society control. These mimetic codes of positioning, colour and setting really reinforce the idea of being metaphorically imprisoned, all working together to create this image of Lester being trapped within this work.

Throughout the film Lester starts to realise how imprisoned he feels in his job and within his life with Carolyn. Again Mendez uses mimetic codes and diagetic codes to emphasis this idea of imprisonment. Firstly when Lester is talking to his boss (Brad) in Brad’s office, a low angle camera shot is focusing downwards on Lester from Brad’s point of view. The purpose of this is to make Lester seem inferior to Brad, being lower down than him and looking up towards him.

Brad has a sense of power and dominance being the taller figure, making him seem more superior. This has an effect on the viewers as they can see how Lester feels so imprisoned because he is portrayed in an inferior position to his boss. Later on in the film when Lester realises that he is actually imprisoned in his job he also realises that he doesn’t want to be in his job anymore. Mendez uses diagetic dialogue when Lester refers to staying in his job, would be like to sell his soul to the devil.

This shows how bound and restricted Lester feels at work. Mendez makes a clear allusion to Dr Faustus based on the Faust story, in which a man sells his soul to the devil for power and knowledge. In return, when the man dies the devil gets to take his soul to hell. Brad the corporate mentality represents Mephistopheles (the devil). These mimetic and diagetic codes that Mendez had used in this film clearly help the audience gain a strong idea of imprisonment as we see through Lester’s work.

To conclude, the idea of imprisonment is extremely present in this film. It may not be an obvious idea such as the perception of beauty and perfection, but as we ‘look closer’ through the mimetic and diagetic codes that Mendez has incorporated beautifully into his film, the viewer’s gain a very strong sense of the imprisonment operating. Mainly with Lester Burnham we see that he is not only physically imprisoned but also metaphorically imprisoned as well, with in his household, his marriage and his work.

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