Having a home of your own, an emotionally stable attractive couple who are madly in love with us and themselves, three healthy children and two dogs; or maybe a cat? A car, a successful job, an attractive salary with benefits, paid holidays… Ah yes, and a kind boss who doesn’t demand too much.

These are some of the idealistic expectations not always reached by almost everyone who tries to reach a standard of living more or less in line with what marketing has tried to convince us. Are these ideals just a dream that is passed on from generation to generation? Or is this really the life expectancy that most people long for, too good to be true? It is possible.

The film American Beauty by American director Sam Mendez shows us how, no matter what period of life, people find themselves in a constant struggle with themselves and with others to find a place in society that allows them to feel that their life has meaning.

American Beauty and the Ideal Life

This psychological film allows us to reflect on how we look at our individual ideals, forgetting that sometimes it is necessary to work together to achieve them.

This story shows us reality as seen from the perspective of the main character; Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) , a man in middle adulthood to whom life shows in more ways than one that the decisions we make can change what happens to us and that we can’t take anything for granted. In a somewhat uncertain way, Lester understands that it is we ourselves who have the power to give a beginning and an end to the situations that burden us .

Economic success and happiness in the family

No one imagines himself or herself in a neurotic relationship with someone who represents not only competition but also a constant reminder of what we are not. With a disoriented teenage daughter who has grown up to realize that you are not the hero she once believed in and with whom you seem to have no minimum degree of kinship; a mortgage, with no chance of growing up at work and with high levels of stress just starting out in your forties, especially when you did everything you thought you could to make it, (you did).

The film American Beauty shows us through what it shows us about the Burnham family, that economic success is not always equal to a full and happy life . And getting what we want one day is not always an indicator of success. In other words, that “not all that glitters is gold”.

Today’s society seems to be programmed to desire these things. There is a great deal of media that distorts the perception of what really matters to achieve the true common goal of people: their own happiness. Wrongly, there are those who believe that the value of things is dictated by the price.

Lester’s Existential Crisis

Lester’s central problem is the existential void in which he finds himself by not being satisfied with what he has (a daughter, wife, home, job, etc.) and by being unable to satisfy the expectations and goals that he himself and society have imposed on him according to the role to be played: to be the head of the family, an exemplary father, a successful businessman, etc.

Among other things, Lester, realizes that he has lost something and is determined to find it . Lacking any apparent reason to make a change and just when he seems to be resigned to the course of life he has chosen for himself, he finds that “something” he had lost; a reason.

The feeling that he can still achieve things to achieve his own happiness gives him a different perspective on what he thought was hopeless. The possibility of reaching what seemed lost (his happiness) allows him to take back the reins of his life and with this the necessary decisions to change his vision of the world and of himself; he begins to do what he really wants for himself and not for others. It is then that Lester loses something that is undoubtedly a guarantee for failure: he loses his fear .

The fundamental questions

Everything has a limit; it is important to be aware of what our limit is and, more importantly, to know the limit of others in order to establish before them and us the guidelines that will define the success or failure of our decisions, always seeking to be congruent with them.

Where do I come from? Where do I go? Who am I? The plot of American Beauty reminds us that it is easy to be distracted and divert attention from what is really vital to us, that “something” that makes everything have a meaning and a purpose. That answer to the most important question, what for?

The decisions we take today will undoubtedly have an impact on our short, medium and long term future. It is essential to be honest with ourselves and to be clear about what we want , where we want to go, how we are going to achieve it and how far we are willing to go for this to happen.

But above all, to be clear about the purpose and meaning of what we do. If we don’t have a clear purpose, it is difficult to assign a value or sense to everything we possess; only we ourselves have the power to make an effective change in our lives.

Bibliographic references:

  • American Beauty (1999), Sam Mendez (director), Alan Bail (screenplay)
  • Papalia, D. (2012). Human development. McGraw Hill Publishing.
  • Frankl, V. (2004). Man in search of meaning. Editorial: Herder Editorial.