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American Beauty and Virgin Suicides Comparison

Essay by review  •  October 28, 2010  •  Research Paper  •  2,843 Words (12 Pages)  •  1,883 Views

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Reality. Merriam Webster's Online Dictionary defines reality as "something that is neither derivative nor dependent but exists necessarily." But what is real by today's standards? Does what appears to be normal equal reality? By looking at two different films it seems that the old cliche stands correct. Things aren't as they appear. American Beauty and The Virgin Suicides give classic examples of how "normal" and "happy" suburban life is anything but. American Beauty, directed by Sam Mendes (1999) and The Virgin Suicides, directed by Sofia Coppola (2000), share many of the same themes even though the plots are contrasted. Underneath the layers of white picket fences, beautiful houses, and safe neighborhoods, lies a truth. A truth so dark that it leads to the destruction of many characters in both of these movies.

The first element that must be looked at is the imprisonment of the characters in both films. The main character of American Beauty, Lester Burnham, is the man whom feels the burden of imprisonment the most. He is in an ongoing marriage that should be coming up to the red light. He is also stuck in a job where he feels under appreciated and not well respected. He has been at this job for fourteen years. That is fourteen years of being in jail. It is quite evident that he is not happy. Who would be when you know that your wife and you daughter think that you are a "gigantic loser" (American Beauty)?

Lester is not the only character who suffers from this. His wife Carolyn and daughter Jane both know what it is like to feel trapped in an unhappy life. Carolyn is imprisoned by image. She has the notion that she cannot be happy unless everything appears as perfect. And Jane, feeling the weight of her parents, wants to break off from her prison, her home life. She like most teens views her parents as weird and wants out of that life.

In The Virgin Suicides the characters that are the most imprisoned are the five Lisbon sisters. After the youngest sister plunged to her death during the first party they were allowed to have, and Lux came home late after the homecoming dance, their parents literally turned their home into a prison. "For most children, mothers and fathers set boundaries; for the Lisbon's, it's iron bars" (Berardinelli). They were not allowed out, had the tree cut down that was near their window, and even had actual bars put on the window. If that is not prison, what is?

But what is not really emphasized is that the parents did not do this to the girls out of cruelty but rather out of sorrow. For they too were in their own cells. They both were confined to the hurt and desperation of having one of their children take her own life. Was it because of failure on their parts? The answer to this they will never know. And so they will continue to live in the prison of ignorance.

Other elements that are seen throughout both of these films are infatuation and obsession. Anyone who has seen the movie American Beauty can not miss Lester's obsession with Angela, his daughter's classmate and friend. He first sees her when he and Carolyn go to see their daughter perform at the school basketball game. Instantly he became mesmerized by her beauty and couldn't stop the feelings he had for her. Obviously they were strictly sexual feelings. Is this normal? Is it normal for a father to have any kind of feelings for their daughter's friend? It may be normal but it is not what is correct. And so in order to portray the perfect family Lester tried for a while to suppress the feelings he was having for Angela.

Carolyn is also a victim of obsession. She is overly obsessed with appearances. She often makes comments to Jane about the way she looks. She feels that she cannot be happy unless she is presented in an ideal way. "Because of the necessity to keep up appearances, a serene facade often conceals a breeding ground for dysfunction, anxiety, and hypocrisy" (Berardinelli). An example of this is when she is trying to sell a house. She goes deranged trying to clean it and then the prospected homebuyers did not even buy it. They can see right through her. Although the house may look clean on the outside, it is not a valuable investment. That is something that Carolyn herself cannot see. She is blinded by her obsession with image.

In The Virgin Suicides, the obsession and infatuation is presented in a mysterious manner. The neighboring boys of the Lisbon sisters have become obsessed with them. But is it because of their beauty? Or is it because they want to be the heroes that save these girls? Or are they just infatuated with them because those girls are indeed a mystery to them? They watch them through a telescope. And that is the closest that they will ever get to these girls. By watching them through a projected image.

The one sister that becomes the center of the obsession is Lux. "Lux is at once a blond icon of girlish suburban innocence and an emblem of womanly eroticism" (Scott). She is the middle daughter and the most adept. She has been engaged in sexual encounters which makes her more exciting for the boys to watch. After she was thrown into her prison she lets loose this woman loving sexual escapades with different visitors on her rooftop. Thus becoming the object of desire for many young boys.

Loneliness plays a huge role in both of these films and why the characters act the ways in which they do. Lester Burnham is obviously lonely. His own wife does not want to be intimate with him. And his daughter wants nothing to do with him, although she suggests that it is his fault because he does not pay her enough attention. So of course he is lonely. Which is what makes him obsess over Angela. It leads him to try and find a new direction in his life. A life that may lead to happiness. Will he find it? Ultimately in the end he does.

The Lisbon girls all surrender to loneliness. They have no choice but to be alone. They will never be allowed to socialize in normal environments for a long time to come. And when that time comes it may be too late. They are confined in their home with each other. But that is not enough because each one of them suffers separately. It is too bad that they could not come together to get through the hardships. It is the hardships that lead to their individual demises.

Failure is another element that is crucial to understanding these characters. They all feel as though they have failed in some way. Lester feels that he failed as a husband, as a father, and as a man in general. He could not make his wife happy. And he could not make his daughter happy. And he also could not make his boss happy. No wonder why this man feels worthless. What is the point if you

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