American Beauty Suggested Essays
by Sam Mendes
Suggested Essay Questions
- Lester Burnham reveals that he will die in the first few lines of the film. What purpose might this revelation serve? How does this knowledge affect the way a viewer might experience the film?
- When introducing his wife, Carolyn, Lester Burnham comments that the handles of her gardening shears match her clogs. How does this information fit in with Carolyn's character as you perceive it? Does this line accurately sum up Carolyn, or is Lester being unfair in some way?
- Examine the scenes of the film which the audience sees through the lens of Ricky's camera. How is the story that Ricky's films tell similar to or different from the film as a whole? What might Ricky's films reveal that couldn't have been revealed in any other way?
- Ricky's behavior towards Jane would be viewed by many as inappropriate, or even dangerously obsessive. Indeed, Ricky himself might be considered relatively unstable, yet Mendes does not seem to intend the audience to feel concern over Ricky's relationship with Jane. How does Mendes communicate the innocence of their love to the audience?
- Many of the characters in the film exhibit symptoms of severely low self-esteem. At the end of the film, many of these characters have begun to recover - to like themselves and their lives. Pick one such character and explain why his or her feelings undergo this dramatic transformation.
- The film's name references the type of rose seen many times throughout the film - American Beauty roses. What other ideas and images might this title be referring to? Pick an idea or image of "American beauty" that you consider relevant and explain how it relates to the film. Be sure to cite specific evidence from the text to support your claim.
- Angela and Jane are best friends, yet it is clear from the beginning that Jane is jealous of Angela and that Angela does her best to make Jane feel insecure. How does this friendship function despite these emotional undercurrents? Is the depiction of their friendship realistic, or the film merely satirizing a stereotypical high school relationship?
- Is Lester Burnham a hero, or an anti-hero? Be sure to define both of these terms in your answer.
- Consider the remarkable success enjoyed by American Beauty upon its release. What might have accounted for this success? What makes it somewhat surprising?
- Why might the writer and/or director have chosen roses as one of the film's primary symbols? What ideas do roses convey that are important to the overall meaning of the film?
American Beauty Essays and Related Content
- American Beauty: Major Themes
- American Beauty: Essays
- American Beauty: Questions
- American Beauty: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Sam Mendes: Biography
- American Beauty Summary
- About American Beauty
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Scene 1 ("The High Point of My Day") through Scene 4 ("The Gym")
- Summary and Analysis of Scene 5 ("Spectacular") through Scene 8 ("My Personal Hero")
- Summary and Analysis of Scene 9 ("I Love Root Beer") through Scene 12 ("I Want to Look Good Naked")
- Summary and Analysis of Scene 13 ("Mom's Mad") through Scene 16 ("The Most Beautiful Thing")
- Summary and Analysis of Scene 17 ("Pass the Asparagus") through Scene 20 ("Massive Psychological Damage")
- Summary and Analysis of Scene 21 ("The Day You Die") through Scene 24 ("Our Marriage is Just for Show")
- Summary and Analysis of Scene 25 ("You Couldn't Be Ordinary if You Tried") through Scene 27 ("My Stupid Little Life")
- Cast List
- Mendes' influence on American Beauty
- Related Links on American Beauty
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources