In the kitchen, Lester opens a beer and drinks, then hears something and walks to the doorway. He goes into the living room, where he sees Angela sitting in the corner. She stands up and tells Lester that she and Jane had a fight about the fact that Angela thinks he's sexy. Lester offers Angela a sip of his beer. They walk towards each other and meet in the middle of the room, framed on the right by a bouquet of red roses. Lester asks Angela what she wants and takes her shoulders in his hands. She says she doesn't know, and then asks him what he wants. He says that he wants her and reaches up to touch her cheek. He tells her how beautiful he thinks she is and kisses her forehead, then her eyes. He tells her, "You couldn't be ordinary if you tried," and she smiles. He kisses her, and she kisses him back.
Carolyn speeds down the road, repeating her mantra: "I refuse to be a victim." On the chaise lounge, Lester leans over Angela, sliding his hands down her body and slipping off her jeans. Upstairs, Jane and Ricky are lying on her bed. She asks if he's scared, and he tells her he doesn't get scared. She comments that her parents will try to find her, and he says that his won't. Lester takes off Angela's shirt, and she tells him that it's her first time. He laughs, thinking that she's joking, but then she tells him that she thought she should tell him. He looks at her, horrified, then presses his face against her breast. She asks what's wrong, and he gets up. He picks up a blanket and covers her with it, wrapping his arms around her, and she starts to cry.
Carolyn has pulled up in front of the house. In the kitchen, Lester watches over Angela, who has just eaten and says that she is feeling "better." Lester asks Angela how Jane is, and Angela tells Lester that Jane is really happy, and that she "thinks she's in love." Lester smiles. Angela asks Lester how he is, and he thinks about her question for a moment, then tells her that he's "great." Angela smiles and excuses herself to go to the bathroom. Lester walks over to the counter and picks up a picture, then sits down at the kitchen table to look at it. It is a picture of him, his wife, and Jane, when Jane was only a few years old. They look very happy. Lester marvels at the picture, seeming totally at peace.
Suddenly the barrel of a gun is visible behind Lester's head. The camera pans away, to the wall. There is the sound of a gunshot, and blood spatters against the white tiles. Jane and Ricky come down the stairs. They open the kitchen door and see a pool of blood. Ricky enters the kitchen, bends down, and looks at Lester's face. Even though blood is spilling from a hole in Lester's forehead, he looks happy...beautiful, even. Lester begins to speak in voice-over. He tells the audience that the one second before you die "stretches on forever": for him, he says, it was "lying on his back at Boy Scout camp looking at the stars." The moment of Lester's death then repeats over and over. Jane and Ricky hear the gunshot. Lester remembers maple trees, and Angela, looking in the mirror, is startled by the sound of the shot. Lester remembers his grandmother's skin, and we see Carolyn standing outside clutching her purse as the gun goes off, the sound faint through the pouring rain. Finally, Lester sees his cousin Tony's "brand new Firebird."
Colonel Fitts, wearing gloves, his white shirt covered in blood, walks into his office and shuts the door, gasping for breath. He takes off his shirt, and the camera pans to reveal that a gun is missing from his cabinet. Then we return to Lester's memories in the moment before he dies: a younger Jane opens her bedroom door and smiles, and then a toddler Jane wearing a Halloween fairy costume stands holding a sparkler in her hand. Back in the house, Carolyn walks into her room, shoves her purse into a box, and then collapses into the closet, sobbing, her arms wrapped around Lester's shirts. Finally Lester remembers a younger, happier Carolyn laughing on a spinning ride at a fair. The shot transitions to Ricky's video of a paper bag blowing with the leaves against a red brick wall.
"I guess could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me," Lester says in voice-over. "But it's hard to stay mad, when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes it seems like I'm seeing it all at once and it's too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst." The screen fills with an image of Lester's neighborhood, and we ascend towards the sky as Lester continues: "And then I remember to relax and stop trying to hold on to it. And then it flows through me like rain, and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life. You have no idea what I'm talking about I'm sure. But don't worry: you will someday."
Lester's new identity finally stabilizes in the last section of the film. Though he comes frighteningly close to making a huge mistake, his realization that Angela is not a femme fatale, but only a scared little girl, ultimately redeems him. By indulging in fantasies about Angela, by freeing his imagination, Lester frees himself. At first Lester's newfound freedom confused him, making him think that in order to be truly free one must give in to every desire, but he ultimately realizes that true freedom is found in balancing your love for yourself with your love for others. Lester is finally able to voluntarily reassume the responsibilities that he had originally taken on only because he was forced to. Only by re-experiencing his adolescence can Lester truly become an adult. Another important component of Lester's redemption is his renewed concern for Jane. When Lester asks Angela how Jane is doing, he seems to be reminding himself that his identity as a father is just as important as his identity as an individual.
One of the most striking and beautiful aspects of the film is its honest, unflinching portrayal of teenage angst. This theme climaxes when Jane tells Ricky that her parents will look for her, to which Ricky responds that his won't. While there is a clear distinction between their problems (Jane's are, technically speaking, far less serious) Mendes shows us that, to Jane, her problems don't feel less serious. Her desire to get away from her parents, to stop being affected by their insanity, is no less significant than Ricky's desire to have parents who will love him no matter what. Ricky doesn't even care if the Colonel shows his love by drug testing him or hitting him. Ricky only gives up on his father when his father literally throws him out of the house.
In another display of stellar cinematographic technique, the audience experiences and re-experiences the moment of Lester's death. This allows the viewer to see multiple characters' reactions in a more immediate way. Interestingly, these reactions are relatively simple, and are not really intended to build suspense: the film is not, at heart, a murder mystery. After Lester's death, the film is not concerned with the fate of Colonel Fitts, whether Carolyn or Jane will be suspected of the crime, or whether Carolyn will feel guilty about her murderous intentions (after all, why else was she bringing the gun into the house?). The ending focuses solely on Lester, on the beauty he finds in life in the moment of his death.
In death, Lester finally figures out what he never quite understood in life: that happiness is found in freedom, yes, but also in the love that you give and receive. True happiness is the ability to look at a fallen bird, or a paper bag dancing in the wind, and see its true beauty. Happiness comes from seeing the beauty in everything, from knowing that no matter how bad life seems, the world is a wondrous place. Through this realization, the film suggests that American beauty is democratic, far-reaching: there is indeed beauty everywhere you look, so long as you take the time to see.