On American Beauty - tuesday 2003-05-27 0457 last modified 2003-07-20 0122
Categories: Christianity, Writing, Film
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I've heard several people declaim American Beauty as a terrible movie. I disagree. And I'm four years late, but whatever. First, though, a little on the levels at which a film can be experienced. I think there's often a great deal unsaid when someone thinks a movie is terrible. There is the director's vision, which we mostly never know, though DVD commentaries have been a boon in opening us up to their thoughts. There is the way the story is told, the story itself, and the moral of the story. There is the acting and the directing, the music, the mood, the lighting in the way the story is told. American Beauty succeeds for me on the levels of how the story is told and its ultimate moral, though I can't agree with the story itself.

First off, the score and the cinematography are some of the best I've come across, particularly the lighting and the framing. I'm no actor, but I think most of the acting was well done, too, though it felt poorly matched in some scenes. Ultimately, though, it's the moral that strikes me. And here we go: I think it's almost Biblical.

The story itself I can't agree with. Lester's transformation begins with the lighting of a joint and is carried through in part by lust for a teenager. The story glorifies an anti-hero, as, for some reason, most modern movies tend to do. Nonetheless, Alan Ball's screenplay comes to an exquisite conclusion.

There is beauty everywhere, even in Lester's stupid little life, beauty that points at 'this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid. Ever.' Beauty in and of itself is...nice. But C. S. Lewis describes what role beauty really plays in "The Weight of Glory:"

We do not want merely to see beauty, though God knows even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words, to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.

...At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.

American Beauty is almost a theophany, a realization of the Author of true beauty.

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