“Work for windows”
Perceptions of reality in American Beauty
No doubt the author wrote his script using windows operations for he seems to be inspired by windows, doorways and apertures and it is by this means that he portrays the contradictions of American life.
We can see a prime example of this ‘windows operation’ in the scene where the ‘faggots’ call on the colonel to welcome him to the neighborhood. The scene is literally framed by the doorway: notice how the camera alternately shows the colonel’s view of the ‘faggots’ and vice versa. The dialogue is, of course, characterized by misunderstandings. The colonel, from his side of the doorway, which is his ‘reality’ demands ‘you say you’re partners. What business are you in?’, failing to grasp the modern meaning of ‘partners’. The ‘faggot’ responds from his perspective of reality ‘he’s a tax accountant,
I’m a veterinary’, choosing to ignore that ‘partners’ can have any meaning other than its euphemistic one.
Similarly in the scene where we see Lester and Richie smoking dope outside the kitchen door, Richie is called back by his employer to re-enter the world of work, which the audience now perceives as a charade to disguise Richie’s dope business. The caterer is framed in the open doorway declaiming that Richie is not paid to do ‘whatever it is that you’re doing’. The caterer from his perspective of the world of work, chooses to deny to himself the obvious fact that Richie is smoking dope and as the door closes on the scene we hear his Parthian exclamation of ‘asshole’, a scarifying comment on Richie’s denial of the caterer’s traditional view of the world of work.
Perhaps the finest window scene is the basketball arena where the ‘window’ is created by the camera. Lester’s view of Angela amongst the dancers is focused along Lester’s tunnel vision of the particular dancer which he can see to the exclusion of all others. Eventually the window explodes leaving only Lester and Angela in the arena. This scene is characterized by red rose petals, symbolic of Lester’s sanguinary death when his red brain tissue and blood are splattered against the bathroom wall. The roses can also be seen as symbols of eroticism. When Caroline is first introduced to the camera, again in a window scene from Lester’s perspective from the house, she is pruning and cutting back the roses and it later transpires that she is also cutting away at Lester’s conjugal privileges. The more loquacious of the ‘faggots’ commends to Caroline the virtues of manure, a scatological reference to his own sexual proclivities.
It is not only individuals but also the relationships between them that are ruthlessly examined by the windows mechanism. The colonel’s total misconstruction of Lester and Richie’s relationship is skilfully portrayed by the camera projecting from the colonel’s window to show an exhibition of sexual intimacy. The dramatic irony that Richie is enamoured of Jane combined with the scene’s dialogue being denied to the colonel create a misconstruction that is a source of humour to the audience. The scene appears in stark contrast to the take away food store where Lester abruptly appears at the Mr Smiley window to confront Caroline and Brad viewed behind the automobile window. It is here that the true state of Lester’s marriage becomes apparent.