American Beauty Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

Secrets of the heroes of American Beauty (1999). Meaning Of The Film, Plot Analysis, Explanation Of The Ending.

Country: USA

Genre: drama

Year of production: 1999

Directed by: Sam Mendes

Actors: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Burch, Mina Suvari, Wes Bentley

Kevin Spacey masterfully played a man going through a midlife crisis. He is trying to break out of the routine and find happiness. This problem affects all the characters in the picture, but everyone has their own understanding of what is important and what is secondary.

The meaning of the film American Beauty is to accept your real “I”, in the value of every minute of life lived, which can always be lost overnight.

What is the movie about

The main character Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is an ordinary manager in a company. He is 42 years old, he has a wife and a daughter, but nothing in life brings happiness for a long time. A man lives by inertia, as, indeed, all members of his family. Wife Caroline (Annette Bening) plunged into work, meditation and the postulates of a healthy lifestyle. Daughter Jane (Thora Birch), like all teenagers, has acquired a bunch of complexes and believes that no one around understands and appreciates her, especially her parents.

main role Kevin SpaceyKevin Spacey played the main character Lester Burnham. Frame from the film.

The events in American Beauty are described on behalf of Lester himself, which is akin to a confession when the hero admits the insignificance of his existence. It touches to the depths, makes you stand on his side and empathize. Moreover, the history of Leicester is close to every 40-50-year-old person, regardless of gender. Hateful work, native people who have become strangers in spirit, daily routine, drawn into their networks. Something of this at least once affected everyone, and this makes watching the film even more interesting.

Lester understands that his life has become a mere decoration, has lost its meaning, but he still remembers what it was like before. At the beginning of the film, he reminisces about his early years of marriage, when they were still happy with Caroline. They sincerely laughed, enjoyed communicating with each other and their little daughter. But what happened next? The protagonist admits that he has turned into office plankton and a nonentity, an insect that even his own relatives do not notice.

Adding to the pessimism is the fact that Lester is about to lose his job. He already earns less than his wife, and here he can even “sit on her neck.” Then the daughter, who already considers him a loser, will finally hate him. And when, it would seem, life is getting worse, Lester meets her – the one who will put an end to his suffering.

Angela is a classmate and friend of Lester’s daughter Jane. He first meets her when he comes to the school for a basketball game. She appears before a man as the ideal of beauty and femininity, becomes his obsession, dream, reason to change his life. Lester suddenly feels strong, he wants to live, not exist, to see the world in all its colors. The name of the girl also has a hidden meaning. Angela became an Angel for Lester, his guiding star, an incentive to find his true happiness.

daughter with friendMeena Suvari as Angela Hayes and Thora Birch as Lester’s daughter, Jaina Burnham. Frame from the film.

The wife of the hero Caroline, meanwhile, is also unhappy. In an effort to build a career in the real estate business, she often fails. Her only joy is the cultivation of American Beauty roses, but can this replace love and give happiness? When she meets her competitor at a party – first-class real estate salesman Buddy Kane (Peter Gallagher), she suddenly becomes his mistress. At the end of American Beauty, she regrets this, realizing that she still loves her husband.

Lester’s daughter Jane is reserved and a little strange. One day, she notices that a neighbor is filming her. His name is Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley) and he also goes to her school. The girl becomes interested. She learns that Ricky was treated in a “psychiatric hospital”, where his own father “hid” him. Teenagers get to know each other better and realize that they are kindred spirits. It is Ricky who explains to Jane (and the audience) what real beauty is in life and how it can overwhelm the heart.

Ricky’s father is also an interesting character, far from being a minor one. Colonel Frank Fitts (Chris Cooper) is a real tyrant, a tough jerk who openly hates people of non-traditional orientation. He wants to completely control the life of his son and is sure that he succeeds. Meanwhile, Ricky gets involved with drug dealers and sells illegal substances behind his father’s back. Frank looks strong and confident, but he holds a major secret deep inside. The viewer learns about it only at the end of the film.

The content of “American Beauty” cannot be called complex, all events follow one from the other. Lester begins to play sports to pump up and become more attractive to Angela.

The girl constantly tells Jane about her love affairs, she is sure that everyone around her is crazy about her.

Caroline cheats on her husband with Buddy Kane, Jane starts dating Ricky. Colonel Fitts sees through the window how his son and Lester are doing something in the garage and decides that they have a love affair (in fact, Ricky just taught Lester how to smoke hashish properly).

Angela comes to spend the night with Jane, Lester understands that this is his chance to be alone with the girl.

Lester and AngelaFrame from the film.

Ending explanation

The content of the plot, despite its simplicity, keeps the viewer at the screen until the end. The denouement becomes a complete surprise, it is unlikely that it could have been predicted.

Once alone with the object of his adoration, Angela, Lester openly lusts for her. And then the girl suddenly admits that she is still a virgin. Turns out she had her own secret too. A passionate lover, the object of adoration of all the guys in the school, in fact, she has never been with a man and is afraid of this step. Lester is dumbfounded, he understands that in front of him is a child – defenseless and touching, in need of support.

Colonel Fitts also revealed his terrible secret. Arriving at the garage to Lester, he was going to accuse him of molesting his son, but in the end he confessed his love to him. It turns out that a strong and full of “correct” principles warrior is a hidden gay, forced to hide it from everyone for many years.

After confessing his sexuality to Lester, he cries. This is a poignant scene in which an absolutely unhappy person takes the most desperate step in his life. The meaning of the ending of the film “American Beauty” follows from this scene, but becomes clear a little later.

Refused by Lester, Colonel Fitts is crushed. His life is broken, he has absolutely nothing to lose. This becomes an explanation of the ending, which at that moment the viewer does not yet know.

By the end of the film, three people want to kill Lester at once – his wife Caroline, Ricky (Jane jokingly asked him about this) and Fitts. And when at the end there is a gun at the head of the protagonist and a shot is heard, it is shocking, but not too surprising.

And only before the final credits it becomes clear that the killer is Fitts. He could not forgive the fact that he exposed his feelings to Lester, confessed his weakness and was rejected.

The meaning of the film

The director’s idea was not at all to show a middle-aged pedophile lusting for a girl. This is what some critics accused the creators of the film “American Beauty”. The point is that many people plunge into a routine, live by inertia and forget about strong feelings, about the content of their own “I”. In the picture, everyone understands love and beauty in their own way, and by the end they reveal these concepts, accept them.

Beauty is a separate theme of the film, something to think about. This is not only external attractiveness, but everything that surrounds a person, to which he is so used that he does not even notice.

Ricky is the hero that makes everyone stop and look around. The scene with a flying white package has become an unspoken “business card” of the film. Its hidden meaning is that we often understand the value and beauty of the simplest things too late, when nothing can be fixed.

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