Body language in American Beauty

American Beauty (1999)
American Beauty (1999)

However, this changes, when he meets at basketball match best friend of his daughter – Angela Hayes. He fells immediately in love with her. Later at home, he overhears a dialogue between Jane and Angela, saying that if he would work out a little bit, he would be hot and Angela would **** him.

Now, that gives him suddenly a meaning and purpose in his life. Driven by desire to win Angela, he starts to work out. But not only that, most importantly, he starts to live! He finally wakes up from the coma and starts doing things, he always wanted to do. Throughout the movie, we are following his change, from being a loser to becoming a man, who is in control of his life.

All of the acting performances in American Beauty are tremendous, thanks to a great collaboration between actors and director. The great thing about director like Sam Mendes is that he comes out of a theatre, so he knows how to utilize rehearsals, he has a deep understanding of actors and knows, how to shape their performances . Let’s look now, how such successful collaboration looks like.

There are several subtle examples documenting Lester’s change, we’ll look at one of those examples, a dinner scene occurring twice during the movie.

American Beauty (1999)
American Beauty (1999)

The first dinner scene is happening before Lester meets Angela. If you look at the picture above, you’ll notice, that there are several things going on, but right now, I want you to look closely at Lester and Carolyn.

Even though the framing looks balanced (Jane in the middle and Lester and Carolyn occupying almost the same space in the frame), it is clear, who is more dominant and superior thanks to their body language. Lester is sitting stooped on the chair and avoids the eye-contact, revealing thus his low self-esteem.

American Beauty (1999)
American Beauty (1999)

Now, if we look at the second dinner scene later in the movie, we’ll notice, that things have clearly changed since Lester met Angela. He sits on the chair with his back straightened, looks comfortable and relaxed in comparison to the previous picture. Also, notice the small details like style of his clothing, or the bottle of the beer on the table in the second picture.

These are subtle examples, but subconsciously, they help to tell a story of a man going through a life change. Lets finish this article with one example of before and after (his life change):

American Beauty (1999)
American Beauty (1999)
American Beauty (1999)
American Beauty (1999)

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5 thoughts on “Body language in American Beauty

  1. Great observation! I have seen this movie more than once! When you put the dinner scenes next to each other one can really see the difference and the meaning of props and body language!

  2. In re-watching the film again the other day for research for my own blog post, I also noticed the difference between the first and second dinner scenes. Carolyn as always is upright and at the “head” of the table while Lester is almost cowering from her commanding gaze. So kudos for spotting this detail.

    But I would like to add another detail I only just noticed the other day too – the use of levels. In this first dinner scene we see Carolyn sitting higher than Lester, and once he gets his mojo back he is level with her, just as self-empowered as she is. If you watch very carefully throughout the film, you can notice extremely subtle moments where someone walking onto or off a step, or standing or sitting, reveals who exactly has the power in the relationship. Lester and Carolyn spend the entire movie moving up and down relative to each other, but another interesting way this is explored is through Buddy the Dorky Prince of Real Estate. When Carolyn first meets him at his swanky dinner party he is up some steps above her and she is completely in awe. As their relationship progresses he begins to sit with her, -on her level-, next to her in the car and what have you. And it’s hardly necessary to mention the most obvious example – Buddy is always On Top when they have sex. So bottom line of this rant is that Carolyn doesn’t respect men unless they intimidate her, and the height differences of the characters throughout the movie offer the audience a glimpse of who holds the power at any onetime.

    Sorry, have I made any sense? Hope so! 🙂

      1. 🙂 yeah and we recall the only time Lester and Carolyn seem like they could rekindle their sexual relationship is when Lester makes that move on her in their living room and tries to be on top (before spilling his beer).

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