Color scheme in American Beauty

I’ve seen American Beauty at least 50 times, but even after so many views, there is always something new I haven’t noticed before.

I was always aware of the color red appearing repeatedly in the movie – red is the color of roses present in several scenes, Lester’s new car (1970 Pontiac Firebird), door of Burnham’s house etc., but only recently, I noticed this color scheme: Red, blue and white. It’s hilarious how often these three colors appear simultaneously on the screen in various combinations and in various forms throughout the whole movie. Here are some examples:

Lester’s office (notice for example the handles of scissors on the table),

American Beauty (1999)
American Beauty (1999)

Lester’s suitcase (notice the color of papers and folders),

American Beauty (1999)
American Beauty (1999)

but probably the most noticeable is the Burnham’s house.

American Beauty (1999)
American Beauty (1999)

White walls, blue window shutters and red door. The same color scheme is found also inside the house.

American Beauty (1999)
American Beauty (1999)

I’m not sure what these colors mean, what do they represent and why, but they were used without any doubt on purpose. The importance of color further proves one of the first sentences of Lester Burnham: “That’s my wife Carolyn. See the way the handle on those pruning shears matches her gardening clogs? That’s not an accident.”

Maybe the color scheme shows certain stereotype, or materialistic world of Lester’s wife Carolyn (she wears colors matching the colors of their house – red, white and blue – and gets furious and angry when Lester – almost – spills the beer on the couch).

Honestly, I don’t know, what does the color scheme of red, white and blue mean. But sometimes, the questions are more important than answers. Maybe Sam Mendes doesn’t know either, or does he?

Other examples

P.S. There is a short article trying to answer, what does the color RED mean in the movie, well worth reading!

5 thoughts on “Color scheme in American Beauty

  1. Hi there, interesting you pointed out the “Red White and Blue” aspect to the colour. I had of course noticed the colour red was everywhere, but perhaps, as I touch on in my own blog about symbolism in this film, Carolyn is identified with these particular colours because her ruthless quest for power and glory and profit and success is in fact the embodiment of the American Dream (which is supposed to be beautiful).

    Just a thought!! Thanks for your blog, mine is here:
    Cheers, Andrew.

    1. Hi Andrew, thank you for the comment! I really like your idea of Carolyn being the embodiment of the American Dream, makes perfect sense, but why is she (eventually their house) identified specifically with these (red, blue and white) colors? What about other colors, aren’t they beautiful as well? Was this color scheme random choice (doubt so) or thought through (very likely)?

      I guess there will always be more questions than answers, but that’s the beauty of this film. 🙂

      Anyway, thanks again for your thought, really appreciate it!

      1. Oh sorry I didn’t make that explicitly clear, I meant because the Red White and Blue reflect the bold colours of the American flag, Stars and Stripes. Since the name of the film is American Beauty I guess I have been primed to seek a strong sense of Americanism in it and come up with that as an answer to give you 🙂 As a side note, that last image you show above, of Carolyn sitting in her white room with the colours all around – does she look like Hilary Clinton (back then the First Lady) by accident or design, do you think? Again, the whole American Dream of “My house is my castle” and all of that. From Carolyn’s living room great affairs of state are run. I don’t know, the film is so rich you can rant all day and go on and on about things like this 🙂 thanks for all your feedback!

      2. Oh, now when you mentioned the flag it’s so clear! And yes, the film is so rich, that we can rant about it for hours, even days. Man, the thing with Hilary Clinton, that’s crazy! 🙂 Thanks so much for your thoughts! 😉

        If you’ll have time, watch the art of storyboarding with Sam Mendes and Conrad L. Hall, such a great talk! Sam Mendes tends to intellectualize some shots, while Conrad Hall tends to think about them more on the emotional level…

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