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!

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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