The sequence I have chosen for my analysis is from "American Beauty". I am going to look at the ending six minutes of the film. The film itself is based around one suburban American family and the events that take place within and around that family, over the course of a year. At the very beginning of the film, the central character, Lester Burnham (played by Kevin Spacey) announced as part of a voice over that he would be dead within a year. Throughout the film, events have taken place that would put any of the films characters in place as his killer.
His wife, Caroline (Annette Bening), has become a gun fanatic and had an affair and, since doing so, has been given due reason to hate her husband. Also, his daughter Jane, (Thora Birch), and her new boyfriend, her next-door neighbour Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley), have planned to kill Lester. Ricky Fitts' father, Colonel Frank Fitts (Chris Cooper), has also had an incident with Lester involving some wrongly interpreted feelings, resulting in Frank's homosexuality coming to the surface.
Aswell as this, in the scene previous to the part of the film I am analysing, Lester's fantasy of having a chance to make love to his daughters' friend, Angela Hayes (played by Mena Suvari), had become reality. When the time came, he said that it would be wrong to take of advantage of her at such a young age. At this point in the film, Lester Burnham is still alive. The sequence I am looking at begins with a close up of the back of Caroline Burnham's head and right shoulder. The camera is inside her car, which is parked, and is looking over her shoulder at the windscreen.
In shot is the rear-view mirror. In the mirror, we can see her eyes, nose, and hair (upper face). She has tears in her eyes, showing the audience clearly that she is not happy with events that have taken place earlier in the film. After roughly three seconds, her head turns to the left. The shot cuts to her point of view, looking up her garden path, through the rain, at her front door. The window lowers and the door becomes clearer. I think that this has been made in such a way so that it reflects, to the audience, clarity in her mind about something that she feels she should do.
Previously she was sat in her car repeating the phrase; "I refuse to be a victim". Although there is nothing to say that the two things are related, I personally feel that this is why it has been done. At this point, the Thomas Newman score comes back into the film. The music is a sad tune, featured earlier in the film, played on piano. After a few seconds, we cut away. Now in shot is Angela, wrapped in a blanket that Lester had given her in their previous scene. For approximately one and a half minutes, a conversation takes place between her and Lester, who is stood opposite her, wearing his tracksuit from earlier in the film.
In this conversation, there is discussion about Lester and how he is, and he admits to her that he is "great". This whole conversation is in mid shot, cutting from one person to the other, as and when they speak. All inanimate objects in this scene are shrouded in darkness. All light is focused on the two characters, even more so when Lester admits how he is. This lighting technique has been used to draw attention away from the surroundings, and to focus on the two characters only. At this point in the scene, light has been focused directly on his face to make it glow with happiness.
This is to give the audience the impression that for the whole film he has been seeking this happiness and now he has it. Throughout, the music from the beginning of my sequence has continued to play. When Angela excuses herself and goes tot he bathroom, Lester is left alone in the room to reflect on is state. The music fades out, in time with Angela's exit and the only sound now in the scene is the rain falling outside. As Lester moves across the room, the camera follows him in mid shot. He walks out of the light and into the darkness.
As he picks up a photo from the dark sideboard, the music comes back in, this time with a slightly happier feel to it, reflecting how Lester feels. He walks around the kitchen with the photo in his hand before sitting. As he sits, the hot changes again, this time to a point of view shot. This has been done to give us the feeling that we, the audience, are Lester, and that we should feel as happy for him as he does for himself. We are now looking at the photo in his hand through Lester's eyes.
The photo is a black and white picture of his family (Caroline, Jane and himself), at what appears to be the funfair. In the picture, they are all smiling, an image of how the family once was. Also in shot are Lester thumbs, holding the picture in shot) and behind the photo, at the top of the shot, is a red leafed plant. This plant was previously in the dark and inanimate. Now, it is bright and stands out against the photo. The audience is forced to notice it. We then cut to a close up shot, taken from behind the picture frame in his hands, of Lesters face.
Again, lighting has been used to add glow to his face, and his happiness radiates out. A smile creeps across his face. He says: "Man oh man... ". The shot cuts to a profile shot of his face, the picture still in view. As he repeats, "Man oh man" a silver gun moves in from the left of the screen, pointed at his head. Extra lighting has been used on the gun to bring it forward from the background so that there is no possible way that the audience can miss it. The character who they have grown to know and like since the start is about to meet his end.
The audience have been given no information about the killer though. This gives the audience an opportunity to think about who it could be from the list of people that they have met since the beginning. As the music fades out, the camera pans away from Lester, towards the wall infront of him, as he does so, the picture is lowered in his hands, and we pass the now brilliantly red plant. The shot shows us a white tiled wall; there is no sound, other than the nondigetic sound of the rain falling outside. The firing of the gun breaks the near-silence.
The previously glowing white tiles are splattered with blood. As we watch for about two seconds, the blood begins to slide down the wall. The audience are now in anger with the killer, even though they don't know who he or she is. They are given another moment to think about the killer and to take in what has just happened. The shot then cuts to a point of view shot, someone walking downstairs. Cut to Jane and Ricky walking down the stairs, close to each other - afraid. The audience at this point can sympathise with them, as it appears they have not killed Lester.
They enter the room in point of view and upon the sight of blood, the view changes to a mid shot of Jane and Ricky, standing in the doorway. Using a point of view shot, we see what they see as they enter - blood, presumably Lesters, dripping from a pool on the table onto another pool on the floor. The blood is bright red in colour, just like the leaves of the plant from the table earlier. Ricky walks into the room. From behind Lester's head, which is lying in a puddle of blood, we see Ricky, moving downwards into a crouching position next to the table. His face comes into shot, he is staring at Lesters dead face.
The shot cuts to Ricky's point of view. We, as Ricky, look at Lester. His cold, dark eyes leer blindly back at us, longing for a response. His face is hollow, empty of emotion, but the smile from his momentarily happy face, is still vaguely present. This image fills the screen. The audience are meant to see him like this, they are meant to be the ones he is looking at. Ricky in this shot acts as a go between for the audience and the dead Lester. The voice over returns. It says: "I had always heard your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. This shot dissolves to a pan shot of some blue sky with clouds.
Simultaneously, Thomas Newman's score continues and Lesters voice over continues: "First of all, that one second isn't a second at all, it stretches on forever, like an ocean of time. " The following sequence is a montage of short clips that explain to us what Lester saw in the few, very short moments before he died and also that place the suspects where they were at the time of Lesters killing, ultimately revealing next door neighbour Colonel Frank Fitts as the murderer.
The shots of Lesters are memories in this sequence are highlighted by the use of black and white filming instead of colour. The last shot of the sequence dissolves into Rickys' plastic bag video from earlier in the movie. Lesters voice over goes on at this point to reiterate what Ricky has previously said about all the beauty in the world. This shot then dissolves to one of the opening shots of the Burnhams typical suburban street, this time panning up and zooming out. The film closes on Lesters voice over, explaining that the audience has no idea what he is talking about but that we will someday.