According to Berk, 2012, “Middle adulthood, which begins around the age 40 and ends at about 65, is marked by narrowing life options and a shrinking future as children leave home and career paths become more determined. In other ways, middle age is hard to define because wide variations in attitudes and behaviors exist.” American Beauty is a movie created by director Sam Mendes in the late 1990s. The movie focuses on the character Lester Burnham, a man in his mid-40’s going through an intense midlife crisis; he’s grown cynical and is convinced that he has no reason to go on. Lester’s relationship with his wife Carolyn is quite dysfunctional, while Carolyn works hard to make it seem as if she has full control of her life, she is going through her own crisis as well; feeling empty and desperate (MSN Entertainment, 2013).
Although American Beauty focuses on other characters as well, including Lester and Carolyn’s teenage daughter Jane, Jane’s shallow friend Angela, the next door neighbor Colonel Fitts, and his son Ricky; this paper is mainly going to focus on Lester Burnham, his adulthood, and life transition. The purpose is to discuss how the main character can be viewed from a biological, cognitive, and psychosocial perspective. The paper will also discuss how the main character copes with biological changes as a result of aging, what changes occur in the family composition and lifestyle of the character, how the character copes with the idea of death, dying, and any theories on “the afterlife”.
Each character within the movie has their own idea of what path they need to take to achieve happiness and what choices will lead them there. Lester is quite impulsive and makes many choices that lead him down the path of destruction. The first event that leads Lester into a midst of horrible decisions is discovering that Angela (Jane’s friend) has been lusting over him. They begin an odd and secretive relationship revolved around sexual desires. In the midst of this Lester quits his job that he had been working at for nearly 14 years and finds a new career within a fast food restaurant. He begins smoking marijuana, working out, and buys a red Pontiac Firebird; showing desire to turn back the biological process to obtain his youth again.
These actions and choices Lester has been making would lead anyone to suggest that he is going through a midlife crisis. According to Bestic, 2012, “A midlife crisis represents that state when the human mind gets in conflict with the inner self. It is a natural process that results from one or more transitions in life.” From the biological perspective Lester is going through this crisis because he is in conflict with himself. His marriage is not healthy, he does not like the physical changes brought on by adulthood, has an unsatisfactory job, and finds boredom in his lifestyle routine.
From a cognitive perspective Lester shows that he is well aware of what is going on around him at all times. Because he is the one who is narrating the story he tells the audience what all the other characters are up to, mainly in concern to his daughter Jane and wife Carolyn. However, he is for some reason well aware and can process situations going on with the neighbors while the neighbors cannot even comprehend what is going on in their own lives. He is quick to figure things out, and has great concepts behind some of his erratic solutions to his life’s problems. While he may not necessarily understand why his and his family’s life is on the road to destruction, he knew that things were definitely changing. Because of Lester’s midlife crisis it could be assumed he was also going through depression and feelings of carelessness.
His relationship with his daughter Jane is not very great; in fact Jane claims to hate Lester. It is also quite obvious that Lester and Carolyn’s marriage was deteriorating, and Lester seems to not care much about any of the relationships in his life. According to Cherry, 2013, “Erikson believed that a strong sense of personal identity was important for developing strong relationships. Those with a poor sense of self tend to have less committed relationships and are more likely to suffer emotional isolation, loneliness, and depression.” This clearly describes why Lester has faced the problems he has in his adulthood because of his lack of personal identity. Cherry, 2012 goes on to say, “During the generativity versus stagnation stage we continue to build our lives, focusing on our career and family. Those who fail to attain this skill will feel unproductive and uninvolved in the world.” Mostly, Lester acts as a child stuck in an adult life, getting more depressed as the show goes on that adult life is just not turning out to be fun.
He loses his job, he has not had sexual relations with his wife in a very long time, his marriage was falling apart, and he just was not finding his life very fulfilling any longer. Because of Angela, who acts as a type of stimuli for Lester, makes him realize that aging should not be the end of his life. This is when he begins to show his wife who is boss, and that he is not going to let her nag at him any longer, begins working out, smoking marijuana, leaves his job for one that will provide less responsibility, and behaving in other matters such as an adolescent or young adult would. Before Lester’s midlife crisis one would think that the Burnham family was the typical happy suburbia family. The family composition drastically begins to change once Lester begins his midlife crisis journey in search of himself and happiness.
Instead of taking the orders around the house, he begins giving them. Lester and Carolyn begin to go their opposite ways although still living together, and Jane continues to be a normal teenager (angry, insecure, and confused). It seems as though the family becomes more individualistic, everyone doing their own thing, rather than as a unit. Jane does not like her father, and Carolyn’s hate toward Lester continues to grow until the end of the movie. Lester makes a statement in the movie saying, “I could die in my sleep and I would not be the only one happy.” One could assume that Lester is welcoming of death because either he has just accepted that eventually he will die, or he just dislikes his life so much that death would be a better alternative.
In conclusion, middle adulthood comes with its’ own trials and tribulations. Depending on how an individual has developed in previous stages of their life can determine how they will respond to the transition of adulthood. There are many perspectives including biological, cognitive, and psychosocial theories that conclude how individuals develop and adapt during these transitions. There are many changes that occur during adulthood that can affect the family composition, how the individual copes with biological changes as a result of aging, and how they perceive the idea of death and dying. Lester Burnham is simply a prime example of what it is like for a man in his mid 40’s to go through a midlife crisis during his middle adulthood transitions.
Bestic, V. (2012). What is a midlife crisis: Understand the urge to start again. Retrieved from http://psychologicaldisorderscenter.com/what-is-a-midlife-crisis/ Cherry, K. (2013). Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. Retrieved from http://psychology.about.com/od/psychosocialtheories MSN Entertainment. (2013). American beauty: Synopsis. Retrieved from http://movies.msn.com/movies/movie-synopsis/american-beauty.3/
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