I had seen the movie American Beauty when it was first released, however it was a different experience for me this time. I was closely examining the interpersonal conflict in the movie. The movie is based around the Burnham family. Lester and Carolyn are husband and wife, and they have a teenage daugther, Janie. On the outside they appear to be a normal family. As the movie plays, it is obvious the characters are all a negative result of interpersonal conflict.
“Conflict is a critical event in the course of a relationship. Conflict can cause resentment, hostility and perhaps the ending of the relatonship”(DonnaBellafiore). Carolyn is extremely self-centered and demanding. She controls the family with her underlying anger. Lester is a shell of a man. His self-concept is very low and he is depressed. This undoubtedly due to his lack of communication with his wife. “Self-concept is the idea you have of who you are and what makes you different from everyone else”(Sole,K).
In part of the movie he realizes he has lost something, but he doesn’t know what. He has lost his self-esteem due his interpersonal conflict with his wife and daughter.
In one scene Carolyn and Lester have arrived at a party Lester doesn’t want to attend. Carolyn tells him to act happy, but sadly she never wonders why he is not happy. In another scene the family is at the dinner table. Carolyn is talking about her day and Lester informs her that he has quit his job.
She mocks him for doing so and tries to get Janie into the conversation. Lester becomes extremely angry, and they begin to blame each other for their lack of communication. Their behaviors not only affect their relationship negatively, but has weakened the relationship they have with Janie. Carolyn handles her conflict by having an affair rather than communicating her frustrations with her husband, Lester. Lester black-mails his boss, quits his job and demands a years pay and benefits. This is one way that Lester handles his anger. Janie and her relationship with her parents, especially her father, continues to deteriorate. Janie becomes emotionaly involved with the new neighbor and school-mate Ricky. When Janie’s friend Angela, comes over to visit, her father always gets excited and flirts with her. This upsets Janie, but Angela likes it.
Angela tells Janie Lesters attraction to her makes her realize she has potential to be a model. Angela shows no empathy for Janie’s feelings of negativity towards her father. “Empathy is the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts and experience of another”(merrriam-websterdictionary). As a result of his attraction to Angela, Lester begins working out. He begins to feel better about himself as a result of getting in shape. There is a scene in the movie where Lester sits on the sofa next to his wife, Carolyn. He begins softly speaking to her and useing non-verbal cues reminding her of how much fun she was when they were younger. She begins to smile, and for a moment you believe they are going to be kind to each other. instead, Carolyn jumps up and freaks out because Lester almost spilled his beer on the sofa. Lester becomes angry as he tries to explain to her that her material things mean more to her than living.
The moment of kindness between them is over-destroyed by Carolyns confusion with her priorities and her need to be in control. It is always about her. As Janie becomes more angry with her father, she befriends her neighbor, Ricky Fitz. Ricky is forth-coming and confident. However, he has been physicaly and verbaly abused by his father. Mr. Fitz is an ex-marine. When he introduces himself to people he always says “Frank Fitz Cornel in the Marine Corps”(SamMendes, producer,1999,AmericanBeauty). He has a need for people to see him as a strong man, having been a Marine. This is his great accomplishment in life. he has beaten Ricky and verbaly abused him, and sent him away for 2 years as a result of Ricky severely beating a boy, most likely a reaction to his anger towards his father.
Franks wife, Ricky’s Mom, is emotionless. She has no self-concept due to Franks personality, anger and overpowerment. Their house is a cold environment. There is no normal communication between the three of them. There is a scene where Frank and Ricky meet the neighbors-JIm and JIm. They are a gay couple who have just moved into the neighborhood . Frank freaks out about the couple. His reaction shows that he is homophobic by his negative comments. Ricky agrees with his father in an effort to keep the situaton stable. Ricky is trying to avoid a beating. Ricky and Janie are building a relationship and becoming close. Ricky has also built a relationshio with Lester. He sells Lester Marijuana . Ricky goes to Lester’s house to sell him marijuana one particular night. Frank can see Ricky and lester through the window. Frank thinks what he is seeing is Ricky having oral sex with Lester. He beats Ricky when he comes home. Ricky runs to Janie and asks her to run away with him, she agrees.
At the end of the movie, Lester is in the garage. Frank approaches him, as he walks through the pouring rain. He has an expression of pain and fear on his face. Lester approaches Lester (thinking lester is gay) and wraps his arms around him in a hug. Lester tries to be comforting, but then Lester tries to kiss him. Lester pulls back expressing to Frank that there must be some kind of understanding. Lester is not a gay man. Frank walks away with tears in his eyes. Ricky and Janie are up in her room planning their departure, and Carolyn is on her way home. She has been taking shooting lessons and carrys a gun in her glove compartment. Suddenly a gun shot is heard.
Carolyn has justed pulled into the driveway, we wonder was it her who killed Lester? Jamie and Ricky find Lester shot in the head. Frank Fitz has shot Lester. He would rather have him dead than risk sharing Franks secret with anyone. Frank was a gay man. He spent his entire life covering up this reality, and in the process destroyed his wife and abused his child. After shooting Lester, Frank goes home to his room filled with guns and military memorabilia, and shoots himself. The families in this movie had such poor interpersonal communication that they destroyed each other. It was a schock for me to see such a lack of communication cause such destruction.