“I have lost something. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but I know I didn’t always feel this… sedated. But you know what? It’s never too late to get it back.”
The famous painting American Gothic by Grant Wood was heralded as an instant classic for capturing the essence of rural America in the 30s. Despite some exaggerated features, people lauded the realism—with one exception. The people of rural Iowa—the very people depicted in the painting—hated the piece, with some even threatening violence against Wood. It may have hit a little too close to home for them, or it may have been too exaggerated in their minds, but whatever the reason, the portrait made them uncomfortable.
In many ways, American Beauty, directed by Sam Mendes (Road to Perdition, Revolutionary Road) and starring Kevin Spacey, provides a similar, albeit darker, caricature of American life in the 90s, chronicling a time when the American dream seemed to die. We’re shown a cast of characters each trying to live out their own American dreams, and it’s not flattering—in fact, it’s very uncomfortable to watch. The ennui and discontent of knowing that even “making it” will never give sufficient meaning to life is stated eloquently in this movie, attempting to explain a decade characterized by apathy and resentment. As I said, it’s uncomfortable—but it’s very much worth watching.