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Film Analysis of American Beauty and the Graduate

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The movie “American Beauty” literally is trying to express how much beauty there is in America but it is not always so easy to see. Often in the film objects normally thought of as ordinary are magnified to express deeper meaning and show what beauty really exists in the world. The color red, for instance, is an ordinary color but it shows its face numerous times throughout the movie. The color is not just ordinary it is significant, as it represents love, passion, and happiness. Though, the color red is actually representing the absence of those aspects in Lester and Carolyn’s marriage. In the scene I choose to analyze, Lester and Carolyn almost reach that red in their lives again for a moment, then suddenly it turns to grey and the answer to the disappearance of their passion for one another is exposed. Mise-en-scene is used from the moment the sequence begins. There is no lighting in the room only the natural lighting from the sun peeking through the curtains. This naturalistic filming greatly affects the realness of what is about to happen between Lester and Carolyn; it provides a very natural and intimate setting. However, in the background all that is visible are fancy, expensive decorations and pieces of furniture, which represents the wealth that has consumed the passion and love that Lester and Carolyn once had for one another.

It is even portrayed in the clothing each actor is wearing. Carolyn appears striking and of high social standing in her fancy purple dress, while Lester appears simple and carefree in his sweatpants and t-shirt. The body language within the sequence expresses the reality of what the film is really portraying. When Carolyn enters the room she is so uptight, as Lester seduces her and moves closer and closer to her until he is kissing Carolyn’s neck, she unwinds until she is right there with him in just a moment of passion and happiness. In an instant the moment ends when Lester almost ruins her precious couch. Carolyn returns to being uptight and materialistic and Lester to being angry. He becomes so angry with her because she has let material things be her life. This shows how important love, passion, and happiness in life is, what it is really about, and how hard it is to maintain all in only a few short minutes. The cinematography in the film does a wonderful job conveying the genuine meaning behind the sequence as well.

The camera is placed far from the actors at the beginning of the scene and becomes closer and closer as the desire between Lester and Carolyn grows. When Carolyn relapses and becomes upset about the couch almost getting ruined the camera goes out again and the actors are surrounded by all of the material items in the room. In that frame it is clear that the more intimate, close up scene was more tasteful to see than the angry room full of expensive furniture. Through this sequence the viewer should be able to understand the social issue addressed; that today Americans ignore the raw, pure beauty in the world and instead are obsessed with the amount of objects that they can own. Natural beauty is disappearing, while store bought beauty is growing. In time this will destroy true happiness. The film is touching the viewer’s heart and mise-en-scene and cinematography do a wonderful job at exposing the actuality of what America is becoming.

The Graduate
-From when Ben escapes from the party into his room until he and Mrs. Robinson leave his room. (Chapter 2: 6:31–8:45) The film “The Graduate” is about a new college graduate who is very unsure of his place in society, as well as in his own personal life. As soon as Benjamin arrives home from college he is bombarded and suffocated by anyone and everyone. They are all congratulating him and asking what he will be doing with his future. Benjamin has accomplished so much in his life so far but for some reason he feels unworthy of all the attention. Finally after multiple attempts, Benjamin escapes the overwhelming party to the quiet of his own bedroom. The sequence begins with Benjamin shutting his door and finally relaxing. He rests his head on the back of the door and lets out a sigh. He then walks across the room and looks out the window down at his parents gloating about him to some friends at the party. Then Ben approaches his fish aquarium and begins to gaze into it. (This is not the first time the importance of the aquarium is noticed in the film.)

His thinking is interrupted by Mrs. Robinson as she barges into his room, “looking for the bathroom”, Ben politely tells her where it is located but she just keeps talking to him and even proceeds to sit on his bed and light up a cigarette. Throughout this entire section of the sequence Ben repeatedly glances over at his aquarium. Mrs. Robinson then leaves the room, but for only a moment before she returns asking him to drive her home. Benjamin insists she just take his car but she claims she does not know how to drive it. He says he will drive her and she tosses his keys into the tank. Ben retrieves the keys and they both exit the room to end the sequence. Cinematography is exemplified in many different ways throughout the sequence. It is all in color and spends the majority in a shallow focus, that is, with the exception of anytime the aquarium is in the frame. When that occurs it becomes the focus of the frame. More than once during the sequence the camera zooms in close up on the fish tank and remains focused on it for a good duration of time. It is unclear at this point in the film what the importance of the aquarium to Benjamin but one can assume that it represents a sense of peace, relaxation, and possibilities.

He has been so overwhelmed by everything that is going on and a simple gaze into the fish tank can pause his hectic world for a few short moments. The dominant mise-en-scène prop used in this sequence, as previously mentioned, is the aquarium. It is perfectly lit, and filled with a variety of unique fish. Ben is gazing into the tank when, suddenly, Mrs. Robinson disrupts his few short moments of relaxation. The way she invites herself into the room and the camera follows her as she moves further, ignoring Ben’s directions, onto his bed instantly the viewer can sense the intimacy that will form between them later.

A bed is an intimate object and it is conveniently placed next to the tank so both the disruption in his life at this point, Mrs. Robinson, and his sense of peace, the tank, are both in the frame at the same time for a minute or so. The entire duration of time that they are both focused on in the frame Ben goes back and forth glancing at the tank and Mrs. Rogers. As the sequence comes to an end though the last thing the viewer sees is the tank, not Mrs. Robinson. This is the first time in the film that Mrs. Robinson is introduced and she seems to be trouble, however, the tank and what it represents holds more importance in the end. To me, this embodies the togetherness that Ben finally will find at the end of the film when he conquers Mrs. Robinson.

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