“The Perfect American Family”, that the media projects is the American Dream to chase for, and that, this is the norm, in terms of how a family should be. The film starts off by showing these traditional stereotypes, then gradually starts challenging them.
The stereotypical family, Lester and Carolyn, typical mom and dad who both work and make a decent living, Jane, typical teenager with typical high school problems (physical appearance). One would assume that this “perfect” family would be fine, but that is not the case. That is because this modernism view on the “perfect family” was developed before the world wars. Afterwards society changed, however, “how your family should act” and “behave” is all “mediatized” (hyper reality), it is actually not true, it is merely how the media portrays the perfect family. The director of the movie shows saturated images, such as the floating rose petals that are on Angela whenever Lester fantasies about her, this I believe is done in an extreme sense to really portray the hyper reality aspect of the entire movie. The director wants to show just how extreme and absurd Lester’s fantasies about Angela are, and that even though they are so extreme and imaginary, that Lester still “believes” in the fantasy, and it is also a portrayal of how society today still believes in these very unrealistic fantasies.
This movie also criticizes dominant cultural tropes, a perfect example is the ending of the movie. Most movies and stories have happy endings, and most people believe that you need a “happy” ending in order for the ending to be “good” or “positive”. The director completely goes against this norm, and actually has the main character, Lester, killed at the end of the movie. The intriguing aspect of this ending is that, although Lester gets killed, the ending does not seem “sad” to me. Personally, I believe that the director wanted to show us that even though Lester dies, that he was actually very happy by the end of the movie, and his personal monologue defends this argument. Lester talks about how beautiful the world is, and that even though he is dead, that he enjoyed his life. For me, Lester thought it was better to live a short yet wonderful life, than a long and unhappy one. Thus, the fact that the ending has the main character killed, yet still is not a “sad” ending, truly goes against the cultural norm.
Zizek & Lacan talk about reality vs fantasy, in American Beauty, Lester has this fantasy of being able to have intercourse with Angela, however, the director of the movie shows us that, just like in real life, things we often chase, that we believe is possible and attainable, is actually just a fantasy. No one actually obtains the actual desire, they are actually just chasing the fantasy. The desire to continue the fantasy, not the obtaining of the object of desire, is what drives people. Lester originally thought that he wanted Angela, but when the opportunity arrives, he realizes that he does not actually want her, he just liked the fantasy of having her. In his fantasy, Angela was not a virgin, and slept around with a lot of people, adding to her overall “sexy image”, and this image was something Lester created in his head, he created an artificial Angela in his head, and that was what he was chasing. Upon realizing that the fantasy image he had created of Angela, is not true, the fantasy died, and this stopped Lester’s desire to want Angela anymore.
As Zizek described how movies tell you how to desire, in a sense you can actually see that in this movie. While the director was clearly attempting to show the holes and hyper reality of the traditional perfect family image, he was actually forcing viewers to some extent, to believe that his theory on the perfect family is true. For example, he shows us how Lester went from being the stereotypical father, to the “laissez-faire”, do not care anymore, father. He shows how Lester becomes a lot happier by doing so, thus by showing us that, the director wants us to desire to become like Lester in a sense, to adapt the “do not care” attitude. Even reflecting back now, after watching the movie, I myself, wanted to adapt this “do not care” lifestyle, because the movie convinced me, by showing how well it worked out for Lester.