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American Beauty
Sam Mendes.
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening
Release Date: 2000.

Length: 122 minutes.
Rated: R.
Studio: Universal/MCA.

The Oscar-winning movie (Best Picture, 1999), American Beauty, juxtaposes the concepts spiritual bankruptcy and loss of self with the idea of cherishing all the quiet beauty and simple moments of life. Some of the situations in this movie may be familiar to those of us living out of breath in our fast-paced culture. For coaches, this movie is a brilliant portrayal of the many archetypes found in our society, and offers a sometimes hilarious yet mostly disturbing look at the stories many of our clients may be struggling to save themselves from drowning in. Themes that are present in this movie, which is destined to be a classic, include: mid-life issues; keeping up appearances; emotional paralysis stemming from routine, security, age, and incapacity to see and feel what really matters; deadening sexuality; staying in marriage for the sake of the children; and, over-reliance on self (Annette Bening gives a stellar performance as the driven business woman who trusts no one).

The movie is primarily about a middle-aged man, Lester Burnham (played by Kevin Spacey), whose spiritual awakening slowly takes place as he comes to terms with the mess his life has become. He is in a job he hates; he has a loveless marriage; and he is constantly rebuffed by his only child, a teenaged daughter. While the catalyst for emerging from his personal sleep-state-of-a-life comes through a fantasy about his daughter’s beautiful friend, there are a number of incidents that wake Lester up. As he begins to live more authentically, he quits his job, buys his fantasy car, gets in shape and slowly gets in touch. The house of cards that he and his wife have built comes tumbling down, but Lester is happier. His authentic self sees with new eyes, feels with more heart, and finally “gets it” that without connection, life just doesn’t matter all that much.

American Beauty showcases heroes that have both a light and dark side, and who, in their own ways, come to terms with their imperfection and the perfect imperfection of life. One of the heroes happens to be the drug dealing teenaged son of the ex-Marine who lives next door to the Burnhams. This spiritual young man uses the drug money for his own survival and ultimate escape from the abuse his father dishes out. While many have found this movie too unsettling (a drug dealer as a hero?) to be able to embrace its redeeming messages, it is a movie that contains great poignancy. If you can let yourself be with it, you may find a sense of satisfaction that the love in our lives, and love for ourselves, are the ingredients for happier, more authentic living.





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