Seeing American Beauty

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Are you willing to look closer?

There is no single film that more aggressively beckons viewers to look more closely than American Beauty. This film is an invitation to not only look, but to see—precisely what rednow (and our Wonder Top 50 List) is all about.

Allen Ball takes the metaphor of the American Beauty rose—bread for its perfect look, but which has no smell—and shows its many parallels to American life. The pursuit of wealth and power are shown for their erosive qualities as misplaced impulses. Our desire to find value in our work and family are depicted as difficult, sometimes impossible searches. What Ball shows humans longing for, in the end, is love and belonging; to be known and accepted, just as you are. But the weight of the American Dream is exposed as the source of the new American Nightmare as we all struggle to get ahead, find our value, and be successful. We all desperately want to belong, but we continue to engage with an often painful search for what or with whom to belong.

A middle age man hitting on high school girls.

Adultery.

A graphic sex scene.

A father beating his son.

This is not a short list of things that make a film wonder-full to watch. But these are the dark pieces of life that Ball uses as a context to look for, and uncover, beauty. Our impulse with these dreadful things will be to look away, turn our eyes to something easier (and prettier) to deal with, digest, and explain. Ball invites us to resist this impulse and to instead lean in and look closer. This is a very different thing than encouraging us to look past. Ball has not laced this film with beauty and grace that you only experience once you can get passed its rougher elements. It is not a game of a needle-of-sacred buried in the haystack-of-secular. Rather Ball wants us to look closer at the dark elements of life to see what drives us as humans. Ball wants us to have eyes that see ‘the thing’ behind the things of life.

By looking closer, perhaps for the first time, we will really see what’s there.