Psychoanalysis of American Beauty through the individuation of Lester Burnham

Psychoanalysis of American Beauty through the individuation of Lester Burnham

Info iconThis preview shows pages 1–3. Sign up to view the full content.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
CA220 Psychoanalysis November 1, 2007 On the surface the film American Beauty is about a perfect family, the Burnham’s, living in perfect middle-upper-class suburbia. Made and released in the USA in 1999, American Beauty was directed by Sam Mendes, scripted by Alan Ball, with cinematography by Conrad Hall. “The film stars Kevin Spacey as Lester Burnham, a middle-aged family man re-evaluating his life. Annette Bening plays Carolyn, his ambitious wife” (O’Shaughnessy 220). Thora Birch plays their misunderstood daughter, Jane. The film’s title, ‘American Beauty,’ is the name of a particular Rose hybrid. The film’s title can also be translated as being about American society’s pressures to conform. The director saw this film as all the main characters being “trapped in prisons of their own making at the beginning and then gradually escape…It becomes a rites-of- passage story for all of them” (O’Shaughnessy 220). Further, “Rites of passages are traditional points or periods of significant change in a person’s life,” for example life and death (O’Shaughnessy 293). Through the critical lens of psychoanalysis American Beauty is really about the process of individuation, in particular Lester Burnham’s process of individuation. Individuation is “[Carl] Jung’s process of psychological development in which individuals gradually discard their persona, integrate their shadows and anima/animus, and finally are at one with their ‘great’ self” (O’Shaughnessy 312). In the beginning Lester is a seriously flawed individual, but by the end of the film he transforms himself and his whole way of being through the process of individuation.
Background image of page 1

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
The individuation process can be explained by dividing our life into two phases. Jung calls the first half of life the “natural” phase and the second half the “cultural” phase (Schueler). The film finds Lester in his difficult transition between these two phases. The task of the first half of life is external, having largely to do with establishing a career and family (Schueler). Lester is 42, married with a daughter, and has a job in the advertising industry. “From the outside Lester’s life appears to be shiny bright and picture perfect” (O’Shaughnessy 223). He has an ideal life on the surface, but his monotonous day-in and day-out routine leave him desiring something else. The second half of life tasks is internal, having to do with finding meaning in our life and in our death (Schueler). The individuation process is the main task in the second half of our lives. As we come to find, “the psychological path of individuation is ultimately a preparation for death” (Schueler) and Lester’s path is no exception. The film opens with a voice-over of Lester pre-empting us of his death; “in less than a
Background image of page 2
Image of page 3
This is the end of the preview. Sign up to access the rest of the document.

This note was uploaded on 05/04/2008 for the course COM ARTS 220 taught by Professor Lapointe during the Spring '08 term at Allegheny.

Page1 / 11

Psychoanalysis of American Beauty through the individuation of Lester Burnham

This preview shows document pages 1 - 3. Sign up to view the full document.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Ask a homework question - tutors are online