Is there a message behind American Beauty
Representations of masculinity in "American Beauty"
Table of Contents
2. From gender research to masculinity research
2.1 Gender Studies
2.2 Research on masculinity
2.2.1 Development of masculinity research
2.2.2 Basics of masculinity research
2.2.3 Current state of knowledge and research in masculinity research
3. Gender representations in the film
3.1 Representations of femininity and masculinity in the film
3.1.1 Gender representation and femininity (s)
3.1.2 Men and masculinity (s) in the film
4. American Beauty (1999)
4.1 Figure analysis
4.2 Themes of the film plot
4.4 Key scene analyzes
5. Interpretation of the depictions of masculinity in the context of the film
5.1 Red roses as a symbol
5.2 Representations of masculinity in American Beauty
5.2.1 Representations of masculinity as a starting point
5.2.2 Representation of hegemonic masculinity
5.2.3 Crisis, injured masculinity
5.2.4 Efforts to remasculinize
5.2.5 Habitual security
5.3 Hegemonic vs. sentimental masculinity
7. List of sources
Men are strong, independent, and callous - men are sentimental, vulnerable, and broken.
These stereotypes about the Men are still firmly anchored in today's society and are obviously at odds with one another. The film as a medium of mass entertainment reflects these opinions, views and above all the prevailing stereotypes about facts, events or in this case about people of a certain gender. The reasons for the highly ambivalent view of masculinity or men in society and thus also in the film are varied and are dealt with in this work.
Different film genres portray people of one gender differently. In the classic action film of old Hollywood cinema, men are often depicted as intrepid heroes who hold the beautiful woman standing by the hero in one hand and the impressive weapon in the other. With which they single-handedly save the world from the - mostly male - villain. This portrayal of the action hero has changed only slightly over the past few decades. In dramas - in this case melodramas - men are portrayed as vulnerable, sentimental and broken. Her upper goals do not consist primarily of the (re) conquest of the beautiful woman or the salvation of the world, but are shown in the restoration of her masculinity, which was believed to be lost. In addition, the male protagonists often refer to classic theories of gender, women and masculinity research that have developed over the past centuries.
This work deals with the different representations of masculinity in the film. In addition, the melodrama produced in 1999 and released worldwide in 2000 American Beauty analyzed and interpreted in response to this question. The topic is chosen because the treatment of different masculinity, the underlying theory and the development of masculinity research can be advantageous for educational work in order to better assess social influences on gender constructions and to deal with them in a more diverse way in theory and in practice. To answer the main question about the portrayals of masculinity in the film American Beauty This film is chosen because it deals with the representation of different masculinity due to the assigned genre and contrasts them in the film plot.
For a better understanding, the present work is thematically divided into three parts. In the first part, the general principles of gender studies are summarized. In the following, the development of masculinity research and the current state of knowledge and research will be briefly examined. In order to be able to interpret the portrayal of the man in the film better in the later course of the work, an insight into the subject of the man in the film is given after the epistemological introduction. The specific portrayal of masculinity in the film is also related to the genre of melodrama and especially to the “male melodrama”.
The second part of the work is the reference film American Beauty considered more closely. In addition, general information about the film is given, relating to the plot and the design of the scene. In addition, the main characters of the film as well as key scenes that are decisive for the characters and plot are analyzed.
In the third part of the work, with reference to the analysis, the characters and their actions are interpreted on the basis of various theories of masculinity research and classified in the overall context between research and film. Finally, the interpretation is followed by a conclusion in which an attempt is made to answer the main question about the representation of masculinity in American Beauty to be answered critically in summary based on the analysis and interpretation.
2. From gender research to masculinity research
In order to be able to better assess and evaluate the effects of the different gender representations on masculinity in the film, it is first necessary to take a closer look at gender research. Both terms - gender studies (German) and gender studies (English) - are used synonymously in the course of the work. After considering gender studies, the masculinity research is described.
2.1 Gender Studies
In the course of the social upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as the growing voices for gender equality through the emerging women's movements in these two decades, women's and gender studies in the scientific world increased in importance. If the early research on women and gender was still concerned with examining the deficits of women and the differences between the two sexes, it quickly became clear that the limitation to women as an object of investigation covered the basic issues of gender difference as well as the different power and dominance relationships between men and women Women were only able to explain to a limited extent (cf. Gildemeister 2013: 214). Gender research in the following decades therefore apparently focuses equally on men and women and in this way aims to better explain and understand gender relationships and the differences that arise from them (cf. ibid.). In the course of the last few decades, gender studies could produce different theories and insights through its research into gender relations, which are explained below for a better understanding of masculinity research and the representation of masculinity in film.
One of the most significant findings of gender studies in the last few decades is the understanding of the social gender (gender) of a person. Accordingly, the social gender of every person is always a social category that is subject to different constructions and that ascribes living conditions in society to the respective individual (cf. ibid .: 214f.). Based on this attribution, the distribution, availability and refusal of power, resources and options for action are decided (cf. Wendt, 2008: 13). As an "omnipresent background assumption" (Gildemeister 2013: 217), the assigned gender is effective and visible in all social situations and implies the formation of hierarchies. As an individual and identity-creating category, the gender of an individual is potentially changeable, but due to the omnipresence of the category it is theoretically impossible not to represent gender. In this context, research speaks of “doing gender”. It is assumed that the gender of a person is actively produced in a “practical-methodical routine production” (Meuser 2006: 64) in interactions, actions and behaviors of the individual.
From the " unquestionably given [Emphasis in the original] ”(Wendt 2008: 11) of the gender of a person results in this context not only the performativity of the gender, but also the theory of the“ naturally given (two) sexuality ”(Gildemeister 2013: 216), which assigns people to both sexes based on their biological and hormonal characteristics. Even if this apparently natural and biological classification is repeatedly disputed in - only - two gender categories, in most western societies and cultures there is still a "culture of bisexuality" (ibid .: 220) that divides people into two genders no longer naturally given subdivisions, but their social reality is still structured in two sexes. This socially prevalent bisexuality serves as the basis for the concept of heteronormativity and the heterosexual matrix that pervades all life situations and all communication (cf. Voigt 2017: 38f.). In this concept, the categories “male” and “female” are seen and understood as meaningful by all members of society (cf. ibid .: 38). In addition, heterosexuality is implied as a norm (cf. ibid .: 39).
From the difference between the unrelated biological gender (sex) and the socio-cultural gender (gender), which determines society through the still prevailing bisexuality, the heterosexual matrix creates a specific heteronormativity that defines the gender relations and their change in have shaped the past few years.
The current gender ratio is determined by a contradicting structure of flexibility and stabilization (cf. Villa et al. 2012: 13). Analyzed under the aspects of hierarchization and social inequalities, a general change in gender relations emerges (cf. Gildemeister 2013: 214). The gender studies of the last few years have shown "that with or within the categories 'female' and 'male' it is no longer possible to establish uniqueness” (ibid .: 222). The changed perspective on gender and gender relations also makes a multidimensionality of the prevailing structures of relations between the sexes possible and removes the idea that women and men face each other in binary oppositions (cf. Meuser 2006: 84f.). In addition, a research culture is increasingly sought in which systematically avoiding reproducing well-known figures and stereotypes of the gender difference and seeing “women” and “men” as essentialist, monolithic and uniform blocks (cf. Gildemeister 2013: 221). In this context, Gildemeister (ibid .: 222f.) States that, even if “the codes have become fragile, […] the“ nature of dual sex ”has not [yet] lost its“ naturalness ”and its unquestionability (Has)".
Despite the partial separation and demarcation of gender studies from women's studies, the main interest in gender research has long been on female gender identity, which involved a deficit-oriented investigation of gender relations (cf. Hißnauer / Klein 2002a: 11). Due to this partial restriction to femininity, "[t] he form of subjectivity 'masculinity' [...] was even more considered femininity as a 'natural' phenomenon that quasi jumps out of the body and prevents further questioning" (Seifert (1995): Powerful looks, gender construction and film, quoted from: Hißnauer / Klein 2002a: 11). In order to expose the naturalness of masculinity and to prove its construction, masculinity research split off from general gender research over time. In the following, this research on masculinity will be examined more closely in order to better understand the representation of different masculinity in the film.
2.2 Research on masculinity
In the following subchapter, masculinity research is examined in more detail in its origins, development and its current state of knowledge and research in order to then better illustrate the different representations of masculinity in the film.
2.2.1 Development of masculinity research
Research on masculinity split off from gender studies in the middle of the 20th century in order to obtain a more differentiated view of masculinity. The social upheavals in gender relations, the demand for equality and equality of the sexes driven by the second historical women's movement as well as emancipation efforts have accompanied and significantly shaped masculinity research since its beginnings in the 1960s (see Erhart 2016: 12). Driven by the modernization of the world of work and the employment of women, the traditional and biologically based understanding of the roles of the sexes was increasingly questioned in the early research on masculinity (cf. ibid.).
Starting with the beginning of the loss of male gender roles, masculinity moved into the focus of research from the 1970s - in German-speaking countries only from the mid-1980s (cf. ibid.). The German-speaking masculinity research initially focused primarily on the investigation of the contradictions between the emerging role understandings and the changed social reality as well as the male self-image that emerged from it, which was contrary to the changed gender reality (cf. ibid.). When masculinity research slowly gained academic participation in German-speaking countries from the 1990s, this focus shifted slightly (cf. ibid .: 13). What is decisive in the scientific study of the topic of "masculinity" is the realization that this can no longer be regarded as a monolithic, homogeneous and stable category, but has multiple and dynamic structures that differ in terms of alterity and difference (cf. Martschukat / Stieglitz 2008: 37). Nevertheless, especially in German society, the self-image of the "tough" man persisted well into the 1990s (cf. Erhart 2016: 13). Erhart (ibid.) Refers to the self-image called male "body armor", which immunized itself with emotional coldness and latent violence against femininity and was long considered an explanatory model for the psychological and social constitution of male identity.
Since the beginning of the 2000s, masculinity research has been largely established in the individual academic disciplines and is now an integral part of gender studies (cf. ibid .: 17). The contemporary-oriented research on masculinity, which is used synonymously with the term “men’s studies” used in English-speaking countries, sees itself today as a “critical, social and cultural analysis of men and masculinity” (Martschukat / Stieglitz 2008: 33).
2.2.2 Basics of masculinity research
The aim of classic women's research was to analyze the negative effects of traditional male roles and masculine positions of power on women and children (cf. Thiele 2002: 261). In current research on masculinity, this goal is expanded to include the analysis of the negative effects that masculinity can have on men themselves (cf. ibid.). Men’s Studies focus on images of masculinity and the socio-cultural and stereotypical representation of masculinity (cf. Steffen 2002: 273). Research on masculinity is primarily concerned with the gender-specific deciphering of relationships and hierarchies within society, as well as the uncovering of inter- and, above all, intra-gender power constellations (cf. Hißnauer / Klein 2002a: 11; Erhart 2016: 15).
Another focus of the investigation and research into masculinity (s) and masculinity (s) is the analysis of power relations and their constellations. In addition to examining the systematic oppression of women by men, this analysis also looks at the dominance relationships among men (cf. Meuser 2006: 96; Martschkat / Stieglitz 2008: 41). The theory of the power constellation is based on the concept of patriarchy, which sees the source of the oppression of women in male power and the male-dominated culture and depicts men in a homosocial network of relationships as actors in the system of oppression from which they cannot escape (cf.Meuser 2006 : 81; Fenske 2012: 14). However, the term patriarchy has gone out of fashion today; it is more of a hierarchical gender relationship (cf. Degele (2008): Gender / Queer Studies. Quoted from: Voigt 2017: 38).However, since the concept is still used in scientific theory, it will be associated with hierarchical gender relations in later chapters in this work.
With a paradigm shift in masculinity research, which among other things criticizes the concept of patriarchy, Men’s Studies are for the first time directed against man’s positions of power in gender relations (cf. Meuser 2006: 92; Mädler 2008: 23). Raewyn Connell, founder of the theory of hegemonic masculinity, stated in this context that "[g] er especially in times of change and upheaval in gender relations [...] the balance of power between the sexes (can) be renegotiated" (Wedgwood / Connell 2008: 122). In addition to the changes in the gender relationship, the singular and uniform “masculinity” is replaced with the plural of multiple “masculinity” (cf. Meuser 2006: 92).
2.2.3 Current state of knowledge and research in masculinity research
The development and foundations of masculinity research have shown that the specific field of research has multiplied greatly in recent decades. The following briefly shows the current state of research and knowledge in masculinity research.
First of all, it should be noted that interdisciplinary research on masculinity is still in its infancy. Since men were systematically excluded from the analyzes of gender studies for a long time, there are still few empirical studies (cf. Baur / Luedtke 2008: 8). However, some basic assumptions have been consolidated in research, especially in the last two decades.
Despite the undisputed statement of gender studies that social as well as biological gender is the product of cultural and social actions and interactions and not a fixed, natural and ontological category, traditional research on masculinity still lies in the connection between the male body and masculinity itself (see Fenske 2012: 22). Against the background of the general deconstruction of gender, however, “masculinity” was also exposed as something not natural, but rather as a complex construct of the respective society (cf. Steffen 2002: 279).
With this change in the view of gender and its construction, new research on the male gender role is asking about the consequences of the social change in gender relations for men (cf. Meuser 2006: 60). From this more diverse view, a more differentiated view of male life contexts has developed, which, however, at no time loses sight of one of the most important research focuses of Men’s Studies, the power relations within and between the sexes (cf. ibid .: 85).
With the questioning of the general "male supremacy" (Steffen 2002: 271), the change in masculinity research towards a heteronormative, critical masculinity research is initiated.
Against the background of the diverse theories of masculinity research, the multiplication and plurality of masculinity and the resulting possibilities and problems for men and also for the gender relationship are analyzed (cf. Wedgwood / Connell 2008: 122). Looking at the new and open, flexible and multifaceted concept of masculinity opens up new potential for representation that has or can have an impact on social reality (cf. Erhart 2016: 21). This multiplication of gender representations has the consequence that female and male forms of representation and identity representations are presented with open and supposedly insecure boundaries and diverse overlaps (cf. ibid.). The softening of these boundaries between the sexes contributes to social change. The classic “breadwinner-housewife model” (Baur / Luedtke 2008: 14), in which a male breadwinner in the family is responsible for care in an economic way and the mostly inactive housewife and mother ensures emotional care, gives way Differentiated employment relationships, as well as families in which both partners work, the general changes in the modern world of work continue to increase (cf. ibid .: 14). But since this model - albeit in various deviations - is still the predominant one, the view of masculinity with the loss of sole nourishing ability is of great interest for research on masculinity (cf. ibid .: 14f.).
Since the beginning of masculinity research, there has been criticism that men’s studies are mostly about researching a white, heterosexual, cis *1 Acting masculinity, which, as an unmarked norm, would of course set itself as the generally applicable measure of all things (cf. Bauer / Hoenes / Woltersdorff 2007: 13). From this criticism, different movements in the history of research develop over the decades. This also includes the emergence of the anti-feminist men's movement, which is a reaction to the predominantly feminist criticism of masculinity research (cf. Martschukat / Stieglitz 2008: 47). The homogeneous membership of the movement propagates a “masculinity crisis” in which they equate men and masculinity with the role of victim and emphasize the alleged discrimination of men in public and especially in the professional world (cf. ibid .: 47f.). These efforts, which can be attributed to remasculinization, to restore masculinity in a classic, traditional form, have far-reaching effects on the representation and identity concepts of men and masculinity in the social world, in public and - of particular interest for this work - also in media presentations .
3. Gender representations in the film
The film is considered one of the most important entertainment media and can say a lot about the social reality of the recipients. The film not only presents a prevailing social and cultural norm; the film always depicts gender, which can be found in the protagonists. Both the image of femininity and masculinity in the media have changed since the early days of mainstream Hollywood cinema2 changed again and again and is subject to societal and social norms.
In the context of this work, the portrayal of masculinity in film is of particular interest. In order to be able to fully grasp this, however, the representation of gender in general and the feminine in particular must not be disregarded. As it is with the examined film American Beauty is a melodrama, at the end of this chapter this genre and the special representation of men and masculinity in melodrama are discussed.
3.1 Representations of femininity and masculinity in the film
3.1.1 Gender representation and femininity (s)
The film is of great importance for the recipients, as it deals with the social norms and values of the reality of the audience in a critical, negative or approving manner (cf. Hißnauer / Klein 2002b: 42). Even if the film is generally unable to create an authentic depiction of the recipient's reality, it often functions as a mirror of this very reality (cf. ibid .: 31). In addition, a film can “offer the individual concretely imaginary and exaggerated self-images” (Borstnar 2002: 59), which “within a specific socio-cultural framework” (Hißnauer / Klein 2002b: 36) presents the audience with an offer of identification. If the audience succeeds in identifying, a kind of interaction occurs in the film reception, in which "the construction mechanisms of masculinity and femininity [become] central with the question of the performativity of gender" (Fenske 2016: 249). Since the film is also able to sense and take up social development statuses, it takes on an important function in the representation of the current gender construction in society and stages femininity (s) and masculinity (s) (see Mädler 2008: 19). The medium thus formulates and receives gender constructions and arrangements that can be retained, transformed or reassessed in the context of the plot (cf. Wendt 2008: 28ff.). The everyday practical production of femininity and masculinity in the film is intuitively recognized and understood by the audience, since the actions, the body and the language of the characters are connoted as male or female and the recipients ascribe certain gender meanings to them (cf.Hißnauer / Klein 2002b: 21; Liebrand 2003: 16). In this way, a certain image of women or femininity and men or women is created during the film.
Masculinity is staged, which must be taken into account in the analysis of the interaction processes (cf. Mikos 2015: 110).
In addition to the view of men and masculinity, the view of women and femininity is also important for film analysis and interpretation. This film studies focus goes back to gender-oriented / feminist film studies and was largely influenced by Laura Mulvey’s feminist essay "Visuelle Lust und Narratives Kino" (1999)3 embossed. Feminist film studies deals with the conveyed images of women in various media and genres and deals with the general representation of women in film (cf. Borstnar 2002: 57; Liebrand 2002: 108). Feminist film studies have found that women in film are often “presented as visual objects for male pleasure” (Voigt 2017: 28). Connected to Mulvey's theory of curiosity (scopophilia), which "arises from the desire (arises) to use another person via the visual sense as an object of sexual stimulation" (Mulvey 2016: 50f.), Most films portray the reality of the recipients want to map, thus inevitably fall back on prevailing gender concepts and trigger an imbalance between the sexes. With a conveyed “feeling of omnipotence” (Fenske 2016: 239), the male characters in the film are given control of the film reality and the male viewer is offered as a means of identification and a representative of power (cf. Mulvey 2016: 53).
3.1.2 Men and masculinity (s) in the film
Due to the “performative turn” and the paradigm shift in gender, as well as women and men research, there is an increased interest in the staging and construction of masculinity in film (cf. Blaseio 2004: 42). Because the selected film American Beauty should be examined in the course of the work regarding the representation of masculinity, the consideration of masculinity in the film is important.
Masculinity can be staged in different ways in the film. They can serve as a mirror of the social norm and as a figure of identification for the recipients, but they can also question them, deconstruct them and enable new perspectives on various masculinity. In most cases, film studies focus on these forms of masculinity that deviate from the norm, whereas the representations of the “positive norm of a hegemonic masculinity are given less consideration” (Borstnar 2002: 55f.). Despite this problematization of masculinity, the films fall back on the binary of the sexes and the hierarchized position of masculinity in the constructed film reality and thus stabilize a patriarchal masculinity, even if the existence of this is implicitly denied by the representation (cf. Mädler 2008: 61). Since the focus of most Hollywood mainstream productions is on the white, heterosexual masculinity of the lower to middle class (cf. ibid .: 63), this figure focus offers a high identification potential for, in this case, male viewers. Supported by a possible, usually “invisible” male voice as voice-over from the off, the male figure is assigned power and authority in film reality, which in this way gives the male viewer a feeling of omnipotence (cf. Borstnar 2002: 61; Liebrand 2002: 108).
The following shows how masculinity is usually portrayed in mainstream Hollywood cinema. Influenced by the findings of gender and masculinity research, the man in the film is portrayed as different and diverse as research finds him in society and culture. But there are some characteristics that men stage in a certain way in the film.
On the one hand, the representation of the body is very important. By depicting and staging the body with male connotations, the audience recognizes the body as male and interprets it in a certain way. The representation of muscles and the so-called “hard body” in particular function as a symbolic staging of “male power and domination [...] and thus as an affirmation of patriarchal values” (Morsch 2002: 55). The excessive staging of the “hard body” and the male body can also be seen as “symbolic compensation for the loss of the traditional role model” (ibid .: 52). Based on the symbolic connection with the male body and concepts of power and domination, the film shows behaviors that are stereotypically considered male virtues. Behaviors and action reactions such as sovereignty, determination, aggressiveness, severity and independence have traditionally had male connotations and, inspired by the portrayal of masculinity in classic Hollywood cinema of the 1950s, are still portrayed by men in contemporary Hollywood productions (cf. Morsch 2002: 51; Munaretto 2010: 27). Especially in light of the US model of the “self-made man”, the male characters in the film are expected to “develop their actions and their existence in public rather than private life” (Munaretto 2010: 27). In addition, important characteristics of the “self-made man” are his social and spatial mobility as well as the undisputed and unquestioned patriarchal authority in the family (cf. ibid .: 28). In addition to the tough and determined “self-made man”, the film constructs the male identity of the (family) father, who on the one hand idealized, but on the other hand can be staged violently or incestuously (cf. Fenske 2016: 244).
These and other different masculine identities shake the image of the man in the film. The male identity is portrayed as fundamentally insecure, which leaves the male figures battered and intimidated by the processes of social change and unclear identity (cf. ibid .: 241). The male characters, who represent the norm-based hegemonic masculinity, “are inspired by the desire to find a place for themselves in the sobering reality where they can be men in the traditional way” (Munaretto 2010: 29). Fenske (2016: 249) states that "when viewed against the backdrop of a hegemonic masculinity, [...] the impression arises that film masculinity is constantly in crisis". In the film, the man in such a crisis situation is looking for traditional ways of depicting masculinity in hegemony (cf. Kappert 2008: 10f.). Against the background of the crisis, the once unbroken masculine and muscular male body is constructed as vulnerable, even as delicate (cf. Hißnauer / Klein 2002a: 9). The men depicted are also filled with fear of concrete or symbolic emasculation (cf. Mädler 2008: 13). This fear stems from the fear of no longer being sufficient, especially in sexual terms (cf. ibid.). With the "perfomance anxiety" and the failure in the practical areas of sexuality, they see their male everyday and role practices in danger (cf. ibid.). In addition to the fear of no longer being sexually sufficient, men in crisis, whose origins lie in the family sphere, can develop what is known as “castration fear” (Liebrand 2002: 108). The theory of castration anxiety goes back to the psychoanalytic theory of the oedipal development of the male child according to Sigmund Freud. The theory says in its main features that the young male child recognizes the difference between the sexes based on the presence or "absence" of a penis and fears this in the course of the lack of the male primary, external sex organ in the "other", the female sex to be able to lose too. If the origin of the man's crisis lies in the family and is directly or indirectly to blame through the woman or femininity, the image of the woman, in the absence of a penis, can have a pleasurable and threatening effect on the manhood in crisis (cf. . Braidt 2008: 51).
In the course of this crisis-ridden drawing of masculinity in film, new negotiations and staging of masculinity drafts in mainstream cinema can come about.The crisis-ridden masculinity can be traced back to the traditional patriarchal system within the framework of remasculinization (cf. Mädler 2008: 61). The body created in this concept “through discipline and work can then claim validity as a restitution of a more original body ideal” (Morsch 2002: 54). Often, however, films use “a simplistic, not entirely unproblematic dichotomy between old ('hard') and new ('soft') masculinity” (Hißnauer / Klein 2002a: 10), which puts the complexity of masculinity at the center of the film analysis. Films with various depictions of masculinity therefore have the potential to “idealize a masculinity other than hegemonic or make it desirable” (Voigt 2017: 43).
The conflict between the hegemonic and identity-stable portrayal of masculinity and masculinity in crisis forms an important leitmotif in many film genres, and requires closer consideration against the background of the melodrama genre.
In addition to the main genres of action film, romance, comedy and drama, melodrama forms a sub-category of drama genres and has been produced by Hollywood since the early days. Just like all genres and subgenres, there are also different orientations, themes and plot content in melodrama, but they show a number of similarities in the design, the overarching content and themes as well as in the stylistic means.
As " umbrella term [Emphasis in the original] ”(Weber 2013: 95), the genre has a far-reaching context of meaning and the plot and narrative structure is characterized by improbabilities and exaggerated dramatic irony (cf. Elsaesser 2008: 12).
Films that are assigned to this genre are also often riddled with intrigues, conspiracies and fatal coincidences (cf. Mayer 2002: 246f.). The genre also has “a particular openness to socially critical and socially taboo topics” (Weber 2013: 101). Typical of the melodrama is also “the conflict of the captivity of the subject […] in the claustrophobic atmosphere of a small town or in the even more confined space of the family” (Mädler 2008: 54) and the “hope […] that [that] behind the Banality of life [...] something bigger (may lie), a reference to the context of the world or even just to one's own identity ”(ibid .: 53).
In addition to the highly stylized plot, the second important aspect of melodrama is the expression of feelings. In a “representation of emotional 'excess'” (Braidt 2008: 78), the characters' feelings are often negotiated in the claustrophobic atmosphere of the private. The main characters are represented in the structured and regulated film reality in a typified and standardized way as "victims" (cf. Elsaesser 2008: 13; Faulstich 2013: 40), who rarely learn from their misfortunes and mistakes (cf. Elsaesser 2008 : 13). If they do discover their mistakes, this moment often comes too late (cf. Elsaesser 2008: 13; Mädler 2008: 53). Therefore "melodramas (not infrequently) end unhappy - with the resignation of the hero or even with death" (Weber 2013: 101).
Dominated by a petty-bourgeois worldview, “the drama of the middle class” is shaped by a petty-bourgeois ideology that reveals patriarchal legal claims and an authoritarian character (cf. Faulstich 2013: 39f.). Combined with thinking in stereotypes and a pronounced conformism in which everything is rejected that deviates from these ideals (cf. ibid .: 40), the magnificent houses in which the characters live in suburbs appear claustrophobic and often limit them to the inner.
Within the melodrama genre, a distinction can be made between different orientations that present certain topics in different light and set different priorities in the plot. These include the alignment of the melodrama as a classic “women's film”, in which the female characters are the focus of the narrative and which is often about an (unhappy) love story (cf. Weber 2013: 94) relocated the family, which often convey a climate of open or suppressed family violence and show self-destructive behavior on the part of family members (cf. Elsaesser 2008: 20). Shown are "highly dysfunctional, neurotic and tormented middle-class families, whose lives in the midst of all the splendor of green lawns in the suburbs, well-kept homes and cars [...] [is] broken and in ruins" (ibid .: 21f.).
In addition to these two classic directions of melodrama, the consideration of a third subgenre - the male melodrama - is of great importance for this work. The limited consideration of the melodrama from a female perspective or against the general background of the family can mean that “those films are excluded from the discussion about the melodrama that place a male protagonist at the center of the plot and that deal with questions of the male Dealing with identity and the staging of masculinity ”(Weber 2013: 95). In classical or family melodrama, masculinity is often called into question, so that the male melodrama presents itself as a "suitable genre of the male master narratives of self-control, the defense or diversion of feelings and the image of such a male identity ascription" (Mädler 2008: 48). The male melodramas tell individual, emotional and physical stories of (failing) performances of this sex, which are driven in the relationship between the domestic and the family sphere, by the belief in something bigger and the desire for something “primeval manly”, and one in the American dream Wants to realize masculinity that can (again) meet the requirements of hegemonic masculinity (cf. Mädler 2008: 43ff .; Fenske 2016: 242). The connection between masculinity and emotionality through the connection of men to the private, family and domestic sphere is no longer excluded, which means that suppressed male feelings can be overcome (cf. Mädler 2008: 35). With the dissolution of the clear sexual separation of spheres and the connection of masculinity and sentimentality, the shifting of this into private space and into the personal-sentimental is opened up and thus given the opportunity to stage the masculinity in "weak" positions (cf. ibid .: 44 ; 56). However, in these films male positions of power are shaped by excessive presentation, which is manifested in violence, which can be directed against others as well as against oneself, (excessive) sexuality and occasional sexism (cf. ibid .: 59).
Through this view of the man, melodramas that focus on the male characters admit the alleged crisis to the protagonists (cf. ibid .: 20). Unlike in films, which put men and masculinity at the center of the plot, but do not allow or even negate possible crises, the man in the male melodrama is allowed to show himself untypically weak and in connection with feminine tropes of emotionality and sentimentality (cf. . ibid.). But even if the male melodrama allows for the man's crisis, the situation usually calms down at the end of the film and the basic features of the crisis are softened and overcome (cf. ibid .: 61).
4. American Beauty (1999)
The melodrama produced in 1999 and released worldwide in 2000 American Beauty (Director: Sam Mendes; Screenplay: Alan Ball), contrary to all expectations, turned out to be one of the most successful and highly acclaimed films of the year, receiving five Academy Awards and three Golden Globes, among others in the categories of Best Film (cf.Kappert 2008: 63; Munaretto 2010: 16). As one of the first films to portray life in this way, the contemporary American male family melodrama creates a story centered around the man, the basic themes of which deal with performativity, sentimentality and male essence (cf. Mädler 2008: 71 ). Typical of the male melodrama, the film allows the male crisis in the suburbs (suburbia) and the family and works on them from different perspectives (cf. ibid.). Produced on the threshold between the 20th and the 21st century themed American Beauty "Not only [...] gender arrangements, but also explicitly the 'crisis of masculinity'" (Wendt 2008: 9).
In terms of content, the film tells the story of two middle-class families. The Burnham families, consisting of father Lester, mother Carolyn, and the
Daughter Jane, as well as the Fitts ‘, to which the father Colonel Frank Fitts, his wife Barbara and his son Ricky belong, live in the mentioned American suburb. The story is told within the family and their interaction and contains a series of moments from typical and normal everyday life, the events of which come to a head through dramatic misinterpretations and finally ends in Lester's murder by the neighbor Colonel Fitts, who with this act both families smashes (see Kappert 2008: 82; Mädler 2008: 82).
The narrative is characterized by the “constant alternation between drama and comedy, satire and melodrama, between subjective unhappiness and social misery, between slapstick, self-irony and accusation” (Kappert 2008: 97) and in this way gives the depictions of crisis a special one Tension. The “genre mix of black comedy, romance, thriller and 'suburban angst'” (Munaretto 2010: 7) makes melodrama appear far removed from the mainstream and makes it possible American Beauty in this way the often taboo and restricted handling of many aspects of the film in mainstream cinema.
This way of dealing with different subject areas and the interactions of the characters with them are shown below. For this purpose, the characters are first dealt with, then briefly the themes in the film plot and finally the creative means. These explanations are followed by an analysis of selected key scenes that are placed in the context of the film. The dialogue sections taken from the film (parts of sentences or individual sentences) are written in italics and in quotation marks to better distinguish them from the literature quotations, and provided with a time code that corresponds to the information in the film (TC [hour]: [minute], [second ]) and mark the beginning of the dialogue part. For a better understanding, the dialogue sections used are reproduced in the German dubbed version. The source is the DVD (American Beauty, 1999/2016) and the additional materials on it are used.
4.1 Figure analysis
The melodrama is classically shaped by the actions of the characters, their interactions with each other and with the environment. In American Beauty the characters are also in the foreground of the story and drive it forward through their actions and interactions. Wendt (2008: 68) states that "the story [...] is (is) developed on the basis of a network of relationships between the Burnham and Fitts families, expanded by Jane's school friend Angela, Carolyn's competitor in the brokerage business Buddy and neighbors Jim and Jim". The “facade of bourgeois normality” (ibid .: 67), which the characters attempt to maintain at the beginning of the film, crumbles with every minute of the film and finally collapses against the background of a series of conflicts in families that have long slumbered under this facade. Despite the normality that is exemplified at the beginning of the story, most of the characters are unhappy, marriages have broken down and most of them lack the motivation to actively change something in their lives (cf. ibid.). Hole (2005: 161) states in the context of the breaking of the facade that almost all characters are "dramatically exposed" in the course of the narrative. This revelation has a different origin for each character and takes place differently. But as soon as the real traits of the characters have been revealed, this is no longer with the features of a "black comedy [...] about people who are desperately trying to maintain the facade of an intact family life" (Rosner 2000: 87), but associated with a painful tragedy (cf. Hole 2005: 162). The “ideal world cliché” (Rosner 2000: 87) is thus smashed. At the same time, the director Sam Mendes succeeds in showing his characters in all their secrecy, uncovering them and still awakening understanding in the audience (cf. Bell 2000: 15).
This understanding of the characters is generated by the fact that the main characters Lester, Carolyn and Jane Burnham, Colonel Frank Fitts and his son Ricky as well as Angela are constructed three-dimensionally and therefore arouse credibility as fictional and staged persons in the audience (cf.Mikos 2015: 157). As so-called “‚ [r] unde ‘or multi-diemional figures [Emphasis in the original] ”(Faulstich 2013: 103) they have a complex and diverse character that is permeated by contrasts and contradictions (cf. ibid.). In addition, characters of this type are able to carry out personality changes and extensions in the course of the film plot (cf. ibid.); an important aspect for the protagonists in American Beauty. In addition to the main characters, the character staff is expanded to include minor characters. The neighbors Jim and Jim serve as minor characters who are introduced into the story as Lester's life partners and who play a role in the Colonel's initially called reactions and behaviors. Buddy Kane, Carolyn's rival in the brokerage business, with whom she starts an affair, acts as a further supporting character in the film reality. As "[f] laugh or one-dimensional figures […] Have only secondary meaning for the film message ”(Faulstich 2013: 103) and“ serve […] to contrast and describe the main character ”(Mikos 2015: 156).
In order to better understand the actions and behavior of the main characters in the course of the film and to be able to include them especially in the following analysis and interpretation, they are presented and characterized in the following. However, since not all of the main characters are important for the later investigation of the question, the character analysis is limited to Lester and Carolyn Burnham as well as Colonel Frank Fitts and his son Ricky. The initial situation of the characters as they are presented to the audience at the beginning of the film is particularly addressed. The mentioned revelations and changes are made clear with the help of the key scene analysis and the subsequent interpretation.
Lester and Carolyn Burnham
The Burnham family lives in a large house in an American picture-perfect suburb and belongs to the “economically undisturbed American settlement middle class” (Distelmeyer 2000: 46). Carolyn works as a broker, Lester as a magazine editor, and Jane goes to high school when she is 16. The family owns two cars and has “everything […] in material things that they need” (Jutrczenka, 2014: 163). But it quickly becomes clear that all material possessions are of no use to the family's happiness (cf. ibid.); “[H] the perfect facade is seething” (Munaretto 2010: 16).
This realization is already reached in the first sequence, in which Lester, who can be identified as the protagonist of the story by his off-screen commentary, acts as a kind of narrator and introduces his family and his life to the audience. Unexpectedly for the viewer, he announces at the beginning of the film that he will be dead in a year. At first he exists in a broken marriage and only mechanically in his life. He obeys foreign rules and norms, and as a result appears very bored in his life, which is normalized down to the smallest detail, and takes refuge in sarcasm and resignation (cf. Kappert 2008: 71). At the age of 42, he is in a "deep crisis" (Munaretto 2010: 16), which not only affects his everyday life, but also his portrayal of masculinity. The family as " total loser “ (American Beauty. (D: Sam Mendes, 1999), TC 00: 03.50)4 The so-called “Jedermann” without an individual history serves as a figure of identification for the audience and is in a midlife crisis “[which] makes him aware of just how mundane, materialistic, and loveless his life has become” (Zauderer 2015: 196). During the crisis he loses “a symbolic function of masculinity, potency” (Mädler 2008: 90), which at the beginning of the story limits his sexuality to auto-eroticism due to the broken marriage. His masculinity is undermined "(unintentionally) [in] association with domesticity and sentimentality" (ibid .: 93) and shows the difficulty of "positioning himself between performative dominance and an assumed true inner and sentimental identity" (ibid.: 93). : 103).
Lester's wife Carolyn, on the other hand, embodies the dream of the American all-rounder; she looks good, is professionally successful and keeps her household including her family in top shape (cf.Jutrczenka 2014: 163). She invests a lot in the representation of this perfect order and pays great attention to the creation of her image by surrounding herself with costly material goods and status symbols. She adorns herself with a superficial beauty and demands this directly or indirectly from her family (cf. Munaretto 2010: 40). As a self-employed real estate agent, she earns more than Lester and is professionally more successful than him (cf. Wendt 2008: 75). But she is excessive in her job, sometimes excessively ambitious and constantly stressed (cf. Munaretto 2010: 16). As a broker, she looks like “the caricature of a cramped career woman who lacks warmth and is only concerned about success and external impact” (ibid .: 54). Carolyn is indeed the "driving force" in the family (Wendt 2008: 75), but she is not able to form the emotional center of the family and to meet them with warmth. “[V] om blind status delusion erfessen” (Rosner 2000: 87), she suffers from an obligation to control, secretly hates herself and reacts to her professional failures with autoaggression (cf. Kappert 2008: 73).
Frank and Ricky Fitts
At the beginning of the story, the Fitts family moves into the neighboring house of the Burnhams, in which the father Colonel Frank Fitts and his son Ricky can be identified as the main characters.
In contrast to the Burnhams, the “gender spheres allocation” (Mädler 2008: 96) is still given with the outside fitts. Mädler (ibid.) Also states that with them "the shift (lies) on the sentimental level: the moment of the suppression of emotions and longings, the emotional outburst [...] as sentimental arrangements do not lie with the woman, [...] but with the man ”. Relationships within the family are similarly tense as with the Burnhams, communication is no longer possible and the internal conflicts of the characters are carried outwards in sometimes violent confrontations between father and son (cf. Wendt 2008: 84).
In the family, the retired naval officer Frank Fitts, who has apparently exchanged his first name for his military rank Colonel, tries to preserve this image with the basic values of structure, order and discipline (cf. ibid .: 82). With "rough" educational measures "[he] tries to" discipline "[Ricky]" (ibid .: 84). He legitimizes his violence against his son by the fact that he lacks this discipline (cf. ibid.). Trapped in his basic values, he cannot allow any sentimentality and acts in the brutal patriarchy, which he tries to maintain with reticence and suspicion as well as with violence against himself and others (cf. Kappert 2008: 88; Mädler 2008: 93; Wendt 2008: 83) . The suppression of his sentimental emotions makes him, however, a “ticking time bomb” (Munaretto 2010: 62), which finally discharges when his sentimental side is discovered in the murder of Lester (cf. Mädler 2008: 93). In addition to suppressing all emotions, the former naval officer shows himself to be homophobic. This aversion, which is directed towards the neighbors Jim and Jim, he expresses verbally to Ricky and thereby differentiates himself internally and externally from the deviation he perceives from a successful image of masculinity.
Ricky Fitts, the 18-year-old son of Colonel and Barbara Fitts, is under pressure from the harsh and violent upbringing of his father, who wants to "discipline" him to order and structure (cf. Wendt 2008: 98). However, he is aware that open resistance to his father and also to those around him is rarely successful. Therefore, he does not defend himself against the violence he has experienced, but endures it, reacts by seeming to give in and appears to be outwardly conform (cf. ibid.). But he uses this conformity “only as a 'camouflage' [...] in order to undermine the convention” (ibid .: 106). The “anti-hero” (Munaretto 2010: 63) accepts the abuse of Angela as a “freak” without comment and uses it as a cover to calmly observe his surroundings through his handheld video camera and to smoke and, above all, sell marijuana. With an intense, open and at the same time sad look and an unshakable serenity, he develops a subjective point of view and confidently sees through what every single character in the film is lacking (cf. ibid .: 64).
4.2 Themes of the film plot
The melodrama American Beauty and the reality of the characters in the film is pervaded by specific themes that are common to the genre. In an ironic, sometimes cynical way, deliberately taboo topics and cultural aspects of society are addressed, which play a major role in film reality as well as in the cultural and social reality in which the film was produced. An important theme within the film plot is not only the difference between this external performance and the internal construction of identity, but also the contrast between the objective standpoint and the insight “that [sic] only through the conscious [sic] taking of an individual, subjective one Standpoint to understand the world ”(Wendt 2008: 107). Through this contrary view of the events of the real film world, the melodrama never loses sight of reality, the crises and the causes of the characters' suffering and "(unmasked) a society [...] in which the beautiful appearance suppresses the truth" (Munaretto 2010: 6).
In addition to the aspect of the subjective and objective point of view with which the characters in the film view their reality American Beauty the subject of Suburbia and the “American Dream”, which are also specific to the genre. Lying in the shadow of a metropolis, the typical American suburb is predominantly inhabited by the white middle class and small families, in which the insignia of professional success are practically on display, and in this way a simple, manageable and conflict-free existence and the promise of great freedom prevail (see ibid .: 20ff.). Strongly linked to the “American Dream” for freedom and (financial) independence, however, the utopia of Suburbia turns out to be an illusion in which the “American Dream” becomes a nightmare (cf. ibid .: 21). Behind the facades of the houses people get lonely and are often caught in their claustrophobia with no real way out (cf. Mädler 2008: 75).
As one of the main themes poses the melodrama American Beauty the search for beauty in the foreground, which is underpinned by the message or the often used subtitle "Look Closer" and shown as a way to recognize beauty. With its statements and its specific portrayal, the film suggests that beauty can be found everywhere, even in places where it is not expected. The closer look, which is required in the message or the subtitle of the film in such situations, describes a melodramatic gesture that does not primarily refer to the recognition of hidden beauty, but also to the search for the truth that is presented by beauty can hide the objective eye (cf. ibid .: 84). As becomes clear in the later course of the film, connects American Beauty the beauty furthermore goes strong with death. At the moment of death, a person can see the full beauty of the world and is overwhelmed by it. The film is therefore able to show "[that] the experience of beauty has redemptive powers" (Hole 2005: 163).
In addition to the characters, the creative means of the film are also characterized by typical aspects of melodrama, including the characteristic relationship between light and shadow and the use of exaggerated and ironic representations of individual themes and motifs. Due to their use in specific key scenes, these aspects will only be addressed at a later point. First there is a general consideration of the dramaturgy, the camera, the set design and other visual concepts.
The narrative in American Beauty can be divided into three levels; Dream sequences, voiceovers and the real film plot (cf. Wendt 2008, 68). The dream sequences consist of the protagonist Lester's fantasies about Angela, his daughter's school friend. It is precisely this male main character who uses a voice-over to comment on the plot and guides the audience through the story as the narrator. Within these real events, perspectives often change, so that “time and again other characters and their experience are brought to the center of the action” (ibid.). What is special about the unconventional narrative style is that the entire story is told in retrospect by Lester (cf. Distelmeyer 2000, 46; Wendt 2008: 68).
The dramaturgical structure of six "days" results from the narrative, which are to be equated with the sections of the film5, as well as a prologue and an epilogue. The prologue in this case is a part of the dialogue between the characters Jane and Ricky, torn out of the film context, who talk about Lester and his murder in a handheld video camera recording (Seq. 1). The further dramaturgical structure follows the classic structure of a drama (cf. Wendt 2008, 69). The first "day" and partly also the second "day" serves to present the character and their living conditions and can be described as "exposure" (ibid.). The action increases in the second to fourth “day” and is subject to a classic delay in the fifth “day” (cf. ibid.). On the sixth and last “day” the climax and the fatal catastrophe take place (cf. ibid.). Due to a dramatic misinterpretation by the Colonel, he kills Lester and ends the real film plot. The exact circumstances of this misinterpretation and the effects will be discussed in more detail later in the work. The dramaturgy with the parallel storylines and the developed arc of suspense is also designed in such a way that Lester's death represents the central plot and node of the narrative and brings together all the storylines in the Burnham house (cf. ibid .: 70ff.). This high point of tension is followed by an epilogue in which Lester from the afterlife gives a final comment on the plot with the help of a voiceover from the off and brings important topics of the film to a close. The narrated time of about a year results from this structure of the nudes.
In addition to Lester as the primary narrator, the camera takes the position of the secondary narrator of the plot. Special attention should be paid to the camera settings chosen by the director. With the seldom used total and wide shots, the suburb is shown where everything else, especially people and rooms, are depicted in half-close to close-up shots (cf. Mädler 2008: 75). By using slow zoom-ins, an “optical claustrophobia” (ibid.) Is created on the one hand and rarely used close-ups give the audience the freedom to analyze, interpret and evaluate the interactions of the characters from a distance . In addition, the prevailing tensions between the characters and their surroundings as well as among the characters themselves are made clear.
These tensions in the surroundings of the characters are created with a further important aspect in the design of the melodrama, which is shown in a specific set design and the use or lack of colors within the sets or locations. The figures are included in the set with a straight-line set design and decor (cf. ibid .: 95). The partly overcrowded sets also contribute to the claustrophobic atmosphere and the artificiality of Suburbia (cf. ibid .: 100). White and light tones in most sets and locations create a field of tension which, with its exaggerated formal beauty and aesthetics, threatens to turn into sterility and sometimes even lifelessness (cf. Wendt 2008: 71).
In addition to the representation of the characters within the set and the locations, the visual concept also depicts different atmospheres within the film and thus arranges the characters in the film reality (cf. Munaretto 2010: 77). American Beauty has four different "looks" that have different characteristics. The most dominant look in the real film plot follows the “look” of the American Gothic, which combines familiar places with artificial and strange ones, narrows the depicted characters in the set and with narrow spaces dominated by muted colors such as gray, pale blue and beige , conveys the feeling of being locked in (cf. ibid .: 77f.). The "increasingly [deeper] shadows and high-contrast lighting" (ibid .: 78) also contribute to an increasing threatening mood that reveals the contradiction between the false appearance of the surroundings and the hidden truth in the characters (cf. ibid.). In addition to the “American Gothic look” (ibid .: 77), the film is pervaded by a “surrealistic look” (ibid .: 78), which characterizes the unconscious and repressed desires of the protagonist Lester. The dream sequences from Lester about Angela, which are kept in this "look", are particularly characterized by an intensive use of colors - in particular the color red, which in contrast to the dream sequences does not dominate in the rest of the film - as well as an enticing atmosphere, supported by Special effects that clarify the hidden world of fantasy, dreams and the transcendent (cf. ibid .: 78f.). Subsequent to the “surrealistic look” is the “point of death look” (ibid .: 79) in American Beauty used. With the help of this look, Lester's final comment is shown in the epilogue, in which his state of consciousness is embodied and the boundaries between time and space dissolve (cf. ibid .: 79f.). The "amateur video look" (ibid .: 79), created by Ricky's handheld video camera recordings, will be discussed in more detail later.
Both the set design and the atmosphere-creating looks influence the specific contact between the neighboring Burnham and Fitts families, which takes place in two different ways during the film's story. The first way of establishing contact is direct, conventional communication outside the houses or direct communication within the rooms. But as a special feature, the film also enables the characters to establish direct or indirect contact between the houses, which usually takes place through the windows (cf. Wendt 2008: 71). This indirect establishment of contact between the characters has a major impact on the film plot and is taken up in more detail in the key scene analysis and the classification in the overall context of the film.
4.4 Key scene analyzes
Divided into the aforementioned acts, the film plot is divided into sequences or scenes within these sections, described as “days”, which serve as a background for the investigation in the further course of the work. For this purpose, the scenes that are important for the plot, for the characters and especially for their development are analyzed in varying degrees of detail6For a better classification of the scenes, these are divided into subject areas that are classified in the film plot and largely follow the chronological plot of the film.
After the prologue (Seq. 1), the film is introduced by Lester as the narrator, as already mentioned above. He reports his initial situation to the audience objectively and with a sarcastic undertone and introduces his family (Seq. 2). The designation as " loser “(TC 00: 03.50), as Carolyn and Jane call him, he accepts without comment and even confirms this assumption himself. Since the scene takes place in the morning before going to work and school, the audience receives a snapshot of the relationship within the Burnham family. After his morning ritual, Lester steps out of the red front door late and visibly listless and is reprimanded in a cynical and sarcastic manner by Carolyn for being late. Dressed in a loose, gray suit, Lester is sitting in the back seat of his wife's SUV on the way to work and seems to be asleep. As the narrator, however, he already points out the further course of the story to the audience. With the "challenge to fight" to get back what he has lost, the voice from the off shows a determination that the lester has to learn in the real film plot.
While the opening scene serves to clarify his initial situation through Lester's comments, the film gives an insight into Carolyn's everyday life as an independent real estate agent in a further scene (Seq. 4). In this sequence the real estate agent tries desperately to present a simple house in a better light and to sell it to initially interested customers. When she fails to sell, however, she is confronted with her own failure, whereupon she bursts into hysterical weeping. The image of the apparently successful and self-confident broker gets cracks at this point and points to a conflict that illustrates Carolyn's inner drive and her external difficulties.
In order to be able to assess the relationships within the Burnham family more precisely, the first dinner scene in the Burnham house is examined and analyzed in more detail below (Seq. 3). As a “typical tableau of the intact family and its anchoring in a private domestic life” (Mädler 2008: 85), in American Beauty shown the Burnham family having dinner together. The harmonious family meal is to be seen as a highly stylized act which, as a natural process of eating, underlines the image of the family as a natural staging (cf. ibid .: 86). However, the harmonious dinner is quickly deconstructed by sarcastic and cynical dialogues and accusations from all parties.
The entire scene is filmed with a stationary camera that does not pan. The axis as well as the focus setting are of a natural kind during the scene and easy-listening music is played, which Jane calls elevator music and which is integrated into the reality of the film. The music comes from the off and the source cannot be seen. Furthermore, no noises can be heard outside the room and at a later point in time, looking out of a window in another room shows that it is dark outside. The light in the room is kept in the normal style and dimmed romantically. Diegetic light sources can be seen in the form of two wall lights and candles.
The scene begins with two shots on side tables with photos of Jane in the foreground and a glass vase with roses in the middle distance. The tables are shown in close-up with a slight, natural oversight of a person standing in front of the table. With an invisible cut, the shot follows a professionally taken family photo of the Burnhams. The photo frame is shown in a close-up in normal view, but the photo of the family itself shows them in a half-long shot.
After these initial settings there is a cut in the long shot, in which the dining room in the house is shown. The audience looks through a breakthrough into the long room, in which there are three floor-length windows with crossed windows on the long side far from the audience and on the right side of the room. The view through the window to the outside is obscured by white, semi-transparent curtains and beige over-curtains. With the medium brown wooden floor and the gray-blue wall color, the room is dominated by light, neutral natural colors and shades of blue. The props in the room are used sparingly, but deliberately staged. There are pictures of different sizes on the walls, which blend in with the basic colors of the room with the wooden frames. In addition, two wall lamps are attached to the left and right walls, their beige lampshades also picking up on the neutral and light natural tones of the background. The decor of the room is supported by other decorative objects, which, however, do not detract from the elongated, light brown table in the middle distance and optical center of the scene, at which Lester, Carolyn and Jane have dinner. On this table, next to the food Carolyn has prepared, there are dishes and glasses as well as four long white candles in glass candlesticks and a glass vase with red roses in the center of the table. A light blue table runner is laid out on the table, as well as dark blue place mats and matching dark blue cloth napkins. The chairs, upholstered in gray-blue patterned fabric, are arranged symmetrically around the table; one chair is at the head of the table and one chair is on the long side away from the audience.
Carolyn, who is sitting on the right-hand side of the table as seen by the audience, is dressed in pointy pumps, dark trousers, a gray-blue satin blouse with a pale flower pattern and is wearing ear studs and rings. Her makeup is subtle and her hair is done in a blown hairstyle. Lester on the left side of the head also wears dark business shoes and dark trousers, as well as a brown sweater over a white shirt. You can also see a gold wedding ring and a wristwatch. Jane, who sits facing the audience on the long side of the table, is dressed in a casual everyday outfit, which Carolyn commented disparagingly on in the introductory scene that morning. Her khaki-colored pants and the gray sweatshirt with the red-white and gray flowers on the collar and shoulders and the red-gray striped sleeves look less thoughtful with the ponytail than the clothes of her parents. The chain, the earrings and especially the red lipstick can come to the fore in this way.
If the room is still shown in the long shot at the beginning of the shot, a slow and steady zoom-in up to a half-close shot draws attention away from the interior of the room towards the dialogue between the characters, which comes to an end when Jane leaves the room . The headroom of the figures changes naturally due to the zoom-in, but is identical for all figures with the consideration of the perspective and the arrangement in the room. After Jane got up and left the room, there is an invisible cut to Lester, who is shown sitting with a normal view in a close-up. In front of him in the foreground of the shot are the candles, the roses and his wine glass. He sits with hunched shoulders in front of the dark wall. Carolyn is shown with a cut, sitting more upright in her chair in the same shot as Lester in front of the lighter wall. The two characters are shown in alternating shots until Lester also gets up, leaves the room and leaves Carolyn alone at the table.
The dialogues between the three characters are initially a natural-looking everyday conversation in which Lester wants to report on his working day. This conversation quickly comes to a standstill when he notices that Jane is not interested in his day and accuses him of having been no longer interested in her and her life for some time. This first section of the dialogue between the three characters takes place in the form of a juxtaposition during the total to half-close view of the table. All figures can be seen during the dialogue and turn their heads or turn their gaze to the respective interlocutor. In the meantime, attention is drawn optically to the roses and thus to Jane, who appears through the almost glowing vase as if in a spotlight. Since the diegetic light sources on the wall illuminate the halves of Carolyn and Lester's face facing away from the audience, they can only be viewed halfway in the shade. This use of light exposes Jane's reactions and especially her dislike of her parents to the audience, while Carolyn and Lester hide their feelings in the shadows and behind sarcastic comments. When Jane gets up and leaves the room, the way in which the dialogue between Carolyn and Lester is depicted changes, which is now shown in the shot-reverse-shot. There is no off-screen speech, which means that the direct reaction to what is said is delayed. Since both Lester and Carolyn are shown head-on in these shots and the candles on the table in front of them now illuminate their entire faces, this reveals their parental failure. The content of this second section of the dialogue between the two characters revolves around this failure of their role as parents. In addition, the relationships within the Burnham family in all their fragility are exposed to the public. When Jane leaves the situation, Carolyn blames her husband for being a bad father to her daughter. Lester accepts this accusation without comment and also leaves the room.
After relationships within the Burnham family are presented, the Fitts family is introduced into the story (Seq. 6). With the interaction at breakfast in the morning and the preceding scenes of Ricky with his video camera, the audience gets a first glimpse of the conditions in this family. The introduction by Colonel Frank Fitts is significant because of his extremely violent reaction to the encounter with the homosexual couple from the neighborhood who introduces himself to him that morning. The Colonel clearly expresses his aversion to homosexuality in the car on the way to Ricky's school and reveals a homophobia, which he only reveals to his son in the closed space of the car. Ricky doesn't seem impressed by the violence of his father's reaction and even confirms his statements.
With the introduction of all the important characters, the film introduces the beginning changes in the characters.
Lester meets Angela (Seq. 5), who introduces his beginning change with a dream and fantasy sequence typical for melodrama and marks a kind of awakening for the main character. Impressed by the first meeting between Lester and Ricky (Seq. 7), in which the 18 year old Ricky quits his job and with this rational and youthful composure to Lester “ personal hero “(TC 00:32:59), the protagonist overhears a conversation between Angela and his daughter (Seq. 8). This moment, considered to be Lester's turning point, can also be seen as a trigger for his physical and character change. This is accompanied by his first physical workout in the garage, which is filmed by Ricky at the same time. With the decision to change his life, the relationships in Lester's life change too. He gives Carolyn, who meanwhile starts an affair with her competitor Buddy (Seq. 12), contradicts and provokes her with his actions. He also quits his job and starts a new one in a fast-food restaurant (Seq. 11).
While Lester and Carolyn begin to change their initial situation, Ricky and Jane get closer (Seq. 13). Ricky explains to Jane why he's filming his surroundings. He tries to capture the beauty that is around him with the help of his video recordings; a beauty that he says he can hardly endure. With emotions threatening to overflow and tears in his eyes, he tells Jane that his heart is in danger of breaking because of all the beauty that has been experienced in the world. Spurred on by Ricky's brave, open and emotional reaction, Jane takes the initiative and kisses the young man.
The changed situations of the characters are illustrated in the second dinner sequence, which takes place again in the Burnham's dining room (Seq. 14). The second dinner has many parallels, but also some specific differences to the first scene at the end of the first “day”. One of these differences to the first scene, which is visible at first glance, is the lack of roses, both on the table as decoration and in the background. The significantly changed clothing of the figures is also noticeable. While Carolyn was still wearing dark clothes in the first scene, her shoes are now open and light, her dark trousers are only ankle-length and her closed cardigan is dusky pink with large pink and cream-colored rose petals and is noticeable in the otherwise monotonous room because of its color. Lester's outfit is also looser and more casual than in the first dinner scene. With the dark trousers and the gray shirt, which he wears half-open, loosely and not tucked into his trousers, his whole appearance appears more relaxed and open. In contrast to the first scene, Jane's outfit is only minimally changed.
Also different than in the first dinner scene, the take changes very often due to cuts in this second sequence. The shot begins with a total perspective with a normal view of the room, in which the same symmetrical seating arrangement prevails as in the first scene. In the following shots, which are separated by quick, invisible cuts and sometimes only last a few seconds, Lester and Carolyn have an argument in which the content is about Lester's resignation and Carolyn's annoyance, who from now on have sole financial responsibility to have to. During this confrontation, the dialogues are shown in the shot-reverse-shot variant and, unlike in the first dinner scene, speaking parts now also come from the off to better illustrate the reactions to what was said. The person shown in each case is shown in a close-up and a normal view with a silent camera without movement. With the comment " Your mom likes me going through life like a fucking prisoner while she keeps my cock in a mason jar under the sink. “(TC 01: 02,46) from Lester he provokes an almost hysterical reaction from Carolyn, which is interrupted by Jane, who wants to escape from the situation and gets up. When you get up, the camera follows your movement to keep you in the center of the frame. With the first stern words, Lester orders her to sit down again. Startled by the severity of his voice, Jane obeys and falls silent, as does Carolyn. On a subsequent provocation from Carolyn, the ideal world of harmonious family life literally falls apart when Lester slowly gets up and throws a plate against the wall. As before when his daughter was raised, the camera seems to follow his movement naturally and returns to the near starting position when he sits down again. The last shot returns to the long shot.
In this second dinner scene, Lester openly defends himself against Carolyn for the first time and stubbornly defends his change in front of his family. Unlike in the first scene, he doesn't escape the argument and in the end asserts himself and his opinion.
The change in the interactions between the characters continues in a scene that is important for parent-child relationships, which looks at the mother-daughter relationship between Carolyn and Jane, as well as the father-son relationship between Colonel Frank Fitts and Ricky (Seq . 15).
Both parents - Carolyn and Frank - try to reflect on their parenting role in this sequence, but fail in this attempt because they can only treat their children with violence and not with closeness and warmth.
After Lester's change was initiated and the failure of Carolyn was made clear, the relationship that resulted from this is integrated into everyday life and made clear in the following scene, which can be located chronologically some time after the last scene. After Carolyn has successfully completed shooting training, which her buddy advised to exercise as an exercise of power, she drives home by car (Seq. 16), where she meets a red sports car in the driveway of her house. The following scene (Seq.17) "marks the final change in the power relations that until then were clearly in favor of the wife" (Kappert 2008: 74). Lester's attempt to “reinstall the conventional gender order” by shifting the balance of power in the couple relationship (ibid .: 76) fails, however.
The scene takes place in the Burnhams' living room, which is on the first floor to the left of the front door. The camera looks into the hallway, which is separated from the living room by an open breakthrough, from which one reaches the dining room for the dinner scenes on the right side of the front door and from which the stairs lead to the upper floor. Like the other scenes, the living room is filmed with a fixed camera that does not show any pan during the scene and only follows the movements of the figures in a natural way. The axis and focus settings in the sequence are of course used and the room is illuminated with daylight from outside. There are no other - switched on - diegetic or non-diegetic light sources to be seen.
Once again, the decor of the room is defined by carefully placed and staged decorative objects, a fireplace and glass vases with red roses in which the flowers are arranged in a hemisphere. Like the dining room, this room is dominated by light natural and blue tones. In the middle of the room there is a blue and white striped sofa with white decorative cushions, as well as two identical gray armchairs, which are arranged at a 90-degree angle to the sofa. In the middle of the three pieces of furniture is a low glass table.
When Carolyn comes in the door angrily about the sports car in the driveway, the scene begins with a close-up of her feet, who come into the hall dressed in pumps. With a cut in the long shot, the next shot shows the living room in a normal view with a view of the hallway. Carolyn stands in the opening with a slightly bent leg and a flared hip and places her hands on the frame of the opening at head height to the left and right of her. Dressed in a tight, figure-hugging, gray-blue dress with a color-coordinated handbag and pumps, a classic, teased hair-dryer, eyes emphasized by makeup and lips painted in dark pink, she looks annoyed at Lester into the room with a slightly downward glance. He sits in a relaxed posture with his back to Carolyn on the armchair, his bare legs crossed on the table in front of him. With the gray-blue T-shirt under the open brown shirt and the dark blue sweatpants, he looks even more relaxed than in the other scenes and with his demeanor radiates the atmosphere of the cozy househusband, in whose role he is pushed more and more by his job change. Since he is sitting facing the audience and Carolyn is initially at his back, he turns the audience into his accomplices in this scene. The viewers have the opportunity to put themselves in his position and can see the situation from his point of view.
With the juxtaposition of the dialogue, Lester wants to know what Carolyn wants from him after she has knocked her nails against the wood of the frame against which her hands are still pressed. Carolyn angrily asks what the red sports car in the driveway is all about. Lester explains that this is his new car. He supports his joy in the fulfillment of his long-cherished wish by holding up his fist consciously of victory and smiling mischievously. When Carolyn asks where his old car is, Lester replies that he sold it. During this conversation, Carolyn breaks away from the door frame and walks into the room. The camera remains in its position, so that Lester remains in the center of attention and Carolyn's head protrudes from the top of the picture when she stops with her back to the audience to the left of the sofa, forcing Lester to look up at her.
There is a cut and in the next shot, Carolyn is shown frontally in a half-close shot with a slight view from below. Your noseroom is directed slightly downwards to the left to Lester, whose back of the head and face occupy the lower left corner of the picture in a ¼ profile. While Lester asks if she has changed anything because she looks great, there is a short cut back to the previous shot in which Lester sits in the optical center of the picture and Carolyn is shown from behind next to the sofa. After a cut back to the previous take on Carolyn, the audience sees that she only responds non-verbally to her husband's comment by briefly grasping her perfectly styled hair and showing a small smile on her face. In response to this non-verbal gesture, she sits down in the right corner of the sofa, her gaze is still directed slightly to the left at Lester. As she sits down, the camera follows her movement into a normal view, in which Lester's feet and legs can now be seen on the table in the lower half of the image. With two shot changes, in which the previously used view of the figure is cut again and again, Carolyn asks where Jane is, whereupon Lester replies that she is not at home, takes his open beer bottle from the table and walks over to the sofa on which Carolyn is still on always sitting in the corner.
With the statement that the two of them have the whole house to themselves, he sits down on the left side of the sofa next to his wife after another cut that changes to a half-close shot in a normal view. He folds his right leg under, places his left arm stretched out on the backrest and thus opens his posture in the direction of Carolyn. He still holds the opened beer bottle in his right hand. Carolyn, on the other hand, is sitting in the right corner of the sofa, her body facing Lester, her legs crossed, her hands slightly crossed in her lap. In her closed position, she only makes contact with her husband with her head turned over her right shoulder towards Lester.
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