American Beauty

Sam Mendes follows his own style and techniques throughout the whole film to give it a Leicester’s loss of personal connection with his family – Carolyn and Jane – has lead to his psychological downfall. The first frame of the first Dinner Scene is a portrait of the three. The placement portrait would have been purposely placed by itself on the wall to make the wall feel bleak and meaningless, similarly to the family. The photo is also a professionally styled photo. This isn’t very common in most family households. This particular photo in the film would hold no personal connection or significant meaning to the three. Most lower class families have a more intimate relationship with each other whereas this high-class family live a black and white life. This family, particularly Carolyn as shown later in the film, believe in face value over the importance of a relationship. The low-key side lighting is used as a was of showing the photo’s lack of importance to the family and the dark reality of it. The cinematography is designed purposely by Mendes to frame the film using a single frame. It gives us a visual interpretation and context of the family’s false reality and lack of connection. This Frame in the Family’s household would be a daunting moment. We, as an audience, question the reality of this moment and this family. Are they really a happy family or have they lost all emotional connection with what a happy family really is? This frame is very important in showing Sam Mendes’s theme of false reality and domestic conflict.

The shot then cuts to this visually stunning establishing shot of the Dining room. The short duration for the table shot lasts for almost a minute till it is cut. This builds tension and portrays the film’s quiet stillness and symbolises the family’s restrictive behaviour.The camera starts from the room next-door and slowly zooms into the dining room till it cuts again.  The slow zoom manipulates the audience to slowly and surely draw their focus to the dining table and the situation between the family. It is only until this shot is cut to the close up of Leister do we, as an audience, realise our voyeuristic behaviour. This is key to pulling the audience into the action and feeling more like we are invading on the family. This would be similar to anybody in the neighbourhood who weren’t a part of the family; they would feel both drawn to the drama behind the families facade and yet feel guilty for watching the scene. 

  • Visually Beautiful
    • Composition of the table
      • Roses in centre of room
      • Candles create a holy atmosphere
      • placement of tableware, formality and lack of personality
      • Carolyn and Leicester on opposing sides of the table and removes physically and emotional closeness
    • High Key/Low key lighting, dramatise

This photo will later be interpreted into the ending as a was of triggering Leicester’s stream of consciousness.

Overall, this excerpt of the film has a limited amount of shots for a longer shot duration, it has given the scene a combination of an eerie and it

In the second dinner scene, rather than using the visual cinematic techniques from the previous dinner scene as a direct template for this scene, the scene has included a close up of Jane, showing her new significance in the family. The scene also includes more closeups to give the audience a better view of Carolyn, Jane and Lester’s reaction and emotions. The shot duration had been shortened to signify Carolyn and Lester’s rising anger and the breaking point of the pair’s patience.   This shot gives us a reality check on how repressed domestic conflict can lead to hysteria in family members.


Family Portrait |
Dining Table |

Lecter Eating; Carolyn Holding Wine; ‘I’m going to go get ice cream’ |

Counter |


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