Sam Mendes Film America Beauty: Analyzing the Character Lester Burnham

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Sam Mendes Film America Beauty: Analyzing The Character Lester Burnham

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Lester Burnham begins his character journey in American Beauty as a pushover of sorts. He has little to no power at home, he is rather close to losing his job, in short he is reaching a mid life crisis. Everything changes when he meets Angela Hayes, a close friend of his teenage daughter, who he begins to develop a sexual attraction for. In fact it isn’t until his encounter with Angela that Lester begins to better himself. Lester’s intentions regarding Angela are wrong in a way they serve as inspiration for a new, better version of Lester.

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Lester is unhappy. Aside from being sexually frustrated, he feels as if he is not respected by his wife, Carolyn nor his daughter, Jane. After several years of marriage Lester finds Carolyn rather boring and often refers to her as joyless. “That’s my wife Carolyn…Man I get exhausted looking at her. She wasn’t always like this. She used to be happy. We used to be happy…Both my wife and daughter think I’m this gigantic loser, and they’re right” (00.03.00 – 00.05.00) Due to the opinions of others (which he assumes) Lester has little to no confidence regarding his personality and appearance. As an attempt to establish a better connection with their daughter Lester and Carolyn go to the high school basketball game where Jane is performing during half time, much to her disapproval. Here is where Lester sets his eyes on Angela for the first time, instead of paying attention to Jane, Lester opts for fantasizing about Angela instead. After the game Jane approaches her parents with the company of Angela and her father is practically in awe of her presence. When Angela spends the following night at the Burnham residence, Lester can be seen with his ear pressed up against the bedroom door eavesdropping. In this sequence Lester overhears Angela say that Lester would be more attractive if he worked out, after hearing this, he hastily moves down to the garage, examines his body and gets to work on his image.

On the first day of his “lifestyle change” Lester has an encounter with Ricky, the boy next door who secretly sells marijuana. After sharing a joint with Ricky the previous night, Lester is interested in buying some and he comes to a realization of sorts. “When I was your age, I flipped burgers all summer just to be able to buy an eight track…It was great. All I did was party and get laid.I had my whole life ahead of me.” (00.47.00) Lester realizes he was happiest when he held the least amount of responsibility and only focused on what was best for himself, he now intends to replicate that same feeling he had when he was young.

Some time passes and Lester continues to work in his physique and smoke weed to Carolyn’s dismay. Once his plan to blackmail his employer falls through, Lester leaves his advertisement job of fourteen years and goes to work at the fast food restaurant Mr. Smiley’s. Where his position holds “the least possible amount of responsibility”. In fact, during one of his shifts, Lester discovers his wife’s affair with fellow real estate agent Buddy Kane when they visit the drive- thru window, however he is left unbothered by this, gives his wife well wishes and lets her know that she no longer has power over him, this frustrates Carolyn causing her to leave in a huff. Jane realizes the intentions of his father’s new lifestyle and finds it unsettling. “He’s a total asshole and he’s got this crush on my friend Angela and it’s disgusting…He’s doing massive psychological damage to me… I need a father who’s a role model, not some horny geek-boy who’s gonna spray his shorts whenever I bring a girlfriend home from school.” (01.11.00 – 01.12.00) Jane then confront her father regarding his true intentions. “ I’ve been too embarrassed to bring her over. Because of you, and the way that you behave… You stare at her all the time, like you’re drunk! It’s disgusting!” (01.14.00) Lester is left once again unbothered and even contributes his own retort.

Every human being lives with their own flaws. By being human, Lester Burnham is only following the laws of nature in a sense. Lester uses his flaws to feed his strengths, his biggest flaw being he is attracted to a girl who is old enough to be his child however, this flaw serves as inspiration to change himself for the better. Lester has taken everything life has thrown at him, turned it on its head and ultimately created the happiness he was longing for up until the point of his demise. Lester’s ability to make the best out of a bad situation is what makes him so admirable, and it’s a trait everyone need to bed familiarized with.

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