Beauty in perspective.

An assignment I completed recently required me to do a script analysis for the film American Beauty – comparing an early draft and the final draft of the script, to see what changes were made in scene choices, arrangement of scenes, dialogue, and character reveal, and how this affected the final story. It was interesting to see the differences between them – the original story that writer Alan Ball had envisioned was vastly different to the one that won an Academy Award in 2000. Alan had originally written a down-ending film in which the characters Jane Burnham and Ricky Fitts are convicted for the murder of Lester Burnham. The final script is imbued with a very different tone and quality, and I think humanity, thanks to the omission of this ending, and a vastly different final sequence.

There are many people who think this film is overrated. I thought the critical praise surrounding the film was hyperbolic, and having re-read the script so many times, I have wearied of it too. What does still strike me about this film comes through the character Ricky: through his perspective on life, through his relationship with his father (played wonderfully by Chris Cooper), and, in particular, within his dialogue in this scene:

Ricky is especially interesting to me because of the way he interacts with his environment. He refuses to hit back at his father after his father attacks him, abusively yelling at Ricky: “fight back you little pussy!”. He defends his father later when telling Jane about how his father sent him away, stating that his father is “not a bad man” – perhaps understanding that his father’s often violent behaviour is born of deep pain, shame. He sees past the conventional beauty of the dominant Angela, his interest instead in Jane. When in a moment of vulnerability and desire for connection Jane removes her clothes for him, he focuses the camera not on her naked breasts, but her face. And he has the ability to just be still and observe the beauty in the minutiae, in all the places where most people don’t care to find it. This perspective gives his character true freedom, and the quiet confidence that comes with that.

One of the things we are being encouraged to do in the course I am doing is find our personal story – our personal narrative – as a writer. We are encouraged to reflect upon the values, themes and ideas that stir us as writers, and as human beings.

This is because we are often drawn to stories, and to characters, that reflect and share our personal narrative.

I guess I’m slowly coming to realise what mine is.


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