Analysis of the Use of the Color Red in American Beauty and its Representation

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Analysisof the Use of the Color Red in American Beauty and its Representation


Colorhas been used by many societies to represent different aspects oflife, emotions, and even status. When it comes to emotions, the colorred has frequently been used to represent intense passion, love oranger. When representing one’s status, the color blue has oftenbeen associated with royalty while the color red has been associatedwith fighters. This is because red being the color of blood fittedperfectly with representing soldiers and warriors since they wereused to blood. The color red can also be used to signify power andcourage. Generally, the color red is used to evoke strong emotionssuch as desire, passion, and excitement. The color red easilycaptures the attention of people, and that is why it is used onwarning signs. This color has been adapted in many films to representdifferent situations and to pass deeper messages by the movie or filmdirector. This paper will discuss the repeated use of the color redin the Oscar Award winning film American Beauty, released in 1999.


Thisfilm directed by Sam Mendes focuses on the life of a man namedLester, who is played by Kevin Spacey, a middle-aged father whoappears to have abandoned all hope of ever getting a happy life. Heappears tired and given up on life. Everyone in his life from thewife, the daughter and even his boss treat him poorly. However,Lester manages to come out of this listless cocoon of a life that hehad been enclosed in. The transformation he undergoes comes aboutafter he realizes that life is just like an advert. Therefore, thecharacters that seem to be happy and satisfied are usually the oneswho are saddest. His wife who is a career driven woman is shown to bethe one who never got the true joy of life. Lester’s neighbor whois an army colonel also joins his rank of the unhappy people. Lestergets infatuated with a girl named Angela, who happens to be hisdaughter’s friend after he saw her perform as a cheerleader. Thisinfatuation becomes the catalyst that would eventually lead toLester’s freedom. This makes him quit his job and the buy a red1970 Pontiac Firebird. Soon he went to work at a fast food restauranta place where he wanted to have the least responsibility. It isduring this time that he realizes that his wife is cheating on him.The film is all about one lonely man who as willing to loseeverything just so that he could finally be free. This he eventuallysucceeded in attaining.

TheUse of the Color Red in the Movie

Thecolor red was relentlessly used in the movie to evoke differentemotional situation for the main character, Lester. The first time iswhen Lester first sees Angela at a cheerleading event. He fantasizesabout her playing with her attire and then starts to unbutton hertop. Just before her breasts are exposed, red roses come out of herchest. The next fantasy that Lester has about Angela is when he layson the bed with red rose petals falling onto him. He looks into theceiling, which is a bed of roses with a nude Angela at the center ofit. The last fantasy happens when Lester walks to his bathroom andfinds Angela in the bathtub that is filled with water and red rosepetals. He goes ahead and feels her body through the rose petal. Theuse of the red roses has been clear in trying to depict Lester’ssexual desire and lust for Angela. The color red evokes such feelingsand therefore, this was a symbol for the lust. Towards the end ofthe film, the colonel shoots Lester, the camera pans to an image ofred roses in a vase. This is a clear indication that Lester’s lustand desire for Angela, who is a minor, is what led to his suddendeath. This is because his lust for Angela is what made him startworking out so that he looks good while naked. This made the colonelsson, Ricky to come out as gay and try to kiss him. The colonel beinga staunch homophobe went and murdered Lester thinking that he wassleeping with his son. The series of the red color’s intensity oneach of the supporting characters after the shot that killed Lesterwas heard leads to the actual identity of the murderer. When the shotis fired, Angela was in the bathroom applying red lipstick, Jane andRicky were in Jane’s room testing out red bed sheets, Carolyn isseen to be wearing a red dress while holding a gun and finally thecolonel who is seen covered in a lot of blood while holding themurder weapon.

Thecolor red was also used in the scene where Lester bought a bright red1970 Pontiac Firebird after quitting his job and blackmailing hisboss. Here the red color symbolized the intense energy he had afterundergoing the transformation. This also shows the newfoundconfidence that he had and was no longer willing to cower for anyone.This depicted that Lester had reached a new point of his life, and hewas willing to do almost anything.


Thefilm focused on the color red to give subtle information that aviewer had to be keen to note. The use of the red rose was a cleardisplay of Lester’s lust and desire for the teenage girl, Angela.This infatuation was wrong both legally and morally. He saw her as acatalyst that was to churn his efforts towards personal freedom. Thered Pontiac that he bought shows the energy and confidence he had toattain his goal of freedom. Eventually, he did get his freedom, butat a price, his life. The red splatter of blood seen when he is shotclearly shows the price that one has to pay to attain freedom.


Mendes,Sam. American Beauty. DreamWorks Studios, Jinks/Cohen Company.(1999).

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