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American Beauty (1999) - Adulthood and life transitions

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After viewing American Beauty (1999), address the following questions:

1) How can the main character/characters be viewed from a biological, cognitive, and psychosocial perspective?

2) What are the various ways in which each main character copes with biological changes as a result of aging?

3) What changes occur in the family composition and lifestyle of these characters?

4) How does each character cope with death, dying, and his or her theories on "the after life," if any?

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One approach to help you with this type of assignment is to address each question, which can be drawn on for your final response. This is the approach this response takes.


1) How can the main character/characters be viewed from a biological, cognitive, and psychosocial perspective?

Lester and Carolyn Burnham are on the outside, a perfect husband and wife, in a perfect house, in a perfect neighborhood, with their 16-year old daughter, Jane. According to Erikson, Lester and his Carolyn are in middle adulthood (35 - 55-65), at a time when people tend to be occupied with creative and meaningful work and with issues surrounding their family. Ideally, in this stage of development, strength comes through care of others and production of something that contributes to the betterment of society, which Erikson calls generativity. In this stage, many people often fear inactivity and meaninglessness -which Lester and Carolyn are experiencing and reacting to (http://www.learningplaceonline.com/stages/organize/Erikson.htm).

Specifically, Lester Burnham (Spacey) is a 42-year-old father and advertising executive who serves as the film's narrator. However, Lester's family life is messy. His wife Carolyn (Bening) is an ambitious realtor who feels that she is unsuccessful at fulfilling her potential, and his 16-year-old daughter Jane (Birch) is unhappy and struggling with self-esteem issues. Based on Erikson's theory, the parents are in middle adulthood, both involved in careers, family and community (generactivity), and done right develop productivity and caring. However, some get stuck and instead become self-absorbed, which seems to be true for the parents. Carolyn is too wrapped up in her job, and then takes on an affair with her business rival Buddy Kane (http://www.learningplaceonline.com/stages/organize/Erikson.htm).

There are many challenges midlife that demand cognitive processes and attention. For example, challenges consist of work and family environments requiring particular cognitive skills of organizing, planning, problem solving, and multitasking (Schooler, 1999, as cited in http://www.sagepub.com/upm-data/5433_Willis_I_Proof_Chapter_6.pdf, available on-line).

Lester Burnham is also in a mid-life crisis, as his biological (physical) appearance is beginning to show the signs of aging (e.g. graying hair, loose of muscle mass, gaining weight around his middle, etc.). When Lester and Carolyn go watch Jane cheerleading at the high school gym, they meet Angela Hayes, and Lester, caught in sudden lust for Angela, decides to change his life. Lester himself is a self-described loser: boring, faceless and easy to forget. Lester is reinvigorated, however, as mentioned above, when he meets Jane's friend and classmate Angela Hayes (Suvari) at a high school basketball game. Lester immediately develops an obvious infatuation with Angela, much to his daughter's embarrassment. Throughout the film, Lester has fantasies involving a sexually aggressive Angela and red rose petals. Lester has developmentally. (http://www.radiofree.com/mov-revs/american.shtml).

Jane and her friends, Angela and ...

Solution Summary

Referring to the movie called American Beauty (1999) and by responding to questions, this solution addresses aspects of adulthood and life transitions through character exploration. Validated with quotes from the movie.