Setting and Effect

Lester’s environment has a massive effect on his life and the way he lives. Lester lives in a suburban environment that screams the American Dream. He seems to have it all. A nice house surrounded by a white picket fence, a good job and a family. How could he not be happy?

The setting purposefully contradicts what the audience thinks to show us how a life that seems to have it all doesn’t make us happy or content with life. Upon closer inspection we learn that Lester’s privileged life really isn’t all that good. His life has become so monotonous and comfortable that Lester has fallen asleep at the helm of life.

Lester isn’t the only Burnham struggling with happiness. Carolyn has become so obsessed with portraying such a superficial life of perfection and happiness that she herself has forgotten how to be happy. Carolyn is a very driven woman who cares more about success that anything else. Perhaps if she took a step back and looked at her life the way Lester learns to then maybe we wouldn’t have witnessed such a tragic ending to the film.

Setting Exploration

American Beauty is set in 1990’s America in a very generic and typical neighborhood. Although it was filmed in California, the physical setting is never revealed during the film. The neighborhood is so ordinary that it could perhaps be a representation of many suburban neighborhoods and lifestyles across America.

Adjectives that describe the setting and mood of the film:

  • Ordinary (Referring to the neighborhood)
  • Sad American Beauty
  • Tragic
  • Perfect (On the surface) 
  • Troubled
  • Strange