Monday, March 31, 2014

The Uncanny in American Beauty


                                              
It’s all a matter of perspective--at least that’s the case in Sam Mendes’ American Beauty (1999): a visual panoply of thrilling satirical vignettes exposing the craftily concealed perversities and turmoil that lay beneath the film's multiple manifestations of farcical representations. Mendes artfully crafts a topsy-turvy satire about the homogenizing attempts of Suburbia to sublimate individuality and a family's attempt to appease the faceless regiment. The Burnhams, as both a familial unit and as individuals teeter totter between instinctual idiosyncrasy and the contemptuous stigma attached to being exposed as an outsider.In pursuing the attainment of social normalcy, the Burnham kin are forced to repress primal instincts, which, in turn, provoke a backlash of all things uncanny.

Mendes forges beyond the outskirts of the great American Dream in order to trample over much of the folklore that surrounds the utopian notion of a Suburban Shangri-La. In relating to Sigmund Freud's "The Uncanny", the film rums amuck with absurdities from the start, utilizing the full-fledged  malleability of the cinematic medium to fully expose Lester Burnham's transcendental  experience through death and his resurrection.Mendes' filmic showcase then goes about taking us through the grotesque underworld of Lester's own consciousness, as it suffers, grapples with, and eventually surmounts socially implemented fragments of repression. Mendes' underlying message seems to be yep, the 'burbs are still really fucked up! No, you don't have to participate.
We begin to see that the family ostensibly diverges from what we'd consider to be 'typical behavior'  as the camera penetrates more and more intimately into the Burnham's underlying affairs. The degree of unsettling intimacy Mendes instills in the film mimics Freud statement that "we know now that we are not supposed to be looking on at the products of a madman's imagination, behind which we, with the superiority of rational minds, are able to detect the sober truth, and yet this knowledge does not lessen the the impression of uncanniness in the least degree."(424) The tension that exists between the Burnhams' desire for  and dismal failure in the face of normalcy suggests that these socially constructed notions of normalcy are skewed. We as viewers are thus led into a hazy state of ambiguity as the multi-dimensional layers of the cinematic ecosphere unfurl. Their's is a life enshrouded by the pitter-patter of routine, imbibing social contexts, and materialistic fetishization—and we can all recognize our very own torments espoused by the identity/society duality

Lester Burnham is  a sterilized, lifeless 42 year old whose identity is associated with his daily routines, neighborhood and street, and a complacency with the void of respect and power allotted to him by his wife and daughter. Since this lopsided hierarchy of power has existed for so long, Lester naturally experiences notions of Freud's "castration complex".  In a dinner table scene I later touch on, Lester recognizes this fear which has been instilled through his wife's commandeering of familial shot-calling, seeming "to prefer that [he] go through life like a fucking prisoner while she keeps my dick in a mason jar under the sink." He has thus been incarcerated in a sedated hibernation throughout the course of his domestic life, and is suddenly enlivened to reclaim his power. Once Burnham starts to awaken and rebel against his comatose complacency—a life enshrouded by habits, social conformity, and lack of emotional connectivity, he makes a rebellious attempt to turn his mundane world upside down.



Freud refers to the provocation of the uncanny inherent in the concept of the double, and  "the constant recurrence of similar situations."(425) Mendes represents the Burnham family's dinner table interaction in two separate sequences, which is an overt move, and something which i believe deserves theThe doubling effect, therefore is an overt move on the director's behalf and, something which I believe we should explore further. The earlier dinner table scene depicts a meticulously engineered formal dinner landscape, so perfect it's as if we were peering into a picturesque dollhouse. The long shot depicts the visually symmetric scenery with the candles, linens and silverware and  a bundle of Carolyn's perfectly harvested roses. All three family members are perched on the long table to enhance the symmetrical aesthetics.  It's made apparent that there are already seedlings of boredom and disdain planted within the Burnham family due to the constrictive expectations and codes of normalcy dictated by suburban society and Carolyn’s ferociously conformist adherence to the social playbook. The distance between the Burnham trio is perceptibly striking even from a far. As the camera slowly moves closer, the mirage begins to dissolve while the circuitous sense of animosity between the family members is magnified. The camera imposes a tight frame on the scene to suggest how suffocating and unnatural these marginalizing social contexts are. Lester attempts to make small talk at the dinner table, but is continuously degraded and overpowered not only by his wife but by his daughter. The scene ends with Carolyn's authoritative declaration of power and Lester fleeing the scene to grab some ice cream.

The second time we see the Burnham’s at the dinner table there’s definitely something amiss. Lester is swigging a beer and his attire is unkept. Carolyn has on a less formal sweater and And an uproariously animated discourse wages between Lester and Carolyn. Recognizing that she's walked into an extra bizarro unraveling of unheimlich, Jane attempts to flee the Crazy Fun House scene but is halted by her dad’s authoritarian demand that she sit down. Jane's marvel, with her perplexed attention span being jostled between the combatant volleying dialectical blows, resembles our own throughout the course of the film.   This is Lester’s attempt  to realign himself with the family that’s obscured him, by reclaiming his power and voice. Carolyn attempts to further subjugate power from him by belittling him for quitting his job with her frantic, practically psychotic frenzy of ranting anxieties. Lester wants his asparagus, yet his requests are unheeded(due to the family's lack of consideration and respect towards him) It is through the aggressive physical actions of getting the asparagus from across the table himself and subsequently hoisting the plate against the wall to finally get his family's unflinching attention.  Lester instills a sense of shock and fear in his conspiring familiar castration agents. This is Lester's masculine and patriarchal revival over the family unit, divorcing himself front the layers of artificiality which Carolyn harbored throughout the course of her tyrannical 20 year reign over the Burnham fam. 

American Beauty asks viewers to acknowledge that the world unraveling before them is a constructed spectacle. Cinematic reflexivity is bountifully adorned throughout the film taking on representation through the reflected gaze repeatedly gleaming from mirrors.  Ricky’s handheld footage and the repeated element of distortions in perspective constantly interlaced throughout the course of the narrative, calling into question notions of perspective on how we view film.One of the overarching examples of the film's most poignant representations of the uncanny is Lester Burnham's voice-over narration which weaves in and out of the plot lending a monotone, pacified omniscience to the pandemonium-filled plot. The presence of a voice being heard off screen, combined with the ironically forced upbeat instrumentals in the background, and Burnham's subsequent revelation "in a year from now I'll be dead..Of course, I don't know this yet..and in a way I'm dead already." Jentsch had contended that the uncanny is represented when questions of "'whether an apparently animate being is really alive; or conversely, whether a lifeless object might not be in fact animate'"(423) Although Freud might disagree, I think that notions of life/death and animate/inanimate, and the paper-thin line that exists between these dualities, do provoke the uncanny as is made very evident by American Beauty. Ricky's capacity to see beauty in that which has been categorically deemed inanimate and Lester's evolution towards this wide-rearing capacity for perception once he's completely detached himself from social mores.

As Lester later comes to recognize that there is an inherent beauty in everyday life . A pure beauty which is not necessarily conventional.  A beauty which isn’t exactly the perfect rose, the which has become a familiar motif in the movie.Behind the facade of beauty and normalcy, there may be something damaged and lonely; Behind what seems to be plain, ordinary, or weird may, in fact, be something quite beautiful.

Friday, December 27, 2013

nyc, i'm coming for ya

so my writing patterns have been all but consistent, and I think by now we can firmly come to understand that communication is not my strong suit. but its finally time to make some changes and the major transformation I'm about to belly flop into is a mecca north to NYC. If moving half of a country away isn't a big enough deal in and of itself, what amplifies the stress is the fact that this decision was made less than two weeks ago. so for the past say 9 days I've been frantically bombarded by an endless "to do" list--so to the point that i haven't even taking a moment to grapple with the whirlwind of emotions i feel in making this major life change.

i almost feel as though any moment i feel a surge of sentiment fizzling, i need to combat the frantic tide as any old good new yorker would do. but with "maturity"  comes the realization that bottling up these sorts of feelings can lead to overzealous disasters and major regret. I made a pledge long ago that i would never look back with regret(and subsequently broken that pact far far too many times) but the last thing i want to do is leave here like a sterilized robot and let my subconscious defensive mechanisms enable me to deny savoring my last moments with the people i love so much in this place i love so much. so for right now ill just embrace the barrage of emotions and let reality settle in for these last five days here in oklahoma.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

if no one came to the monster mash



happy halloween lovers

Thursday, October 17, 2013

the best of michael scott

i will for always and ever love michael scott from the office.

here's why:











& just a funny Dwight one...





Tuesday, January 15, 2013

diy digital playground



i love the digital media playground, with all its bells and whistles, and the giddy prospect of unrequited fun and opportunity.
made by mal

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

embrace it, bitch


A lot of blog content i stumble across showcase seamless organizational skills or makeup routines, and i sit there googly-eyed wishing i could obtain that sense of order in my life.  If you don't already know me you'll shortly catch on to the blatant fact that I am frenzied, chaotic, tupsy turvy and did i mention A.D.D. to boot.  

But the beautiful thing about the wonderful world of the world wide web is that it opens up a bounty of channels to express or celebrate the unfettered essence of diversity, variation and idiosyncracy which, afterall, blend into the kaleidoscopic landscape of this technological wunderweb. without the unique contributions of user-generated richness, we'd still be mired in the humdrum babble of a one-way method of communication. But as participants in the web 2.0 culture ,we are now obliged to contribute to the expansive conversation. and what we have to give is a unique smattering of our individual self.

the social stigmas identified with having ADHD are fundamentally misconstrued and debiitating IF you allow that intoxicating world of stereotypical babble into your life. many of the greatest thinkers of our time challenged established notions with rebellious indifference  only to conquer herculaen feats in the face if a continuous onslaught of public scrutiny. so for the sake of adders and mankind alike  iw ant to encourage all of you fun foolish messy clumzy riots out there, to lavish in your oddball ways of thinking. at 24 years old, i am just now starting to embrace my A.D.H.D. rather tha use it as as a crutch or attempt to conceal its unavoidable presence in my life. 
so there goes my cathartic ramble,. Now onto the show!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

mallory's useful little tips on life

  • keep two spoons in your freezer at night and when you wake up in the morning put the spoons under your eyes to reduce swelling and immediately revitalize those sleep deprived crater-sized bags under your eyes,
  • choose your outfit for the day the night before.
  • establish routines--the only reason I remain (moderately) stable.
  • buy a steamer- I hate ironing(don't we all?) and deciding to get a steamer has been one of the best investments i have made. I ordered the Hamilton Beach Full Size Garment Steamer from Amazon which is $65 and has a telescopic pole that retracts for easy storage. You get A LOT of bang for your buck!
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  • i have a tendency to lose things….quite frequently. and one of the fleeting bugaboos I regularly misplace is the sneaky earring back. God forbid I not wear my iconic pearl earrings. in order to put an end to this scavenger endless scavenger hunt, i decided to outsmart the system once and for all. And so I turned to the most sacredly incandescent one-stop-shop in cyberland with its infinite surplus of everything and anything you could ever imagine: Ebay. For the price of $3(and free shipping) i ordered 100 earring backs and tada! problem solved.
  • my mom taught me this one: the quality of a person(particularly a man) can be summed up by three defining behavioral actions: how he treats his mother, waiters, and animals.
  • another way to "figure someone out" is to take a glance at his or her "Top 25 Most Played" iphone playlist. True colors will inevitable be revealed.
  • buy a shu uemura eyelash curler
  • never take yourself too damn seriously.IMG 1029