The film American Beauty won several Oscars way back in 2000. I couldn’t care less about the Oscars, but I love the flick.
My favorite scene has protagonist Lester Burnham, portrayed by Kevin Spacey, meeting with an “efficiency expert” to discuss Lester’s limited future at his dead-end job. Faced with termination, Lester goes on the offensive. Rather than suffer another word of corporate-speak, Lester threatens to slap the hologram seated opposite him with a law suit unless he leaves the room with a year’s severance plus benefits! Stunned by Lester’s ingenuity, the hologram reluctantly agrees to Lester’s terms, then sums him up with an epithet not to be repeated here. Lester then offers this classic comeback:
“Nope; I’m just an ordinary guy with nothing to lose.”
I was in my 30s when I first saw the movie. I couldn’t relate to Lester then, but I loved his moxie. Here was a man smart enough to walk out of a soul-numbing job with a chip in his pocket, yet his employers — following the same flawed, insipid, moth-eaten blue print that typifies corporate America — were clueless about how to tap into his skill set!
Today (absent the creepy interest in a juvenile female), I understand Lester completely. I’m done living within the limits set for me by others.
While that’s all wonderful for me, it’s the kids who will benefit most. They are witnessing first hand how to handle adversity, shape their own identities and improve their chances at living life on their own terms.
[Spoiler alert! If you’ve never seen the film and have a mind to, STOP READING NOW.]
American Beauty was effective because it left me grieving not only for who Lester had become by the end, but for who he might have been had he discovered himself sooner. The film is a testament to the indespensible value of identifying and nurturing promise early and a cautionary tale for dads — indeed any parents — grown disenchanted with just about everything.