Type: Review
Pages: 5 | Words: 1357
Reading Time: 6 Minutes

This film directed by Sam Mendes, traces the life of Lester Burnham who is in a mid-life crisis. Burnham has a strained relationship with Carolyn Burnham, his wife, and is a father of a rebellious teenage daughter, Jane, who doesn’t like him. Jane is in a relationship with Ricky, her neighbor, while Carolyn a secret relationship with Buddy, a business competitor. Lester gives up his job to get employed at a fast food joint so that he can get the attention of Angela, Jane’s friend, who boasts about her intimate affairs on weekends. Lester wants to re-live his post-teenage years. However, this is much to the chagrin of Jane.

Normality, deviance, and social control are themes addressed by the film in the following ways. In the film, Lester has an infatuation with Angela, which first rose when he witnessed Angela doing a routine dance during the half-time of a basketball match in their school. Ever since that time, he starts having sexual fantasies about her, and in the film, those fantasies are frequently represented as a motif—red rose petals. In the text, this is depicted by male who returns from Italy who had vivid imaginations about the female sex where according to his “situation at the time, rooming with a beautiful woman whose image I caressed in the depths of my heart, seeing her constantly throughout the day; in the evenings, surrounded by objects that reminded me of her, sleeping in a bed where I knew she had slept.” Later in the text, this is observed whereby the text connects the increase of reading and watching materials to the pollution of the mind. These materials can be novels generally or pornographic novels and they bring about “impressionable brains.” Rousseau gives a vivid description of it, whereby the person reported stated how he would be nourishing himself by reading interesting places in the books that he read. He “recalled them, varied, combined, and appropriated them to such a point that” he envisioned himself as one of the characters and frequently envisioned himself “in the most agreeable positions according to my taste.” He describes his infatuation with “imaginary objects and this facility for entertaining me with them ultimately made me disgusted with all my surroundings and determined that taste for solitude which has persisted since that time.”

Materialism is also addressed by normality. Carolyn has an obsession of material wealth — she is fond of her house and, in her materialism view, these possessions are same as success. The bright evident of this is the kissing attempt on the couch, when she pulls back, though she is attracted to him. Smiling, Lester nudges closer as he carelessly holds his beer; and before their lips come together, she sees and cautions him about spilling beer on the couch to the chagrin of his husband who says “So what? It’s just a couch.” She replies him, “This is a four thousand dollar sofa upholstered in Italian silk. This is not just a coach.” Later, when Lester calls all the things in the room just stuff, she exits the room almost crying. This Carolyn’s immense obsession with materialism to the extent of substituting it with her duty — her husband’s conjugal rights — can be linked with the Rousseau’s description of schools in the text; “It is from the very first years that a senseless education decorates our mind and corrupts judgment.  All around me I see immense institutions where, at great cost, youths are raised to learn all things, except their duty.” Carolyn has absconded her duty by being obsessed with material wealth.

When Jane meets Ricky, he convinces her to elope to New York. However, she warns him that her parents will be looking for her, but Ricky dismisses that. While Ricky has got freedom to do whatever he wants, Jane is the opposite of him, she’s cautious to embrace that advantage albeit seeing its possibility. In the text, this relates to the recognition of these possibilities and freedom, “The nervous system…an exchange network, linking all other systems in sympathy…principal player in the somatic economy” that was seen as the finest result of an advanced civilization. Genitals, mostly considered as the “most primitive and animalistic” were crucial for not only maturation but also reproduction and “in youth” they are two crucial “parts of the organism, the brain and the sexual organs, two centers that mutually convey the impressions they receive, and that excite one another in the most direct and energetic manner.”

Lester and Carolyn do not engage in intimacy anymore, and that is why Carolyn bumps into Lester masturbating. Her eyes widen as she listens to the rhythmic brushing of Lester’s hand as he is masturbating. When he is told that he’s masturbating, he first denies it, then accepts saying “I was whacking off…I still have blood pumping through my veins” after which she agrees too, “So do I.” In the text, this erotic imagination by masturbating is described; “the reader is referred to a separate article on manustupration for a discussion of the medical ailments of ‘those abandoning themselves without restraint to that infamous passion and sacrificing themselves to that false Venus’ (570), that is, voluntary, manually stimulated ejaculation”; the text tells of “Rousseau’s oft-repeated message that the genital instinct or sense was excited by a precociously aroused imagination: “As I have said a thousand times, it is by the imagination alone that the senses are awakened’…The mind continually absorbed in voluptuous thoughts, constantly directs the animal spirits to the generative organs, which by repeated handling, become mobile, more obedient to the unruliness of the imagination: the result is almost continual erections, frequent pollutions, and the excessive evacuation of seed.”  Also, another part of the text that is relevant to Lester’s behavior is where Rousseau describes; “do not leave him alone during the day or the night; at least sleep in his room. Beware of the [sexual] instinct as soon as you are not watching; it is good as long as it acts alone, it is suspect as soon as it mixes with the institutions of mankind.”

When Colonel Frank Fitts who is homosexual goes to visit Lester, he tries to kiss him. However, he is rebuffed by Lester who realized a possibility of him being homosexual and that would result in sodomy, and his rebuffing prompted Frank to leave. This view is shared in the text, “The eccentric, self-styled “Doctor of Physicke” Andrew Boorde did envince a more moralistic attitude…identifying three kinds of “gomorrea”: pollutions against nature, pollutions due to infirmity, pollutions due to imbecility…the first to suggest that “gomorrhea” comes from “Sodome and Gomer” which “dyd synke to hell sodenly” for practicing the “gomorrea passio” voluntarily, that is, “to meddle with any brute beast or to pollute himself willfully.” The text also reflects the happy gay partnership between the two Jims. At the end of the film, a gunshot is heard and blood is splattered on the wall after Angela confides to Lester that she is a virgin and goes to the bathroom. Both Ricky and Jane see Lester’s body and his wife Carolyn sobs in her bedroom. Both Lester and Carolyn had a sour marriage for some time but when he dies, she mourns him. She is remorseful and emotional of his demise when she falls into Lester’s clothes partly due to the fact that he is dead and partly due to the resurfacing of her love for him that she so much repressed.

Lester had so much freedom masturbating that he did at will, anywhere he felt comfortable. It is with this freedom that in the film he is depicted as masturbating in their bed, next to his wife, instead of a hidden away from her eyes. The text observes how this lack of fear and shame of masturbation arises, “The sensation of pleasure, together with those diverse images the imagination repeats endlessly, soon renders the patient raging and unbridled; finally transgressing all the limits of modesty without remorse, they betray the frightful secret of their villainous soul” and this results in them casting “off the important and glorious yoke of their modesty, and with openly disgraceful impudence they solicit.”

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