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#239. Beauty

Perhaps the most subjective adjective in the history of mankind, beauty can be a difficult concept to define. The idiom of “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” has remained true since the ancient days when the idea was put to words. Often, we find that the context that allowed something to be called beautiful is often lost outside of the culture that used the label at the time. That being said, each of us has a personal preference that is usually fueled in-part by what we would define as “beautiful”. Our five senses can each apply the “beautiful” adjective individually or together as a whole. Sometimes excluding one of our senses can cause something to be beautiful, just because the “ugly” parts are now covered up. I find many films to be beautiful creations, but this week’s two films give some examples of beauty in a dramatic context.

Beauty and the BeastBeauty and the Beast
Year: 1946
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 93 minutes / 1.55 hours

Since beauty is such an abstract concept, it’s no wonder that it can be applied to abstract concepts itself. For instance, the 2001 Best Picture, A Beautiful Mind uses the adjective to define the unique way that John Nash (Russell Crowe) was able to find patterns in everyday situations. Unfortunately, this beauty also had an ugly side-effect: it made Nash paranoid and schizophrenic as he tried to find patterns that weren’t there. It is in these situations where beauty offsets a rather unsettling attribute in order to provide a redeeming value to someone or something that might be overlooked because of this flaw. At a young age, most of us were taught to look past the external surface of others and to see the beauty within. Stories like the Ugly Duckling, the Frog Prince, and Beauty and the Beast teach us that there can be something beautiful covered by an otherwise unseemly exterior.

The eponymous “Beauty” of this film, both literally (as her name is French for “beauty”) and figuratively is that of Belle (Josette Day), a humble girl who has placed it upon herself to take care of her father, even despite marriage proposals from Avenant (Jean Marais). Through an unfortunate series of events, Belle’s father is captured in a magical castle and is only allowed to return home in exchange for his daughter’s freedom. Now trapped rejecting marriage proposals from the Beast (Jean Marais), Belle finds the hairy creature to be reasonable, especially when her father takes ill. In her absence to take care of said father, the Beast is attacked by Avenant. Upon her return, she finds the Beast slowly dying and realizes that she does indeed love him. Through a reversal of fortune, Avenant is turned into a Beast, thus breaking the curse and showing the original Beast to be a handsome prince.

American BeautyAmerican Beauty
Year: 1999
Rating: R
Length: 122 minutes / 2.03 hours

On the flip side of hidden beauty is the idea that “beauty is only skin-deep”. Many times, something that is visually beautiful can distract from the obvious faults. Much of our American society is focused on the hyper-sexualization presented in advertising since it is touted as the “ideal” of beauty. However, with all of the focus being on the external beauties (especially of women), very few are advocating for the development of inner beauties. This is how we arrive at the “dumb blonde” cliché, which itself is then tied to a number of other clichés including cheerleaders, fashion models, and the narcissistic nature of the exorbitantly wealthy. Fortunately, some things will always be beautiful. These traditionally beautiful objects and experiences will outlast the monetized versions of beauty, or at least it is my deepest hope that they will.

What is beautiful? Is it a meticulously decorated house in the suburbs? Is it the young body of a high school cheerleader? Is it a plastic bag caught in an updraft? In American Beauty, we follow the lives of a group of neighbors as they live their lives. Each one is unique, whether it’s the strict disciplinarian / closet homosexual Colonel Frank Fitts (Chris Cooper), the obsessively vain housewife / adulteress Carolyn Burnham (Annette Benning), or the emasculated office worker / nostalgia-seeking pedophile Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey). They all have their problems, as do their children, including pot-smoking, free-spirited Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley) and angst-filled, unconfident Jane Burnham (Thora Birch). Nevertheless, each has their own definition of beauty set forth in this suburban American neighborhood.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 definitions of beauty

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One response to “#239. Beauty

  1. Pingback: End of Act Five | Cinema Connections

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