Thursday, March 15, 2012

American Beauty review

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The purpose of the report is review the motion picture ¡§American Beauty¡¨ in the context of personal development and career and life planning. Using various characters from the film, the hypothesis stated below will be proven using Levinson¡¦s Life Development Model.

HYPOTHESIS the actions of individuals regarding career and life planning are influenced directly by the stage of the life development model they are currently in.

The motion picture ¡§American Beauty¡¨, released in 1, takes a thorough look at a typically American family who, from the exterior, seem to have it all. The adult members of the Burnham family, Lester and Carolyn, are the focus characters of the film and on closer observation prove to be quite dysfunctional and peculiar, despite outside perceptions of normality. Throughout the film, each member of the Burnham family is subjected to a number of significant events impacting their lives, leading to various changes in their perceptions and attitudes. In this report, the different circumstances in which the characters find themselves and their actions will be analysed using Levinsons¡¦s Life Development Model. This model will also be used to gain a deeper understanding of the reasoning behind their actions and the influence a particular stage in the development model has on each individual. The methods of data collection and the processes involved in the analysis will also be discussed and the report will conclude with implications for further personal and team learning and implications for helping others.

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The first step in collecting raw data for this report was to watch the film ¡§American beauty¡¨. The first viewing of the film was done purely to understand the story and become familiar with the characters. After understanding the task to be done and the level of understanding and analysis that was required, it was decided that using an amended version of the observation sheet featured by Storey (year) would assist in the appropriate level of data collection (year 6). Because this report aims to present an analysis of the film in the context of personal development and career & life planning, it was necessary to ensure the observation sheets allowed for collection of data related to this topic. This meant it was essential to identify the main categories/themes/ideas that influence personal development and career & life planning prior to data collection. The main broad categories identified were motivation, career goals, satisfaction with current situation and willing sacrifices. The observation sheet was amended to reflect these dominant categories (see appendix one). This observation sheet was useful as it allowed the individual collecting the data (watching the film) to analyse the situation from the characters point of view and focus on different aspects of the career and personal life of the character under observation. The observation sheet allowed actions, behaviours and quotes of the characters to be recorded in the appropriate categories so that patterns and themes could easily be recognized on review of the data. Each time the film was viewed, a different character was focussed upon and observation sheets filled out accordingly.



Based on the patterns and themes discovered in the data, it was recognised that the behaviours of both Lester and Carolyn can be attributed to a mid-life crisis the two characters are going through. It is discussed by Colarusso how a person in the midst of a mid-life crisis acts suddenly and impulsively, throwing away relationships and careers which often took many years to build in a frantic attempt to escape what has become unbearable (14 44). This explanation is particularly relevant for Lester, who himself admits ¡§my job basically consists of masking my contempt for the assholes in charge, while I fantasise about a life that closely resembles hell¡¨. Carolyn¡¦s behaviour can be explained by both Levinson and Sheehy¡¦s ¡§age 5 and above survey¡¨. Levinson acknowledges that although some people respond to a mid-life-crisis by making life and career wrecking decisions, others cope by working harder at their careers to survive the crisis period (Levinson in Robbins 000 7). Sheehy states that from age 5 is the beginning of the ¡§ dangerous age of infidelity¡¨ (174 78). This is consistent with Carolyn¡¦s affair with Buddy king. However, Sheehy also states that pursuing an affair is not aimed at giving up the comforts of their marriage or risk being left alone, its simply seeing their youthful self-image restored in the untainted eyes of a new lover (174 7). Using this information, the unreasonable and seemingly uncharacteristic actions of Lester and Carolyn can be attributed to an intriguing phenomenon referred to by many as mid-life-crises. Colarasso describes the midlife crisis as term used by serious professionals as a revolutionary event which utterly destroys everything in its path, leaving behind a path of broken marriages, shattered careers, distraught children and bewildered friends (14 44). Levinson¡¦s Life Development Model captures this stage in adult life and will be used in the following section to further understand and analyse this stage in adult life and its contribution to adult life development as a whole.


Renowned psychologist Daniel J. Levinson developed a very widely recognised life development model in which he identified four stages in the human life cycle. Levinson illustrated how in each stage there are intermediate periods signifying critical periods of change. The model also suggests that these periods of change can be directly related to an individual¡¦s age. The four stages are illustrated in appendix two, also summarising the intermediate periods. The period that relates directly to the characters in the film and their individual circumstances is the mid-life transition, which occurs between the ages of 40 and 45 (Robbins et al 000 70) (ambers bookyear46).

Lester Burnham¡¦s actions throughout the film are consistent with the behaviours that characterise the midlife transition. At the age of 4, Lester begins to seriously question his ambitions and goals. He is somewhat forced into this re-evaluation when his boss asks him to fill in his job description to map his contribution to the company. The prospect of losing his job forces the questioning of his happiness and what his dream is. This is in line with Levinsons¡¦ model that characterises this behaviour as ¡§seriously questioning their life structure¡¨. Levinson suggests that following the early adult transition, an individual has worked out a number of major life goals and these are incorporated and represented as ¡§the Dream¡¨. However, Lester only pursues his Dream when he is no longer faced with the responsibility of a high level job. By following his dream of flipping burgers all summer at Mr Smileys, in a job with the least amount of responsibility, partying, getting laid and buying ¡§the car I¡¦ve always wanted¡¨, a 170 Pontiac Firebird, Lester becomes his own person with only his own happiness on his mind.

Levinson also warns that behaviour can become erratic when the mid-life transition appears. Lester begins to speak out and stand up for himself when he clearly has something to say. This is extremely uncharacteristic of Lester and surprises not only himself, but also those around him, particularly those to whom the statements are directed. Lester¡¦s mid-life transition and consequently, his erratic behaviour, seems to be triggered by his introduction to his daughters friend Angela, to whom he states on meeting her ¡§I feel like I¡¦ve been in a coma for about 0 years and I¡¦m just now waking up¡¨. This trigger also leads him to realise his decline in physical form, which is characteristic of the mid-life transition. By working out, Lester hopes to impress Angela and restore his previous physique. In conjunction with erratic behaviour and decline in physical form, Levinsons model also states that while some individuals work harder in an attempt to deal with the transition, others cope through maladaptive behaviour, such as turning to alcohol or drugs. Lester begins to smoke marijuana with a younger neighbour who becomes his ¡§personal hero¡¨, simply because he wants to revert back to his youth while detaching himself from reality, and the drugs are the means to that end.

Carolyn also exhibits a number of characteristics of the mid-life transition. In contrast to Lester embracing his transition and changing his behaviour, Carolyn attempts to cope by working harder to get through the crisis period. Levinson also reveals that some people become too focused on career advancement at this stage, allowing work to dominate their time and energy at the expense of family and friends. Carolyn is obsessed with her career and continuously carries it through her home life as well ¡§my business is selling an image, and part of my job is to live that image.¡¨ Carolyn also exhibits uncharacteristically erratic behaviour. Among a few of her actions are her mini breakdown following the failure of a house sale and then the denial of its occurrence (by slapping herself back into composure), and her infidelity with her career mentor and real estate rival, Buddy King. Unsuccessful resolution of this transition, however, can lead to bitterness and stagnation. It is evident throughout the film that Carolyn refuses to acknowledge the mid-life transition she is experiencing, and therefore denies herself the opportunity to resolve it. She becomes very bitter towards everyone in her life, even stating to her daughter ¡§you cannot count on anyone except yourself, its sad but true and the sooner you learn it, the better¡¨. It is obvious from Carolyn¡¦s actions that the Dream she is pursuing is one focused entirely on her career and further advancement, despite appearances that it may have plateaued, a typical feature of the mid-life transition.

Following the alignment of each characters behaviours with the behaviours typical of the mid-life transition stage of Levinson¡¦s Life Development Model, the hypothesis stating the actions of individuals regarding career and life planning are influenced directly by the stage of the life development model they are currently in can be supported.

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