Social Psychology Theory in “American Beauty”

The film American Beauty reveals the story of a middle-class man who experiences a mid-life crisis. The director of movies confronts the topic with a sense of satire on the concepts accepted in American middle-class society through their recognition of personal satisfaction, beauty, and conformity. At a glance, the story provides a standard view of the family, but a closer look at the situation reveals many moral vices in American society.

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Overview of Theory being Used and Its Approach to Human Behavior

The movie reveals a social psychology theory revealing dissonance in roles distribution in the stereotyped American society. Specific attention should be paid to the theory of the human psyche proposed by Sigmund Freud. In particular, the theory introduces such aspects as dream condensation, the Oedipus Complex, and fetishism being at the core of psychoanalysis. According to Freud, the human psyche consists of three major components, ego, super-ego, and id, which represent various patterns of conscious and subconscious behavior. The super-ego represents the consciousness of adherence to accepted societal norms and moral principles. However, a person’s id contradicts the restrictions imposed on super-ego because its actions are confined predominantly to unconsciousness. Id also stands in the confrontation with ego, which is conscious and seeks to generate the intentions of the id with the limitations of the super-ego, which creates a serious conflict.

Application of the Theory

The theory of the human psyche sufficiently explains the actions, perceptions, and attitudes of the main heroes in the movie. This is of particular concern to Lester Burnham who is found dead at the end of the movie. Burnham is a married middle-class man who is infatuated by Angela Hayes, his daughter’s best friend, who finds him attractive. In the movie, Lester imagines the teenage girl dancing for him; he objectifies women due to the accepted patriarchal views accepted in American culture. Both Angela and Lester have their own perceptions of beauty, which is explained by the theory of the human psyche (American Beauty). While representing their fantasies, the heroes explore the boundaries between the conscious, the one dictated by social norms, and the unconscious, the perceptions caused by desires and personal attitudes. The inner desires are controlled by the id, the part of the unconscious. This part empowers desires that are satisfied by an individual, despite its negative cultural and social meanings. However, the id encounters the ego, which prevents Lester from satisfying his desires. The ego, therefore, is the tool that allows an individual to distinguish between dreams and reality.

All heroes in the movie strive to surpass the established boundaries and cognize new dimensions of a social construct. In fact, all their actions look like a protest against existing moral and ethical values.

Evaluation of the Approach and Its Usefulness

Addressing the theory of the human psyche to explain behavioral patterns and social conflicts in the movie are justified. In the course of movie development, the heroes strive to surpass the threshold and oppose to the established norms. They follow their unconscious desires contradicting the established norms of morality. Analysis of the theory also sheds light on the concept of repression, sexuality, conformity, and redemptions. In addition, the theory sufficiently explains the middle-class crisis, as well as the problems related to job accomplishment. Finally, the theory also represents the relationship between the conscious and unconscious, as well as how it influences actions in which heroes are involved.

Works Cited

American Beauty. Dir. Sam Mendes US: Conrad Hall. 1999. DVD.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, February 26). Social Psychology Theory in “American Beauty”. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/social-psychology-theory-in-american-beauty/

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1. StudyCorgi. "Social Psychology Theory in “American Beauty”." February 26, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/social-psychology-theory-in-american-beauty/.


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StudyCorgi. "Social Psychology Theory in “American Beauty”." February 26, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/social-psychology-theory-in-american-beauty/.

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StudyCorgi. 2021. "Social Psychology Theory in “American Beauty”." February 26, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/social-psychology-theory-in-american-beauty/.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Social Psychology Theory in “American Beauty”'. 26 February.

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