Study Guide

American Beauty Production Design

Production Design

A View From Above

The movie begins with a bird's-eye view of the Burnhams' town and street, so we get the sense at the beginning that we're going to get a pretty wide perspective on all the characters and what happens to them.

That said, that "broad" view is definitely hitched to Lester's feelings, thoughts, and insights. After all, even when he's not present on the screen, Lester's voiceover is often there providing context and commentary to what's happening. So, the film's "perspective" is kind of like the literary third-person limited omniscient, which allows us to see a lot of stuff, but not more than what a particular character (or characters) knows.

The View is Almost Heavenly…

Luckily (?) for us, Lester seems to have some extra special knowledge beyond what he might have as a normal protagonist: he's speaking to us from the grave, so he can see and narrate moments in his family's life that he wasn't actually privy to at the time—for example, when he/we see his daughter Jane researching boob jobs. Naturally, Jane didn't do that in front of her living and breathing father, but Voiceover Lester sees that kind of stuff and comments on it for us.

No, Lester isn't commenting throughout every scene, so we don't always feel his presence in what we're seeing, but Voiceover Lester appears frequently enough throughout the film, framing every transition.