Study Guide

American Beauty Violence

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Sure, this theme is linked up with death, but it occupies its very own place of honor in American Beauty. While references to death are often used to create magical, meaningful moments, violent incidents seem to function as reminders of just how ugly human nature can get.

The movie has an optimistic message overall, but we do get several glimpses into how unhinged and cruel people are to the people they love. And violence (or threats of violence) is a big part of that.

Questions About Violence

  1. Why do you think Carolyn finds guns so appealing? What is missing in her life that guns satisfy, and why?
  2. What do you make of the movie's very brief references to Nazism? Does it fit into this overall theme, in your view?
  3. We know Ricky ended up in a mental hospital after getting super violent with another boy. How do you think he's managed to resolve or get rid of any violent tendencies?

Chew on This

The Nazi plate comes up very briefly, but it has a big purpose: to remind us of a huge example of mass murder and cruelty that totally defies comprehension. The movie is all about beauty, but its creators are careful to remind us of the flipside as well.

Even Ricky gets a violent past to remind the viewer that, no matter how zen or at peace you are, there's that potential ugliness within all of us that has to be managed/tamped down.

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