Films are often more than what they appear to be. Hidden behind a sheath of movie stars, camera angles, expensive sets and costumes, is a message the viewer can only read if he or she looks closer. By looking closer at the film the viewer can then detect hidden motifs and ideas behind objects, places and people. The film American Beauty not only invites the viewer to look closer at its symbolism, but also draws the viewer into is symbolism, wether the viewer chooses to look or not. In the film motifs such as roses discover a new symbolic purpose, lighting opens a new realm of understanding and photographs are no longer snapshots of times once lived, but windows into the inner workings of family dysfunction. American Beauty captures its viewer in a world of symbolism and representation, which enhance not only the understanding of the film, but life itself.
Roses have been associated with love for centuries, and the film American Beauty has maintained this traditional symbolism. American Beauty uses roses to symbolise love in scenes where love is present, but in contrast it also uses roses in scenes where love does not exist, and is yearning to. To fully understand this concept one must note that the decision of wether love exists in a particular scene is biased by the narration point of Lester. To paraphrase Lester's view of a situation declares if roses will be there to show love is present or show love is not present. This obvious and intriguing idea helps us understand the love theory, which symbolised by roses, is an integral part of American Beauty. The roses represent two stages of love; the first of which is lack of love. These scenes involve the Burnham family and more specifically Lester and Caroline. The perfect example of one of these common scenes is set on the first day of the film, at the dining table. A vase of red roses steals' the centre limelight, surrounded by the perfect symmetry of the Burnham home.