This is one of, if not my favorite movie yet anybody I've ever spoke to about it has never had anything good to say about it.
It has no protagonist, it's creepy or morbid. I've never understood this.
In fact when I first saw it, though I really liked it I didn't understand why. Perhaps I understand it a bit better with maturity, and that much of it now resonates with me at a much deeper, sincere and painfull level that it ever could at twenty-something.
The movie is not about anti-heros, pedophila or even murder.
It's about achieving a state of enlightment and peace in this world, and then being released from this mortal coil. The hero has awakened, revisted his youth, aquired all he coveted and let it go. In that moment he is fully awake and sees the beauty that was always right in from of him
He is then released from his mortality by a character whom sees no beauty and by indications from interactions with his son and the world around him, cannot.
As Lester Burnham narrates, he starts at the beginning of his metamorphosis. He states he doesn't even know how he came to be in this state. By admission he's asleep in his own life. Not an active participant as life around him acts upon him while he slumbers.
The catalyst for his awakening while very pretty and young, represents the longing for his youth. A time in his life when he was never more awake and in the moment. One thing of great importance here is that at no time is the cheerleader ever not fully aware of his attention and does nothing but find it 'sweet', and overtly encourage it.
And thus he begins his year long awakening from a coma, as he revisits the touchpoints and bookmarks of his youth.
His journey finds him black-mailing his employer as they seek to let him go. A situation that he is powerless to save himself from, more than likely due to his prior catatonia, and now must deal with the consequences. In that moment he is fully present, taking advantage of his flaws and the situation. Not the other way around. He has awakened.
On his way home he applies to a Smiley Burger, communicating directly that he seeks a job with the least amount of responsiblity possible. Something to remember about this career move is later in the movie he speaks wistfully of his youth where 'all he did was flip burgers and get laid'. He's now flipping burgers and in pursuit of the pinicale of his youth.
His wife, fully immersed in possesions and status finds great distress in black-mailing. Definately not an honorable solution but would be interested to hear is how that situation could have been worked to provide an equal if not greater solution any other way.
Overhearing the cheerleader finding him 'kinda cute' but needs to work out he immediatley heads to the garage, sees his reflection and begins building the physique of his his younger years.
As Lester begins his climb up the rungs of enlightentment we are always given counterpoint by the surrounding characters and their helpless pursuit of trappings of the mortal world: possesions, status, money and intolerance.
His daugher seeks affection from Lester and interestingly finds in with someone who CAN see the beauty of this world. This character is brought to tears when he speaks of it. And this is validated with a kiss from Lester's daughter. This boy is someone she belives her father could be.
This boy can see the beauty in the living (Jane), inanimate (a bag dancing on the wind) and the dead. He is aware of the 'unnamed' behind all things.
Confronting his wife's infidellity at Smiley Burger Lester is calm. He even wishes her the best as she demonstrates sadness and anger. He states quite directly to her: you don't get to tell me what to do ever again. Who is that really directed at? His wife? Or maybe the world around him.
Colonel Frank Fitz provides the counter to all that Lester is becomming. He in unaccpeting of the world around. He escapes into the past with Nazi Plates and movies of yesterday. He is unaccepting of those around him as demonstrated by his hated directed as homosexuals. He is unaccpeting of himself as he cannot bring himself to communicate his love for his son and stumbles over the words. He seeks control and domination over his son to further drive home these points.
His son is aware and referances this when he says to Lester 'never underestimate the power of self-denial' as he alludes to his father.
During this phase of the movie Lester does in fact revisit he pursuit of worldly possesions as represtened by the 1972 Pontiac Firebird. Later in the movie however, as he attempts to reconnect with his wife it would appear he has renounced this as him emphatically states: It's just stuff!
His wife having been confronted with her infifelity is not remorseful. It's not her fault. It's Lesters's. She meditates in her car on the way home from the motel from being 'fucked by the king' on her being the victim and recites this as if a mantra. With a loaded gun by her side.
Colonel Frank Fitz has now aliented his son as unwillinges to accept those around him as well as his love for his son consume him. He is now projecting this unacceptance on Lester. His unawareness of his 'self' is manifested in his sexual embrace of Lester only to walk away utterly confused and unable to make any sense of his feelings, as if in a daze. His son is now leaving and taking with him Jane who now believes her father could never be what she always though he could.
Setting him on a collision course with those who could never accept who he's become and losing those who don't believe that transformation could ever be complete.
A pretty girl in the prime of her life, projecting an image of maturity far beyond that of which she truly has. She has been the driving force behind Lester's awakening. And now she presents herself to him as the reward, the final step in a journey to recapture his youth.
And when presented with her it becomes clear that to reclaim his youth is to rob her of hers. And in that moment he relents. he's come as far as he can. The cheerleader's purity of youth is now laid bare. And Lester now sees the beauty of where he is, who is and what he has.
Two characters are now closing in to kill him, and the person with affection for him is leaving.
Colonel Frank Fitz, the most unaware of all characters relieves him of his life.
I had always heard your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn't a second at all, it stretches on forever, like an ocean of time... For me, it was lying on my back at Boy Scout camp, watching falling stars... And yellow leaves, from the maple trees, that lined our street... Or my grandmother's hands, and the way her skin seemed like paper... And the first time I saw my cousin Tony's brand new Firebird... And Janie... And Janie... And... Carolyn. I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me... but it's hard to stay mad, when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst... And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life... You have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry... you will someday.