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Now I know that the 1999 movie American Beauty has nothing to do with Carl Jung. But bear with me here, because I’m going to try and make the connection. First off I believe the movie is incredible. But being the art student I am, I began to break it down. Why do I find it so fascinating? Many people seem to share my opinion; it won 5 academy awards, and was nominated for 3 others. It also currently stands at the prestigious position of 18 on the all time movie list at the IMDB. And so I began to look deeper into the movie, after a recent discussion in my Jungian psychology class about the shadow and the self.

“Lester and Carolyn Burnham are on the outside, a perfect husband and wife, in a perfect house, in a perfect neighborhood. But inside, Lester is slipping deeper and deeper into a hopeless depression. He finally snaps when he becomes infatuated with one of his daughter’s friends. Meanwhile, his daughter Jane is developing a happy friendship with a shy boy-next-door named Ricky who lives with a homophobic father” (a synopsis by Jessie Skinner)

I think that Lester, the main character is lost, wandering alone, without his shadow, which he left behind in adolescence. He becomes infatuated with his daughter’s friend, and he believes that by loving her, he can come back in contact with his shadow that he left behind so long ago. Well, he doesn’t quite meet his shadow there. The shadow, I believe is represented by the new boy-next-door, Ricky. Like any shadow, Ricky and Lester are near opposites. Lester (up until the movie beginning) had just been going through the motions in life, where Ricky carried a camera around with him all the time, because he found life so fascinating and beautiful. Lester chose a trophy wife, while Ricky chose Lester’s daughter for love. Both Lester and Ricky seem to follow the rules, but when nobody is looking, Ricky gets away with almost anything.

When Lester and Ricky meet, Lester begins his path to individuation, complete with his long lost shadow. When Lester does achieve individuation, Ricky’s homophobic father (a representation of Lester’s ego, not willing to change?) comes and offers himself to Lester. When he is rejected, Ricky’s father comes back and kills Lester. This could be the ego, not quite willing to change its ways fully, and keeping the shadow away from the self by any means possible.

Now I know many people who say that movies and books should just be enjoyed from what is on the surface. To some points, I agree. There is no use to looking for deeper meaning in Dumb & Dumber. But to movies and stories like Apocalypse Now, The Lord of the Rings (the books) and American Beauty, the deeper meanings you pull out of it make it that much more interesting to me, and give it more of a personal meaning. I’m not saying that you’ll agree with anything I have to say here, but for me it is a truth, and it makes the movie mean so much more with meaning attached.

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