A glimpse into the spiritual poverty of affluence.  A vision of self-centeredness that destroys relations, family and community.  An all too real reflection of western culture.   "Do not under estimate the power of denial."
-Movie Review by David Bruce


This page was last updated on May 22, 2005

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Directed by Sam Mendes
Written by Alan Ball

Kevin Spacey as Lester Burnham
Annette Bening as Carolyn Burnham
Thora Birch as Jane Burnham
Wes Bentley as Ricky Fitts
Mena Suvari as Angela Hayes
Peter Gallagher as Buddy Kane
Chris Cooper as Colonel Fitts
Allison Janney as Barbara Fitts

MPAA: Rated R for strong sexuality, language, violence and drug content.

When you've got nothing to lose, you might as well risk everything.
     Television writer Alan Ball's first produced screenplay introduces us to the chaotic world found on the tree-lined street of Robin Hood Trail, Anytown, U.S.A. Provoked by forbidden passions, Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) decides to make a few changes in his rut of a life, changes that are less midlife crisis than adolescence reborn. The freer he gets, the happier he gets, which is even more maddening to his wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening), and daughter Jane (Thora Birch)--especially when he turns his lustful gaze toward Jane's friend, the sultry Angela (Mena Suvari). Carolyn responds by focusing her attention on real estate colleague Buddy Kane (Peter Gallagher).
     Compounding the chaos on Robin Hood Trail is the arrival next door of an equally turbulent family: strict Marine Col. Fitts (Chris Cooper), his vacant wife, Barbara (Allison Janney), and his distant son, Ricky (Wes Bentley), who soon develops a fascination with Jane.
David BruceA glimpse into the spiritual poverty of affluence.  A vision of self centeredness that destroys relations, family and community.  An all too real reflection of western culture.   "Do not under estimate the power of denial."
-Review by David Bruce



(note the shape of the cross)


This film is uncomfortable because it reflects a very true and discouraging problem in Western Culture. It mirrors our dis-connected-ness with our families and friends. We spend most of our time wanting and needing meaningful relationships and yet we cannot see past the end of our own noses to see and appreciate those right in front of us.

Self-centered-ness is the sin so forcefully presented in this film. We have become like the Marilyn Manson motto: we 'love hate,' and 'hate love'. Why is it that families all too often have the appearance of being happy (new car, great house, good job, paid bills) but are unhappy, and emotionally disconnected? Something is wrong in our culture. This film is a painful reflection of that fact.

The film begins with Mr. Burnham masturbating in the shower and he tells us that this is the high point of his day and that it is all downhill after this! Imagine that. Self-gratification is the best part of the day. Mr. Burnham narrates the last few days of his life from the other side of the grave. He is trying to tell us what is important. How sad it is that he could not appreciate what was good in his life until after he had lost it. Yet that is true in our everyday lives: we take too much for granted and only appreciate much of what we had after it is gone.

Children sometimes suffer too much from the emotional silence of their parents. In this film mom is gone; dad is having an emotional response to the daughter's best friend, and worse, her best friend is eating it up! What a tragedy! What is friendship when it is so easily blown away for lust? And why is the only significant emotional response we have for another all too often sexually inspired? Why can't the daughter get an emotional response from her parents? Why is the most obvious right thing overshadowed by absolute selfish, self-gratifying behavior?

What drives us? This is an interesting question that the film raises. Lust, passion, greed, love, hate are all strong motivators. Why are so many of us lazy about achieving our life goals? Why does it take crisis to move some of us to necessary actions? For Mr. Burnham the goal of having sex with a blonde cheerleader was the driving force to improve his physical appearance.

For Mrs. Burnham, being a successful real estate sales representative -- like her competition -- (in other words, anger) was her driving force. The film depicts a close relationship between anger and lust. She can't beat her competitor professionally, so she goes to bed with him. This happens all too often in our culture. Is this kind of sexual behavior a form of self-hatred? Is it a way to have equality or even power over a 'superior' person? Is it a cheap way of identifying and becoming successful ('he is successful' becomes 'we are successful')? It is selling out.

What is happiness? Where is it? Is there any? Is happiness knowing you are sexually appealing? Is it a great job with lots of responsibility? Or, is it a no-brain job for minimum pay? Interestingly, the film presses this point by having Mr. Burnham take a job at Mr. Smiley's with a happy face logo. Happiness, of course, is none of the above.

The daughter, at last, finds someone who can respond to her -- the Peeping Tom next door -- the drug dealer. He seems to be the only truly human person in the film! He is on a quest for truth and is a keen observer of others -- which draws the attention of the daughter. Here is someone who cares and has an interest that extends past his own nose. The boyfriend has been emotionally damaged by his parents too. The boy has no real and honest relationship with his father. It is so sad and painful to watch. Note to parents: Here is a possible clue to why children sometimes connect up with the 'wrong' types. Message: Love your children!

Then comes the ending. Mr. Burnham is murdered. But who did it? You will be surprised. And, well, maybe not. After all, they all are murderers in the spiritual sense of the word. Aren't we all?

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