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Watching this movie, one can't help but notice the vibrant red scattered throughout American Beauty. From the red roses, to the red door of the Burnham's, to the red dress that Carolyn wears when she is caught with Buddy Kane, the color Red seems to be a rather important motif in this film, and may give viewers a deeper insight into the film's significance.

Now, I did try and do some analysis, and it's only an incomplete thought. My analysis, so far, includes the following:

  • Roses, in classic literature, are a symbol of youth, innocence, and purity. Lester fantasizes Angela bathing in roses, and she is a symbol of the youth that he had been yearning for. At the beginning of the film, Lester says he lost something, but not sure what, and he desperately wants it back. He later dreams of going back to the good old days, "when [his] life was ahead of him". When Carolyn gets caught, she is wearing a red dress, indicating that she was reliving the more sexy exciting parts of her life while she was with Kane.
  • That interpretation of the color Red is inconsistent with many things. The door of the Burnham's house was a vibrant Red, making the rest of the house seem dull and gloomy in comparison. At the end of the film, Red seems to dominate certain frames in the form of fresh blood. Now I don't know how to incorporate "youth" or "innocence" into either of these cases.
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    Sexual desire. That's it – cde Jul 14 '17 at 5:12
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A general idea about the color Red:

This color holds various meanings and images. It is the essence of life and the color of blood. It represents warmth, danger, love, death, rage, lust and beauty. It can convey energy, anger, power, excitement, vitality, passion, and sacrifice. Red can stand for warmth, danger, love, sex, death, rage, lust, and beauty.

Significance in the movie:

Sam Mendes incorporated this color in movie very well. In the beginning, we see Lester in cool de-saturated colors, which suggests that he was living a boring life and lacked of energy. Later, we see that he has a new brighter outlook of life and his dressing changes to red. He acquires a red car and does a job wearing a red and white uniform.

He realizes what is lacking in his life and red clothing gives him a sense of power and control over his life. All these changes started when he first saw Angela. She is adorned with red throughout the movie, representing lust and passion of Lester.

Red is also a dominant color of all central females in the movie. We see Angela being surrounded by red roses in Lester's visions and Caroline wearing red velvet dress.

Source 1, Source 2, and there are more.

  • "red clothing gives him a sense of power and control over his life" does that not imply that Lester was aware of the red? It seems more likely that this is subtle cinematography, rather than part of the story itself, as no one ever speaks about it. – Flater Jul 14 '17 at 8:08
  • It might be a sub-conscious sort of empowerment. I never realized until I was told, but I always dressed black tees when I was feeling down – BlueMoon93 Jul 14 '17 at 13:49

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