Sound played an important part in American Beauty. In all of the dreamy fantasy sequences, there is an excellent use of atonal sound to make the scene feel uncomfortable. Atonal sound in prominent in the first daydream, where Angela and Jane are dancing with the cheerleaders and Angela winds up in a spotlight. The music is very rough and has a jagged sort of feel, to show how although Lester is getting pleasure out of what he is seeing, the viewer is being reminded that he should not be fantasizing in such a way. This idea is especially prominent in the third fantasy. Angela is in a bathtub with rose petals completely covering the water, and she is saying some very suggestive things. Lester reaches for her in a way that is very taboo. His mind creating such scenes is meant to feel very awkward and wrong, a feeling that is increased with
the use of atonal music. The music in this scene in particular is very jarring, lending the feel of wrongness to the scene. Overall it is a good use of atonal sound, especially due to the fact that the subject matter itself is not something that most people enjoy thinking about.
Another good use of sound paired with images is the beginning shots and the ending shots. They are almost identical, with the exception that one zooms into the street to begin the film and the other
zooms away from the street to end the film. In the beginning, Lester's voiceover sets the tone for the whole film. He announces that he is going to die, which does sort of spoil the ending. The viewer is left feeling slightly disoriented; the movie is only starting, how could the main character already be dying? It brings up the interesting juxtaposition throughout the film. The viewer knows that Lester is going to die, and yet the film is about him coming to life. The opening shot and the opening voiceover show how Lester is at the beginning of the film as well as where he is going to end up. Life and death being side by side is an important aspect of the film. By the end, when Lester has been killed, the viewer feels
confused again. Lester has just realized what he had in front of him was all he needed. But he got shot in the head. What kind of message is that? Well, Lester goes on to say, in his ending voiceover that zooms back out of the neighborhood, a lot of important things about life. So the viewer feels validated, being told by this mystical voiceover from a god's eye shot, that life is still good. That is why using a voiceover was a good decision. It lends more credibility and weight to what is being said, especially if the shot it goes with is something to suggest the dead looking down to earth at their loved ones. That is always a powerful message to send home.