Composition Breakdown #2, let’s talk about the famous movie American Beauty, scenario by  Alan Ball, film by Sam Mendes.

Quick view on the story

American beauty is the story of a middle class suburban family in the United-States in the late 90’s. Every thing seems to be perfect in appearances but actually members of the family and  neighbours are facing several inner struggles.

The picture style

In order to demonstrate the seemingly perfect  suburban family, a lot of symmetry is used in the movie. Framing is also remarkably present and sometimes relates to the boundaries of the world people live in. Finally there is some special meanings with colours especially the red, I found some great articles about it, (see links at the end).


Here is the composition that I chose in the movie.


Description of the picture

In this picture we see a boy filming behind a window in a room, with a turned on TV showing a girl also behind a window. Let’s take a look on what this shot is made of.


Warm colours are located in the important elements of the picture: the boy with the camera and the TV screen. What we see at first sight is the warm colours so the composition is telling us to focus on these two elements.


Simplify colour range’s temperature

In the movie there is a relation between the boy filming and the TV screen, actually the TV screen is the view of the filming camera.



Due to the separation created by the small part of the two windows, the rhythm inside of the picture is high. In this scene the boy is looking at something which seems fascinating for him this can justify the high rhythm. In the movie this scene is a strange moment where the boy’s girlfriend  undress in front of the window, we can associate the rhythm with the intensity of his emotions.

Type of space

There is not a lot of depth in the picture due to two phenomena.

First one is lightings

All elements of the background appear brighter than on the foreground which automatically leads to flatten the image.

dpht2 depth

We can see it with the picture on the right; we have this feeling of a three-dimensionnal picture whereas the left one has no depth.
Second the depth of field

As you can see the background of the shot is a little bit blurry which also lead to flatten the image.


The reason why a flat space is used in this shot is probably because it gives a better understanding of the picture.

Last but not least the framing


In this picture the framing is generated by two windows with small windows inside which divide the picture in two big pictures and eighteen portions small ones which is quite complicated to read and generate a lot of rhythm. These eighteen portions of the pictures are not here for nothing.


First of all the two windows separate the two subjects male and female with this strong metaphor of the female trapped in a double jail made of windows and the  TV she’s clearly represents the desire of the boy.


If we get back to the story of the movie, it’s about people, young and adult who lives in the perfect American dream and actually hate their lives. The framing gives us the impression of multi-faceted personalities or madness and it literally splits the different actions of the boy:

– He looks deep into what’s happening in front of him.

– And he’s filming.

Same for the girl before this scene she was arguing with her mother and got slapped. Her boyfriend was filming the scene so she was undressing but at the same time probably had different thoughts in her head.

This is something really important because it shows us all the complexity of the characters.

If we get rid of the framing how do we feel about the scene ?


We feel more like seeing a strange boy filming from his window and get caught by the girl he’s looking at.

There is something missing some kind of mystery and complexity.


The main composition’s elements on this picture are rhythm and framing. Those elements appear to be really powerful in this scene because it creates an ambiguous mood and add some complexity to a simple scene which is entirely consistant with the situation.

Other  articles