Friday, May 27, 2005

Nabokov and American Beauty

I came across this very interesting discovery on the internet. Lester Burnham, the name of the Kevin Spacey character in the film American Beauty is actually, in a delightful reference which is in fact deliberate, an anagram of "Humbert learns". And indeed, judging by the film, Humbert has learned the Nabokov lesson pretty well! Furthermore, the name of the nymphet in the film (although, technically she is much too old), Angela Hayes, is homophonous with Dolores Haze, Lolita's real name or as Nabokov put it, the name "on the dotted line". Screenwriter Alan Ball confessed to this; adding that he was inspired by some real life event very similar to the one described in the novel, which actually happened somewhere in America.

Now that I think about the film once again, many other details emerge. The theme of the film, compressed in its tagline--"look closer" is indeed very Nabokovian. Look closer and you will find patterns everywhere and this is what discovering "beauty" is. This is the only secular means we have to connect with the transcendental world beyond our banal existence. What is needed is the sharpness of perception and honesty of thought. And the scene where Ricky is showing his girlfriend his favourite cinematic moment--wind playing with a plastic bag, and telling her to look for "beauty", as if identifying some benevolent force behind the randomness of everyday existence, is almost direct out John Shade's poem in Pale Fire.

Nabokov indeed rules. And after finishing Speak, Memory my Nabokovophilia index these days is reaching previously unscaled heights.


anurag said...

One of my favorite quotes from the movie:
RICKY FITTS: Sometimes there's so much beauty in the world I feel like I can't take it, like my
heart's going to cave in.

I loved this movie when I first saw it some 4-5 years back, now need to see how well it (rather me) has aged!

Alok said...

Same with me. The film was great and I am sure I will like it even now!