Over the course of the last three decades American society has taken its fondness of youth and femininity and turned it into an outright obsession. As a direct result of this obsession, women over the age of 35 have been made to feel bad about their bodies, their activity levels, the food they eat and the cars that they drive. This has lead to the proliferation of plastic surgery, male mid-life crises and the onset of a culture in which a young female is held as a pinnacle of physical perfection.While the hallmarks of a youth obsessed culture can be found almost anywhere, there is no one place that this issue has been more exploited than in film. Many films today feature older men in leading roles, with leading women are 20 to 30 years younger. Interestingly, this stereotype is one that has become a central feature in the modern cinema. For instance, one only needs to consider the public reaction to the cult classic Harold and Maude (1971) to understand how ingrained this social attitude has become. This film, which features a young leading man (20) and a much older leading lady (79), demonstrates even though Hollywood may be open-minded enough to accept older women in film, society as a whole is not as prepared to openly accepting of this situation.
[...] Lester, although badgered by his wife for his actions, is portrayed in the film as a man in search of his masculinity. After years of being married to a domineering wife, Lester now has the opportunity to explore his sexual desires and fantasies. At no point in the film is Lester chastised or belittled for his decision. Rather, the culture and environment in which Lester lives supports his decision to purse a younger woman as a means for recapturing his masculinity. [...]
[...] A Comparison of The Films As noted above, Harold and Maude focuses on the intimate relationship that develops between Harold, a 20-year-old boy consumed with depression, and a lively 70-year-old woman, who sees life as a gift. Although the relationship between the two starts out innocent at first, Harold meets Maude and a funeral, the relationship soon blossoms into a full blown romance. Harold chooses to loose his virginity with Maude, clearly a pivotal point in the young-boy's life. Even though Maude recognizes that age difference as an issue for the two, Harold is committed to his love affair, going so far as to ask Maude to marry him. [...]
[...] Conclusion When the movies Harold and Maude and American Beauty are compared overall, it is evident that these movies clearly depict the same issue, only from a different standpoint. Despite the fact that both films appear to deal with the issue in a frank and explicit manner, society as a whole has been more accepting of American Beauty than it has been of Harold and Maude. Thus, it is easy to see that when basic fundamental notions of ageism, beauty and sexism are challenged by the modern cinema, they are more than often rejected. [...]
[...] The director's decision to tackle such a challenging issue in such a blatant manner coupled with the lack of enthusiasm for the film when it was released clearly indicates that the portrayal of a younger man with an older woman is clearly not widely acceptable. While Harold and Maude made a definitive statement about both youth- centered culture in the United States and the portrayal of older women on screen, American Beauty supported and promoted the sexist right of men to pursue younger women. [...]
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