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Jennifer Voigt

Films considered in this essay are:
Legend of Sleepy Hollow; director: Tim Burton (1999)
American Beauty; director: Sam Mendes (1999)
The Searchers; director: John Ford (1956) and
Glengarry Glen Ross; director: James Foley (1992)

In the late sixteenth century English businessmen and adventurers established colonies in the North American continent, naming the land Virginia, after their queen. Later, Catholic colonists, fleeing the oppression of the aforementioned queen, named their tract of land Maryland, after another famous virgin queen. From its earliest history, America (even the continent has a feminine name!) has been defined as a commodity and a refuge and often, even in the cases of territory named after men (Georgia, the Carolinas), or topographical features (Montana, the Grand Tetons) it has been feminized.

These names are examples of linguistic convention, to be sure, but consider how The Legend of Sleepy Hollow conflates consumption, ambition and female character and form. The dream of Ichabod Crane, for example, rings true in the hearts of Americans even today, as we con­sider the "aggressive growth" options of our 401(k) plans, but its revelation relies on Ichabod's union with Katrina Van Tassel: "[H]is heart yearned after the damsel who was to inherit these domains, and his imagination expanded with the idea, how they might readily be turned into cash, and the money invested in immense tracts of wild land, and shingle palaces in the wilderness." Washington Irving presents to us the image of Ichabod himself as one of the Horsemen who brings famine early in the story, suggesting in his hero the characteristic of not one, but a whole plague of locusts. But as we all know, Irving introduces a second Horseman, conjured to drive this plague of locusts away into the next field, and indicates that this headless spectre is none other than Ichabod's rival for Katrina's affection. The question behind this love triangle is an economic one: just how will Katrina's land be used? Katrina Van Tassel, tied to the land by virtue of her rights as inheritor, must choose between two examples of preindustrial American capitalism. She can live off already proven dividends, or she can assume more risk. Her mobility is a chief factor in Ichabod's vision of her as his wife; he imagines her seated on a covered wagon. It also underlies Ichabod's ambitions. Class mobility in this story is not upward but westward. It hinges not on the permanence of land, but on its saleability. The ability to convert land to cash can create for an itinerate schoolteacher the opportunity to marry into the first family of the county.

If Tim Burton's dreary Sleepy Hollow had told this story, it might have made a better film. In fact, if it had told the story it set out to tell, which from the outset assumed a more gothic char­acter than Irving's original tale, it would have made a fine film. I had hopes for it, optimist that I am, even up until the windmill exploded. For a fuller look, though, at this American theme of land, ambition, and the female I had to see American Beauty and then, within a period of two weeks, happen upon both Glengarry Glen Ross and the "Special Edition" of The Searchers in the video store. Each of these three movies, I noticed, struggled with similar issues: the role of gender, both masculine and feminine, in a changing social landscape; the use of land as a commodity, or "real estate;" and the elusive, mysterious, and seductive American Dream. As in the example of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, these issues assert themselves in combination. The films mix up the American pursuit of happiness with the ownership of property, much as Thomas Jefferson did when he shuf­fled the fundamental rights of "men" in the Declaration of Independence. More accurately, each of these three films engenders the concept of real estate, assigning it feminine characteristics and then pitting it against not only the aspirations of the male protagonists of the pictures, but against the protagonists' very selves.

By referring to The Searchers locales—Monument Valley, the plains of British Columbia, and the greater North American West—as "real estate" I mean to say that these places are essentially "ownable" and also "transferable." The question, "to whom does this land belong?" resonates throughout the film, and, until the end, is not entirely answered. From the opening shots of the curious woman peering into the distance at her unannounced visitor, the movie is infused with the notion that the settlers' lives in their new home have the shallowest of roots. The very presence of the visitor, Ethan Edwards, poses a second question, by which the film attempts to answer the first: "Who belongs to this land?" Is this land going to be owned by wanderers, like Ethan and his enemy, Scar, or is it going to be civilized and domesticated and populated by decent hardworking families like the Edwards' and their settler friends? The words Ethan exchanges with Marty over the status of his dead brother's cattle illustrates this question of destiny on a dynastic canvas. Ethan calls them "my cattle," while Marty reminds him that as far as he knows, Ethan's niece is still alive to inherit them: "You mean Debbie's cattle,' he corrects. Ethan may be the surviving male relative, but Debbie, even lost, is the rightful heir. As in the case of Katrina Van Tassel, the key to ownership of the West is through Debbie.

More specifically, the key is through Debbie's body. The physical virtue of the women set­tlers is of utmost importance in The Searchers. During the scene leading up to the massacre at the homestead, the fear that the settlers express is not a fear of torture or death, but of rape. Lucy screams so hysterically not because she is going to die, but because she is going to be sexually vio­lated. This is, of course, a perfectly legitimate fear; however the context of the narrative does not so much emphasize her personal fear for her own body as it describes her imminent rape a as violation of all that is sacred to the settlers. Lucy has already been established not as a woman, but as a symbol of virtue and domesticity. The way she flirts with her boyfriend is so innocent that even children can watch—and they do. It is not Lucy's death itself that propels this same boyfriend to vengeance; its grisly particulars do. Her loss of womanly virtue is so abhorrent to these men that they cannot even speak of it. When Ethan announces that he has discovered Lucy's body, he responds to his compan­ions' queries with a retort about not wanting to paint a picture. When he and Marty are alone in the wilderness, years into their search, Ethan muses on the fate that awaits Lucy's younger sister Debbie as she grows older in captivity, saying that Scar will wait until she is old enough, and then his words stop, as his thought suggests the certainty of Debbie's own rape. Thus the search becomes as much a search to reunite Debbie with her land and her community, as it is a search to save her for this land and community. Indeed, Ethan transfers his anger from Scar to Debbie when he learns that she lives in Scar's household. While Lucy's death preserves her honor, the fact that Debbie still lives confirms the loss of her virtue. Her life insults the values of her uncle and her community. Debbie's own mother would have wanted her dead after such a disgrace, one of the settlers tells Ethan, and he subsequently renews his search with her death in mind as its outcome.

The blame this film places on Debbie—the victim of a kidnapping—is shocking. However, like Lucy, Debbie is less a character than a symbol. Her mind remains intact even though her vir­ginity does not. This preservation of dignity is not supposed to happen, the film reveals in a scene in which Ethan and Marty search for Debbie among a group of white women captured by Indians and then captured again by the cavalry. These women have wild eyes and shriek unexpectedly. The mes­sage, of course, is that insanity is an acceptable way of living after being raped by Indians. Barely acceptable, for Ethan disposes of them with a gesture of disgust: The women are "no longer white," he tells Marty.

I am convinced that when Kazan cast Natalie Wood as the lead in Splendor in the Grass—a movie about, among other things, a girl who really doesn't want to say no—he did so with the understanding that the actress's powerful sensuality would reveal itself to the camera despite her character's indecision. Wood projects a certain dangerous quality, a quality which operates indepen­dently of her striking beauty. How else could this woman (who as a child believed in Santa so much he came true) get to play Gypsy Rose Lee? Natalie Wood plays good girls who have bad girls in them waiting to escape. She brings this same dark quality to her performance as Debbie, and it is this projection of sexuality in Debbie that Ethan finds so hard to forgive about her. Sex in The Searchers is a boring, almost adolescent kind of sex. Lucy may want to marry her boyfriend, but all she does is kiss him. Presented with Marty soaking in a tub by a fire, Laurie literally throws cold water over the situation. For the way he behaves, you wouldn't imagine that Marty had been camping out on the prairie for months before this. He won't even promise to marry Laurie, though she almost begs him. In contrast to this sexual "innocence," Debbie wears her knowledge like a badge of honor. She has not followed the path of virtue and gone insane or killed or caused herself to be killed. She is dangerous.

But this emphasis on womanly virtue and virginity supersedes Debbie and Lucy and would not exist in The Searchers without Martha's early introduction. Though her character is the matri­arch of the Edwards family, the film chooses her name not from among the biblical matriarchs, but instead names her after the biblical woman most concerned about domestic matters. Had she been called Sarah, the wandering in The Searchers would have taken on a wholly different flavor, but this woman wants to keep house. Her virtue is such that she doesn't notice when Ethan stares longingly after her. Her back is turned. The impure thoughts of a lonely man cannot touch her. She keeps her sexuality behind closed-doors, reserving it for after the rest of the family retires. Even in that shot, she disappears into her bedroom as the action continues between Ethan and her husband. The emphasis here is on Ethan's loneliness, his desire for place and belonging and things other men have, rather than the rounding-out of Martha's character. Martha is at once "place" and "belonging" and a "thing that another man has." Without her, a man is nothing but Ethan—a point driven home by making Ethan and her husband brothers. In Ethan's wistful glances you see that had he had Martha, maybe he could have surrendered his sword and found in her a cause to live for.

The tension between wandering and settling in The Searchers reaches its apex in Debbie. The film emphasizes Debbie's portability from the beginning, when Ethan picks her ten-year-old self up in his arms. Scar next carries her away, and through the rest of the film she is carried, liter­ally, all over the West. Even at the end of the film, when Ethan restores Debbie to the community of settlers, he carries her from his horse like a child or a present, or a bride being carried over the threshold into her husband's home. This image of a wedding is an especially potent one in this film because it restores a level of order within the settlers' community that will allow weddings to take place. Lucy's abduction prevented her marriage, and Marty puts off his marriage to Laurie until Debbie can be safely returned. The future of this small civilization depends on the level of domes­ticity that thrives within it, and only this can be accomplished through proper unions of men and women. We glimpse this in the early scenes of Ethan interacting with his brother's family. Ethan is almost a wild animal, gazing lecherously at his sister-in-law, appearing not to fit in with this family where the father smokes a pipe in the evenings, the children are precocious, and the dog is a pet rather than a co-worker.

The Searchers illustrates that which is inherently Romantic in the American experience. The film obsesses over the struggle between the individual and society, as does our constitution, our body of law, and our psychoanalysis. But where Byron can mock the bourgeois in Don Juan, The Searchers strives to establish a middle-class culture in the desert. The individual is no hero, but a protagonist and an antagonist—Ethan and Scar. He is also an intruder. Ethan and Scar—though they hate each other, they are interchangeable—are Wanderers, countryless. Scar has no land because foreigners have settled on it. Confederate Army veteran Ethan has no land because the Yan­kees have conquered it. Both men interrupt life on the homestead, causing a 10-year rupture allowing the film's narrative to evolve. The wanderers intrude and the story lasts until one of them can restore the homestead to the way it was before they came by returning Debbie. The American Dream in this movie comprises not the God-given rights of the individual, but the creation of a tightly knit social fabric whose woof and weft fall into orderly alignment.

The Searchers devotes itself to weaving a myth about the West and America and male and female. It responds to the shifting American landscape of 1950s America by ascribing bourgeois, Post-war American assumptions to the post-Civil War West. Just as 100 years before them their ancestors parceled up the prairie to make farms, Americans of the 50s were parceling up farmland to create suburbia, The Searchers says. The pioneers had also endured a war, but after it was over everyone went back to a proper place in society; this time again, women who worked in munitions plants should return to the home; white men and men of color should return to their own families and their own neighborhoods and lead separate but equal lives. The problem with contemporary America, according to The Searchers, is that no one is in his or her place—woman, or man, white or Native American. Ethan can't stay put, Scar won't sit quietly at the back of the bus, and Debbie belongs in two places. Released the same year as the Montgomery bus boycott, you can see The Searchers anticipating the tsunami of a civil rights movement, and erecting a sea wall to stop it.

In Glengarry Glen Ross, land as a physical presence disappears completely; now land is fully "real estate," a commodity, a "preferred property." The salesmen who deal in it refer to it as "units." Land in Glengarry Glen Ross is like paper money severed from the gold standard, a thing representing the concept of a value. A commodity still, it is both ownable and transferable but also subtle, slippery, a thing with two faces. This inherent duplicity in real estate provides the greatest tension in the lives of this movie's characters: real estate is at once the most important thing and nothing. It sustains the things that the salesmen love and value; though you can't see it, it keeps them alive and gives them a reason to live. You don't even know if it really exists. In fact, it prob­ably doesn't. These men are not thieves and their organization is on the up and up (their absolutely joyless lives, the deadly seriousness with which they tell their lies, the way they put all their faith into their pitches assure us of this), but they sell real estate in its infancy, undeveloped, itself only an idea. Plate glass windows have not yet framed the mountain views they promise. After his exhausting, existential pitch, Roma makes his move to close Link by smoothing out a brochure whose text promises that dreams do come true.

These are the men who sell dreams to people like the Edwards family of The Searchers. They are Ethan in suits, because the world of total commission is not so different from the life of a transient man in Texas in 1868. Like Ethan, they must believe in their mission or lose their justifica­tion for living, for they are intermediate people, of no importance other than to transfer property from one person to the next. The years between The Searchers and Glengarry Glen Ross show, not only in costume, or setting, or attitude, but in the way the men have adopted the men's roles that The Searchers laid down for them. Where Ethan is a wanderer, without wife, children, home, or responsibility to any human being, his actions determine that the men who follow him will have these things. But the salesmen don't want what Ethan gives them any more than their leads (or prospects) want "units."

The pitch, of course, is of utmost importance to a salesman, his ability to use words brings about the outcome of his effort. Mamet's short words and lines result in a syncopated rhythm that isn't a mimicry of contemporary American speech, but a kind of poetry, which functions much like iambic pentameter is thought to have done in sixteenth Century theatre. It alerts the ear to the importance of the dialogue. This deliberate scripting calls attention not only to the content of the words, but to the utterances themselves, and they become an issue in the film. Watching Glengarry Glen Ross on television, I have been struck by the way the emotional intensity of the film relies on the foul mouths of its characters. If there were ever a place where obscenities were absolutely neces­sary, it is this film. In expurgated form, the "forget yous" fail to convey the weight that words in this film must carry. Obscenities in this film convey desperation as well as identify power, and highlight other language that does the same. The salesmen get bad leads because the strategy comes from "downtown." "Mitch and Murray" make the decisions. When Roma declares "your excuses are your own," the American tradition of self-help and the power of positive thinking—from Benjamin Franklin to Dale Carnagie to Oprah Winfrey—reveals itself. These proverbs, repeated over and over like prayers, line the path to success. When Blake addresses the salesmen, he reminds them of selling basics: "ABC" or "Always be closing." He writes other words on his blackboard, describing the selling process: "Attention," "Interest," "Decision," "Action." The words gather momentum when Blake explains why they're so important. They can either make you or destroy you. "I made $97,000 last year," Blake tells them. "You're nothing." If you say these prayers, you can come out of the competition with a Cadillac. If you don't, you'll lose your job.

Women in Glengarry Glen Ross often have the last word, as we see through Link's relation­ship with his wife. When he shows up at the office to retrieve his check, he is reticent. Initially Roma can't get but two words out of him, but "She said" becomes a revealing phrase, and as Roma coaxes him to speak, his phrases explain the relationship between men and women in the film. "She told me I have to," he says initially. And then later: "I don't have the power. . .to negotiate." And again: "I can't talk to you. . .you met my wife." And finally: "My wife said I have to cancel the deal." Your excuses may be your own, but the film doesn't believe it. For the sales team at Preferrred Properties, it's bad luck when they can't close, and "talent" when they can. James Link isn't a man who can't afford a negative thought, he's a man whose wife emasculates him. He acts as her emis­sary; he professes no opinion of his own. Indeed, she emasculates both her husband and Roma. Her decision to back out of the deal deprives Roma of his Cadillac and her husband of the dream Roma has sold him. Women serve this same purpose in all of their manifestations throughout the movie. Mostly they are invisible, save for the coat-check girl in the Chinese restaurant, and for the photo­graph of Levene's daughter on his desk, but they keep the men on tethers. Levene's daughter is ill and in the hospital, and he must sell enough in one night to keep his job and to pay her medical bills. Moss and Williamson both comment on their wives and children as if they were literally balls and chains attached to their ankles. A woman can at once bring a curse on a house and curse a man trying to make an honest living. As he's forcing Levene out of his front door, one man says, "my wife filled in a form and we've been plagued for the last year." The only good woman is both an inferior and a fantasy. Grace, Levene's imaginary secretary, puts in long hours and probably fetches him his coffee.

The film inserts this hostility toward women into the characters' attitudes toward their superiors in the company. In his tirade after Link backs out of the deal, Roma unleashes a barrage of insults on Williamson aimed to attack the manager's masculinity. First Roma calls him an obscenity describing the female anatomy that is usually reserved to insult women, and then he asks, "Who ever told you you could work with men?" And then he uses Williamson to attack the entire com­pany hierarchy he represents. "You fairy. You company man." Williamson is both a woman and a man who hasn't paid his dues. The dialogue pits him against men who work for a living, whom the salesmen represent, and whose anxieties relative to their jobs we glimpse in the interaction between two of them. "George," Moss says. "We're men here. This is enslavement." The conversation cen­ters on a man that they know who left the company. "Jerry Graff.. .he said, 'I'm going on my own' and he was free." You can make your life your own, as Roma counsels Link to do, or you can give your labor to unappreciative bosses who exercise a power not unlike the power over life and death. If "a man is his job," as Levene remarks, then his dignity and pride stem from what he reaps through it. The burdens that these men carry with them, wives, children, work together with the company to enslave him, keeping him from doing what Jerry Graff did and realize himself through his work.

These exchanges reveal the power of the concept of "work" and its relevance to a man's dignity, for work in Glengarry Glen Ross is the focus of these men's ambitions and also their hearts' desires. The Dream isn't cash, though cash accompanies the Dream; the Dream is realizing your worth as a human being through the work that you do. In capitalism, sales more than any other job brings a worker closer to understanding the value that the world at large puts on the work he or she performs. There is immediate acceptance or immediate rejection followed by begging. You are either the happiest person in the world or the lowliest wretch under heaven.

Glengarry Glen Ross is a film obsessed with masculinity, of what it means to be a man, and what it means to be a man and to take on the roles that men play: father, provider, husband, worker. Up until the sales meeting, we have only glimpses of the characters. We know what they do for a living, and a little bit about what they struggle with in their personal lives. But Blake makes fun of them, threatens them, exerts superiority over them, and then, in one gesture, demonstrates what it takes to be the man who wins the Cadillac. "It takes brass balls to sell real estate," he says. It's so funny to see two brass balls dangling in front of Alec Baldwin's crotch that you have to laugh and think, "how can this guy take himself so seriously?" But this gesture simply ends the monologue with an exclamation point. What Blake has said up until now has defined what a man is, and what a man can do, and what is at stake in the film. "This is a man's game," he says. A man will outsell his co-workers and win a Cadillac. It is almost beneath a man's dignity to come in second, and bring home steak knives. Because this film makes no attempt to be politically correct, he calls them "fag­gots" and "cocksuckers," implying their less-than-manliness. Indeed, what self-respecting man could drive to work in a Hyundai, when Blake's watch cost more than that, and he himself drives a BMW?

Toward the end of the film, Levene comments that "the man who is your partner depends on you." It is an ironic statement because, with the exception of Roma and the manager Williamson, the salesmen are all co-conspirators in the break-in. The nature of the work, the fact that they must, in reality, go from house to house begging people to buy, the competition that the company fosters between them precludes any real human relationship. Most of Moss's dialogue consists of his "pitch" to Aaronow, attempting to convince him to steal the Glengarry leads. Williamson, snake-like, strings Levene on and ultimately turns him over to the police. The only man whose conscience acts upon him is Link, who, rather pathetically, says to Roma, "I let you down. . .forgive me." The brotherhood of men has been compromised by companies and by women; only betrayal remains.

If Glengarry Glen Ross concerns itself over the transformation of men into machines, and mourns the loss of a dignity inherent in a man's relationship to the work that he performs, then American Beauty takes a step further. It shows us a post-institutional world, where a job at a fast food restaurant can provide more satisfaction than a decade and a half-long career; where image separates the men from the kings; and the most well-adjusted family on the block consists of two men and their dog, Bitsy. Were Martha to step through a vortex in the Western desert and emerge in our time, she would certainly exclaim, like Miranda, that this indeed is a brave new world. There is a garden, but in some way it's an image of Eden reflected by fun-house mirrors: the woman has not eaten of the fruit, she has cut the tree down altogether. Instead of being banished from paradise, she has banished paradise. The characters respond accordingly. They have mislaid happiness, and haven't a clue about where they put it.

Real estate in American Beauty is literally represented by a woman. "My business is selling an image and part of my business is to live that image. . .act happy tonight," Carolyn tells Lester as they enter an industry party. When she tries to sell a home—probably the best sequence in the film— she creates an image and watches helplessly as that image is reflected back at her on the faces of the prospective buyers. The empty house becomes a metaphor for her isolation. She cleans it in her slip, reciting her own prayer, "I will sell this house today." It is a comic combination of shots, and the day ends just as comically, with her literally beating herself in response to her failure. Like The Searchers and Glengarry Glen Ross, American Beauty centers the hopes and the dreams of its characters squarely in the realm of real estate. Carolyn is the example of the new dream, focussed on image that has emerged from the nasty suburban habit of trying to outdo your neighbor while being just like him. The matching garden clogs, the perfect roses, like the advertisement she puts out on the house, mask the cold, neglected soul that she carries within her.

As "real estate" is now just image, the landscape is now just a collection of images, like the pictures from magazines that Angela uses for wallcovering. Everybody in this film looks at his or her own image as it is reflected in dark windows. Windows in this film are not for seeing what's outside, but what the outside sees when it looks at you. When Lester looks out the window at night, he sees an image of himself that he imagines other people see. "Image" is about the easiest thing to buy, and can be achieved with the simple purchase of scissors with a handle to match your garden clogs. Aside from the Gap, the workout is the most ubiquitous form of image-enhancement in contempo­rary America, and Lester commits himself to it in the pursuit of the object of his desire, watching in the glass of his garage window as his body's development brings him closer to the point at which he can have Angela. Angela's own image as an aspiring model requires upkeep that can't be seen in a photograph, which she fosters through chatter about sleeping with photographers and how she can't allow her life to become ordinary. Janey considers plastic surgery. Furthermore, some one else's movie keeps interrupting the narrative. If a film can spy on itself, that is what happens through Ricky's camera as he uses it to record the goings on next door. His camera is curious, and creates images that are curious and revealing and thus stand out against the images everyone else sees when he or she looks into a window. His camera captures what the other characters can't see about them­selves: Janey's beauty, Angela's banality, a whole family's isolation.

The linear narrative itself begins when Lester, who suffers from spiritual sedation, inflicted on him by the multiple curses of middle class life—meaningless work, a passionless marriage, and isolation from his daughter—sees Angela in the dance squad at the high school basketball game. It is a comic moment, exposing as it does what little it takes to wake Lester up. Beautiful, but in the con­ventional way of so many popular high school girls—all symmetry and clear skin—Angela goes through the moves of the dance with the rest of the squad wearing that blase, "I'm so bored even as I'm doing this" look of the teenager and young adult. The dance isn't sexy at all. But to Lester, Angela's the most exotic thing in the room and she's dancing just for him. He begins to imagine her, as he will throughout the film, lying in a bed of rose petals. She becomes, literally and figuratively, his dream, the meaning of his existence and the arbiter of his actions for the rest of the film. It is only when he finally gets her that the film can end. Then she lets him in on her secret, and her words transform her from a whore into the Madonna. In this moment, her ability to save him from his situation by escaping, literally, into her, changes into an ability to save him in spite of himself. At once, he must overcome her and control her, much as Ethan must do with Debbie. She keeps him pure, and prepares him for what will come next. Angela embodies a dream, but not the "American Dream." She is beautiful, but her beauty is slippery and tempting, and is not what the film searches for. Instead, this lost, golden world upon which the film meditates as it draws to a close is the image of Lester, Carolyn and Janey at the amusement park, experiencing the purest joy you see them have in the entire film. Once again it is the image of domesticity—happy marriage, happy family—but it has no concern about who wears the pants.

Though American Beauty is similar to The Searchers in that the dreams that Ethan and Lester seek require a woman's body in order to become real, American Beauty displays none of the fear of social chaos that characterizes The Searchers. While the earlier film requires Ethan to return Debbie in order to restore a structure on which a civilization can flourish, the later film's interest in Angela relates to Lester's individual struggles. This is not to ignore the fact that one character's unease with shifting mores brings about Lester's demise. The film confronts the very definition of masculinity in the conflict between the colonel and the gay couple next door. Chris Cooper, who was so tender and vulnerable as the uncertain sheriff in Lone Star, is unrecognizable as the military man in American Beauty. Angry and brutal, he rules his household with an iron fist, and his military understanding of what it means to be a man excludes the neighbors' partnership. Ever since the beginning of the Reagan presidency, clips from his acting days have become their own convention: one thinks irresistably of Chevy Chase laughing at Bedtime for Bonzo as he sits in his federal cubicle in Spies Like Us. Here, as Ricky walks in on his father enjoying one of Reagan's army movies, the same convention comes into play. But now the ideas that Reagan represented both in his presidency and when he now appears in films seem even more out of touch than when he introduced them. It is this illusory sense of social order that the Colonel, like Ethan, attempts to hold on to. But Ethan is successful, and the colonel is just another homophobe, afraid of the desires he buries deep inside himself.

These films are some of our most skillfully made works of art, featuring some of our most talented and beloved actors, and their influence within American culture as a whole makes them important. The Searchers is required viewing in film studies classes, and aficionados of the genre consider it the "best" Western ever made. The Sheldon Levene character in Glengarry Glen Ross created such a wellspring of pity in the general consciousness that the television show, "The Simpsons," created a character based on Levene for us all to laugh at on Sunday nights. American Beauty is simply one of the best films ever to come out of Hollywood. Even more stunning is that it came from Dreamworks, whose collaborators have never before displayed insight of this depth. These films are either part or due to become part of our national language of images. They are also trou­bling: The Searchers, Glengarry Glen Ross, and American Beauty describe the American Experience as male, and the American Dream as female, no matter what its manifestation. They belong to a tra­dition in American filmmaking which displays considerable anxiety over the nature of gender, land, and the American Experience, and the American Dream. Each realizes the shifting nature of gender and its direct relationship to the social climates both portrayed in the films and out of which they themselves were created. In each of them, the American dream concerns land as a commodity and requires its male protagonists to have a woman—whether through her body or her words—to realize it. Though the definition of masculinity is itself in question, the American Experience is something that men have, exclusively. Women are necessary, but only as a reflection of the hearts' desires of the men around them. The patterns that repeat themselves throughout these films are the patterns of objectification. The men are the actors in these stories, the women are acted upon. If the American experience is for men, then what is there for women? If the stories we tell to console ourselves con­tinue to follow the same logic, than how can we exhaust the apparently self-replenishing supply of misogyny? Not one of these films was directed by a woman, nor are their primary characters women, so I have excluded a significant point of view. However, for these patterns to repeat themselves regardless of genre or decade demonstrates how deeply ingrained they are in our storytelling.

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