Breaking Bad: Why Walter White Channels American Beauty's Lester Burnham

Walter Beauty €œChemistry is the study of change. It€™s growth, decay then transformation€ Walter White (SE1EP01) On numerous occasions Vince Gilligan €“ creator and executive producer on AMC€™s Breaking Bad has stated that he wanted to turn the shows lead character, Walter White from Mr. Chips into Scarface. Although the €˜Scarface€™ reference leads us to believe that Walter White€™s actions are is fabricated on the grounds set by Brian De Palma€™s film of the same name, I€™d argue that the series€™ main influence is from a movie much more contemporary. That is Sam Medes€™ American Beauty (2000) with a key comparison with portrayal of Kevin Spacey€™s protagonist Lester Burnham. Both Walter and Lester are repressed. On the surface they€™re illustrated as two middle aged men who appear to be living with something significantly absent from their lives. That is significance. We€™re introduced to both protagonists, lying in bed, gazing at the space that surrounds them and to a certain point, they€™re disconnected from it. Walter appears fatigued while he exercises in his bedroom, eyeing the recognition certificates that he earned in 1985 for his work within Science. His prime method of exercise in effect is a foot pedal, which metaphorically illustrates him hiking towards his former successes as opposed to any future desires. He€™s accomplished his visions and therefore his current circumstances feel somewhat empty without a place for success. We understand later however that the reward for those successes have suffered slightly when Walter, his wife Skyler and his son, Walter Jnr, converse at breakfast about there being no hot water, due to a damaged heater. Like Walter himself, this is a family suffering in a harsh economic age. At one point during the pilot episode, Skyler questions Walt on whether he€™s mistakenly used the MasterCard reminding him, €œThe MasterCard€™s the one we don€™t use.€ Contrasting Walt is Lester Burnham who is financially successful but is emotionally numb. Lester is introduced pacing around his home, framed as a solitary figure. He frequently appears small in shots giving him a sense of non-importance. Authority for the father figure in the household has been lost and thus Lester€™s loss of masculinity sets him back as an adolescent character €“ immature. In the car Lester is curled up, objective and weary in the back seat while his wife and daughter sit up front. €œI need a father who€™s a role model. Not a horny geek boy€, Lester€™s daughter Jane confesses. Lester can€™t act as a role-model when he isn€™t present. She physically can€™t see him because he€™s positioned behind her. Lester jests that masturbating during his morning shower will be the high point of his day. It suggests that Lester and his wife Carolyn don€™t partake in sexual intercourse any longer at the expense of the male who has come to be frustrated. Those frustrations have surfaced at his work when he quips that his job consists of jerking off in the men€™s room, while he fantasizes about a life that doesn€™t closely resemble hell. There€™s a similar interpretation in Breaking Bad with Walter and Skyler. As Lester narrates the opening scene of American Beauty he states, €œI have lost something. I don€™t know what it is but I€™ve never felt this sedated. But you know what, it€™s never too late to get it back.€ In both American Beauty and Breaking Bad the dinner table is a battleground where parents in both families wage war on their unhappy lives while their children bear witness. With Lester at one end, Carolyn at the other, and Jane in the middle. Which other characters do you think influenced Walter White? Share your own observations below in the comments thread.
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Born British. Casually mistaken for 'foreign' or 'alien'.

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