The Who, Augustine, and American Beauty

In my freshman philosophy course, right after we read Augustine’s Confessions, we watch and dissect one of my favorite films of all time: American Beauty. Having read Augustine’s Confessions as a proto-existentialist text (I’ve tried to make this case here [Part I]and here [Part II]), we then read the film as Lester Burnham’s “Confessions” of a sort. I have found that if the Confessions remained fuzzy for students, after “reading” it through the lens of American Beauty it often “clicks.”

One semester I had a student with hearing impairment, so we watched the film with its subtitles. This turned out to be a revelation since the subtitles also reproduced the lyrics of the eclectic soundtrack for the film, all of which is just bang on for the characters and scenes–and unappreciated if you don’t listen closely.

Perhaps my favorite is the song that accompanies Lester Burnham on his final jog, “The Seeker,” by the Who. Released in the year of my birth (1970), the song is a quasi-Augustinian anthem and I’ve found myself hooked on it of late. (OK, OK: Guitar Hero did bring it back to mind.) Here’s a decent reproduction available for free on YouTube: