What Is the Symbolism of Roses in "American Beauty"?

In the movie "American Beauty," roses symbolize the decay beneath the facade of typical American suburban life, as portrayed by the film's main characters. The roses have multiple meanings and also represent the inexplicable beauty of life and its fleeting quality. Roses often appear in the sexual fantasies of Lester Burnham, the story's main character, and represent not only lust, but his desire for love and a sense of purpose.

Lester Burnham's wife, Carolyn, is a real estate agent who spends time pruning the beautiful roses that grow in her family's front yard. Meanwhile, Lester has a growing obsession with his daughter's cheerleader friend who he often daydreams about and imagines floating on a bed of vibrant red rose petals.

Upon looking closer at their lives, as the movie's tagline suggests, it is easy to see the serious problems at the family's foundation. Similarly, the breed of rose, known as the American Beauty, is susceptible to rot at its roots. Roses are a recurring symbol in the movie, and have multiple interpretations?including their traditional meaning, which is symbolic of love, beauty and the unfolding of spiritual wisdom. As with the movie's memorable transcendent scene of the plastic bag swirling and dancing in the wind, throughout the film roses represent the underlying mystery and beauty of life.