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Top 3 Movies Depicting the Dark Side of the American Dream

The all-time American dream has been depicted by many as the sole purpose to strive for. If you’re unfamiliar with the definition, it states that anyone can succeed in life, regardless of their class, origin, or ethnicity. This is believed to be achievable through hard work and determination. It’s set as a national ethos for the United States in which the ideal concept of freedom includes many things, such as success and prosperity. 

Whether Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech pops up or the idea of being an American billionaire, everyone has a concept associated with it. However, the dark side of the American dream is discussed less. No one really wants to know the poverty, the struggle, and all the obstacles that come in the way. Below are three films about the American dream, portraying the darker side of it all. 

What Exactly is the American Dream?

The phrase American Dream was first coined in James Truslow Adams’ novel “Epic of America” back in 1931. However, while movies about the American dream often depict luxurious lives and expensive cars, it’s not actually the definition. To fully understand the best American dream movies, one should refer to a unique american dream essay that will extensively explain the phrase’s true meaning. Movies with the American dream theme should revolve around attaining success in society,  because the phrase’s true meaning revolves around enabling individuals to achieve their ultimate success.

Movie #1: American Beauty

Kevin Spacey in American Beauty (Dreamworks Pictures)

According to a survey conducted by Pew Research Center, 37% of Americans state they have achieved the American dream. But how true could that exactly be? With success and achievements comes a much more complex side to deal with, such as insecurities, feelings of inadequacy, or an inability to communicate with one’s emotions. The ultimate movie that represents the loss suffered is Sam Mendes’ American Beauty (1999).The central concept it revolves around is how one can lose themselves in the process of attaining the dream.

The main character, a man named Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), is portrayed to be a perfectly successful man. He lives in a stellar neighborhood with his beautiful family. But Lester is also experiencing a mid-life crisis, which leads to him becoming infatuated with his daughter’s best friend, Angela (Mena Suvari). In his attempt to try and get in touch with who he truly is, Lester soon starts making a series of unusual decisions, almost as if he was progressing backward: he quits his job, blackmails his manager, and even starts working at a fast food restaurant. The movie depicts Lester’s journey to liberation and also explores materialism, identity, and family dynamics.

Movie #2: The Social Network

loud and clear reviews the social network college life origin story college-centric 2010 film
Andrew Garfield in The Social Network (Columbia Pictures)

If you’ve heard of Mark Zuckerberg, then you’ve definitely heard all about his inspirational story. Not only did he drop out of college to pursue his invention, but the movie depicting his life received a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. David Fincher’s The Social Network (2010), the so-called inspirational movie, is known to be one of the most critically acclaimed films of 2010. The story revolves around two friends, Mark (Jesse Eisenberg) and Eduardo (Andrew Garfield): Mark was the brains behind the project known now as Facebook, and his best friend Eduardo was responsible for the promotion.

Things couldn’t have gotten worse between the two. Not only did fame, ambition, money, and recognition crack their foundation of friendship, but it also created a myriad of issues. When Facebook started to become successful, the film shows that jealousy started bubbling up between the two, and Mark also made a series of business decisions disregarding Eduardo’s opinions, which ultimately leads to his former business partner filing a lawsuit against him. The film shows the depths of what one can fall into through the process of running after a dream.

Movie #3: The Wolf of Wall Street

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street (Paramount Pictures)

Leonardo DiCaprio never ceases to amaze. His role in Martin Scorsese’s 2013 movie The Wolf of Wall Street was mind-blowing. Unlike Hollywood movies that inspire students to study, this movie illustrates the greediness of society. The Wolf of Wall Street tells the true story of Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio), a man who started a brokerage firm and quickly became a wealthy stockbroker, living a life of partying but also crime and corruption, which ultimately catches the attention of the FBI. The dark side of the American dream shines through, especially when one sees that integrity falls behind financial wealth throughout this movie. Not only do we see Jordan strive for wealth, but the film portrays the ugly truth that comes with it, and all the craziness, obscenity, and disillusion that unchecked ambition can lead to.

The concept of the American dream seems to be set in perfection. Many want to believe that there isn’t a downfall that comes with extreme success and social status. However, the movies above seem to disagree, depicting all the dark sides of the hustle and bustle. 

At the end of the day, these movies are truly inspirational and help everyone learn something, whether it is how to tackle life’s obstacles or how to find their true meaning. However, the moral of the story is to never get lost in success. When the sole ambition in life is victory, one loses the true meaning of life and the value of things around them.

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