The Plastic Bag Scene

One of the most memorable films ever is a film in a film – in the movie ‘American Beauty’ called by fans as ‘the plastic bag scene’. As commented by the young filmmaker in the story, who shot it…

Ricky Fitts: You want to see the most beautiful thing I’ve ever filmed? It was one of those days when it’s a minute away from snowing and there’s this electricity in the air, you can almost hear it. And this bag was, like, dancing with me. Like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes. And that’s the day I knew there was this entire life behind things, and… this incredibly benevolent force, that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid, ever. Video’s a poor excuse, I know. But it helps me remember… and I need to remember… Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it, like my heart’s going to cave in.

When I was little, I remember being amazed when I see the wind tossing dried leaves into a spiral dance. If it was bigger, I would have stood in the eye of the storm to marvel at it, in the midst of it all. As commented on in ‘Cinema Nirvana’ by Dan Sluyter, ‘In the enlightened state you come to see that that beauty is in the world not just sometimes but always. And by acclimating gradually, you find that you can take it. Your heart doesn’t cave in but opens out to meet and embrace everything. And it’s all perfectly ordinary and normal.’

Here’s what I think… When we are mindful and soak in the way things are naturally, we can experience similar magic in the most ordinary of otherwise unnoticed everyday phenomena. This is when even the most simple can become the most beautiful. What is this benevolent force that is the life behind things, if there is one? I choose to think it is our force of mindfulness itself, which urges us to be benevolent and to see things in a benevolent way. With true mindfulness, there is no fear too, even of death. But is there so much beauty that we might not be able to stand it? I don’t think so. We might be surprised, overwhelmed, but it is only when we crave for the beauty we see to last or increase that we can’t stand it. If we savour the beautiful one moment at a time, it will be alright.

Similarly, there is so much suffering in the world too, that threatens to overwhelm what is not of suffering. Suffering too needs to be experienced mindfully to be transcended. Such scenes help us to remember the need to be mindful. Remembering is part of being mindful too. Below is a similar narration at the end of the movie, which on hindsight, ties in with my interpretation of the short film above. (Death is not the be-all and end-all though; just part of change.)

Lester Burnham: I’d always heard your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn’t a second at all. It stretches on forever, like an ocean of time. For me, it was lying on my back at Boy Scout Camp, watching falling stars. And yellow leaves from the maple trees that lined our street. Or my grandmother’s hands, and the way her skin seemed like paper. And the first time I saw my cousin Tony’s brand-new Firebird. And Janie… and Janie. And… Carolyn. I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me, but it’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst. And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it. And then it flows through me like rain. And I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life. You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry, you will someday.