Despite the harsh circumstances in the film Life is Beautiful, Director Roberto Begnini manages to convey a bittersweet love story. In order to comprehend the meaning of this film, it can be helpful to look at the film through the lens of classicism. This film reflects three concepts of classicism: humanism, idealism, and Aristotles theory of the unities.
The concept of humanism is difficult to define. It was first created in ancient Greece and Rome, and has influenced philosophical beliefs since its creation. However, this is a broad definition thats difficult to conceptualize. A more specific definition suggests that classical humanists believed that ???that individual worth came from the individuals capacity to reason, which could shape character and life according to rational standards??? (Miller, 2006). In the film Life is Beautiful, Director Roberto Begnini shows how an individuals worth is tied to his or her ability to reason.
The most explicit example of this concept is shown through the character Dr. Lessing. The main character, Guido Orefice, and Dr. Lessing have a friendly relationship that revolves around the telling of riddles. Lessing is obsessed with figuring out riddles to the point that an unsolved riddle will keep him from sleeping throughout the night. Near the beginning of the film, when Guido waits on the doctor, Lessing praises Guidos quick ability to unravel some of the most difficult riddles he has encountered. Later in the film, when Guido is in the concentration camp, he is faced with the possibility of death because of his poor physical condition. Lessing did not see him as a person of worth, and only recognizes his former waiter and riddle solver when Guido bravely speaks out the answer to the last riddle Lessing gave him. This quick reasoning saves his life, as Lessing shows that he values Guidos mind enough to save it from death. This shows the concept of humanism, because it suggests that worth is related to reason. Guidos worth at this point in the film is directly related to his ability to reason out riddles. Later in the film, when Guido is hopeful that Lessing will help his family escape, he learns that Lessing only values him for his ability to reason– not because Guido is a human being valuable enough to live. The audience realizes this during the dinner scene, when Lessing says that he has something of great importance to discuss with Guido and we learn that Lessing seeks Guido to help him solve a riddle– not escape.
Humanism is also shown through Guidos reaction to the situations he faces in the concentration camp. Guido was placed in circumstances that showed him just how little his life was worth– he was forced to perform hard labor with little food, no compensation, and death as the alternative to labor. He knew that his friends were gassed, burned, and turned into soap and buttons. Such disregard of the value of human life was horrendous. Yet his reasoning skills saved himself and his son from death several times. While Guido was shot at the end of the film, during the film he was able to think and respond quickly to several life-threatening situations. For example, when he is able to sneak his son, Giosue, into the dinner party for the Nazi officers and their families, Giosue accidentally speaks in Italian. This alerts one of the German servers, who thinks that perhaps the boy is in the wrong place. Guido shows his expert reasoning skills by pretending that he has been instructing the other boys and girls to speak his native language. Instead of being killed, he and his son are saved. This scene demonstrates humanism because it shows that Guidos ability to reason saved and gave value to his life.
Guido also shaped the life of Giosue, and this shaping of his sons reality is an example of the concept of Idealism. According to the text, Idealism is a theory that suggests ???reality lies in the realm of unchanging forms, rather in sensory objects??? (Fiero, 2006). Instead of using material items to define the reality for his son, Guido creates a reality for him. Narrowed down a little, Idealism is the idea that the ???ultimate nature of reality is based on the mind of ideas??? (???Idealism,??? 2010). This concept is shown in the game that Guido makes of the concentration/labor camp experience. In order to help his son survive the holocaust with pleasant memories, Guido tells his son that he planned their visit there, and that that life in the camp is a big game. Giosue learns that he will win a tank if he can earn 1,000 points by hiding, behaving well, and following all of the rules. Guido takes major risks to create this reality for his son. For example, when one of the German guards seeks a volunteer who can translate the rules regarding the camp, Guido raises his hand. However, he does not know how to speak German, and so makes up rules that relate to the game scenario he has created for his son. This makes a big impression on Giosue, who begins to believe that what his father said is true. What makes the movie so meaningful is that the extent that Guido goes in order to shape his sons reality truly pays off. His son survives the time in the labor/concentration camp not knowing that it was anything buy a game. The final confirmation that the reality Guido created for his son has become real is when the tank arrives in front of Giosue.
Aristotle defined several elements of a tragic drama. According to the text, ???Aristotles concept of the unities reflected a portion of what constituted the ideals of Greek Classicism, which relied on the belief that the universe naturally moves toward balance and harmony??? (Fiero, 2006). All elements are relevant, but one of the most interesting is melody. Aristotle believes that the music (or, at that time, the chorus), should ???not be mere interludes, but should contribute to the unity of the plot??? (McManus, 1999). Begnini does integrate a sound throughout his movie. The song by Offenbach not only adds to the plot, but it serves as a repeated metaphor for the love between Guido and Dora. This song is first played when Guido is trying to capture Doras attention at the opera. It is repeated throughout the film, most notably when Guido turns the phonograph player out the window so that Dora can hear the music. Begnini shoots a close up of Doras face as she opens the window and hears the music. The music evokes a strong emotional reaction from Dora. In addition, this scene also illustrates the element of thought, another part of Aristotles elements of a tragic drama. As Dora opens the window and the camera zooms in to capture her face, she expresses her thoughts of sorrow, longing, and hope. Her thoughts were easy to see through her expression. The tears and grim expression, combined with the music indicate her sense of longing.
This bittersweet film is made more significant by analyzing several elements of Greek Classicism, which offers the viewer a way to understand the message and aesthetics of the film. By looking at humanism, idealism, and Aristotles theory of the unities, the viewer is able to understand the life can truly be beautiful.
Contributors, W. (2010, June 3). Idealism. Wikipedia. Retrieved July 3, 2010, from en.wikipedia.org/w/index.phptitle=Idealism&oldid=348021693
Fiero, G. K. (2006). Landmarks in humanities. New York: McGraw-Hill
McManus, B. (n.d.). Outline of Aristotles Theory of Tragedy. New York College . Retrieved March 7, 2010, from http://www2.cnr.edu/home/bmcmanus/poetics.html
Miller, D. (2006, September 19). Units. The Renaissance Unit. Retrieved March 7, 2010, from www.ccds.charlotte.nc.us/dmiller/Units/Renaissance/Unit%20Overview.doc