For: pervasive lying, sensuality, fornication/adultery and sexual references, warped philosophy, and moral confusion
Life Is Beautiful or La Vita È Bella doesn’t simply follow the adventures of a quirky Italian fornicator, thief and chronic liar. It revels in them, waltzes them through a skin-deep romance, irresponsible parenting and a conveniently lax concentration camp, applauds them as sacrificial, and asks him never, never to change, because originality is more important than morality, comedy is more powerful than truth, and life, according to La Vita È Bella, is more beautiful this way.
NOTE: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS DESCRIPTIONS OF AND QUOTES FROM Life Is Beautiful WHICH ARE NOT RECOMMENDED FOR READING BY PERSONS UNDER THE AGE OF FIFTEEN
Guido constantly lies, about both important and unimportant things. This is variously portrayed as comical, attractive or even virtuous, but in every case it is portrayed positively.
In the romantic-comedy first half of the movie, Guido’s lying is a large part of what the audience is supposed to find romantic and comedic.
In the second half of the movie, during the Holocaust, Guido’s only way of dealing with the effects of evil and hardship on his young son is through persistent recourse to deceit, using his habit of lying as a path to escapism.1 In the end, Guido has been gunned down, and his son is still ignorant that anything was wrong, and still happily convinced of Guido’s lie that he gets to take a real tank home with him.
Guido also tells a string of completely unnecessary lies to convince his son that racism is not a problem, and that it is not only not a big deal, but perfectly acceptable to discriminate against people of other ethnicities.
Sensuality, Fornication/Adultery and Sexual References
At her engagement party, a woman slips under a table to make out with another man and asks him to take her away (for sex, it is implied). The man then takes her to his home, and then follows her seductive lead into the greenhouse, where it is obviously implied that they have sex. Biblically, her engagement makes this affair with another man adultery, rather than mere fornication.2 Their extramarital sexual relationship is portrayed very positively.
The woman had also tried to tell her fiance that it took very little to make her happy, and indicated that extramarital sex with him was on that list.
A strange woman falls out of a hay loft, and Guido ends up on top of her in a horizontal position. She says that she was stung by a wasp, and he seizes the opportunity to suck “the poison” from her thigh, telling her, “Lie down. It’ll take a while.” He then insinuatingly asks, “Did you get stung anywhere else?” The woman finds Guido’s behavior attractive. This episode is also suggestively referenced by a friend of hers.
Guido’s respect for the woman, Dora, is confined (exclusively, in the first half of the movie, and almost exclusively in the second half) to her potential as a sexual object.
Guido makes comments about wanting to make love to the woman “not just once, but over and over again!” and starting now, right there on the sidewalk.
Guido is introduced by a friend to the idea that, “with willpower, you can do anything,” attributed to (atheist, pessimist philosopher) Schopenhauer. Guido’s friend describes it as “a matter of thought. It’s serious, and it takes time… It’s deep, you have to think it.” Guido treats this, throughout the movie, as an almost occult power, waving his fingers and chanting his desires. This is usually but not always played as comical, and it is portrayed as working in every situation. It is to this that Guido turns when he requires intervention from a higher power, and that he attributes the successful outcome.
Guido’s uncle also makes a number of philosophical claims that sound profound, but actually display a warped and foolish concept of reality. For example, “Nothing is more necessary than the unnecessary,”3 and “Silence is the most powerful cry.”4
Guido steals private property on multiple occasions, and is positively-portrayed for it. He also impersonates a government official and uses the opportunity to give an off-color speech to schoolchildren, during which he strips to his underclothes.
A friend’s comment to the fiance about not having to come to the brothel anymore, is intended to be taken either as a tasteless but inaccurate joke, or as a tasteless but accurate statement. In either case, Dora’s positively-portrayed sexual unfaithfulness to him as her fiance is worse than his sexual unfaithfulness to her as a mere romantic interest.
Guido eavesdrops on a woman’s conversation and uses the information he gains to trick her into thinking that he is her escort and getting into his car with him. This is merely a short-term form of abduction through fraud. It is supposed to be charming.
Guido prays, actually joking but with a foundation in serious belief, to the Virgin Mary on multiple occasions, and Dora joins in.
Immaturity, selfishness, disregard for other people’s property, and disrespect toward one’s parents, are positively-portrayed, in both adults and children.
1 Note that Guido’s lies to his son are black-and-white: absolute denials of the truth, or absolute statements of untruth. He was not merely using appearances to his advantage. Also note that no form of truth has any place in Guido’s fix for the problem of evil and hardship.
2 Deuteronomy 22:22-30
3 This statement claims that anything that is unnecessary is superior to anything that is necessary (for example, oxygen would be less necessary than chewing gum). It also violates the law of noncontradiction.
4 Silence may, in some contexts, be more powerful than a cry, but it is not a cry. An equivalent statement, in the movie’s context of responding to violence, would be that inaction is the most powerful form of escape. This is also intended as an ethical statement, defending a decision not to call for help when assaulted.