Life is Beautiful
Director, Roberto Benigni
1997; running time: 116 minutes
Life is Beautiful, written, directed and starring Roberto Benigni (who won the Best Actor Oscar for this role), captures the power of love, family and imagination to conquer all.
Influenced by Charlie Chaplin’s slapstick acrobatics and subtleties, Benigni mirrors the style through an emphasis on the simplicity and absurdity of daily routines. Benigni exerts satirical humor to make Guido personable, realistic and relatable.
Some critics were concerned about what they felt was an overtly comedic tone for the subject—the Holocaust—and accused Benigni of presenting the Shoah without much suffering. Others praised his artistic daring and skill in creating a sensitive comedy around the dark events, similar to Charlie Chaplin’s challenge in The Great Dictator. This reviewer feels that Benigni’s comic elements set against the backdrop of the Holocaust made the film more poignant, and that his satirical touch enabled the audience to empathize with Guido.
Amidst the tragedy and turmoil of the Shoah, the heart of the message lies with the lengths to which a father will go to preserve his son’s innocence. Caught in a world filled with evil, Guido does not want his son, Joshua, to know about that evil. So he turns that hard truth into a simple game. The story transcends the horrors; instead we see them through the eyes of an innocent child.
Some might ask if it is wrong, ignorant or irresponsible to lie to your child. Guido wants his son to maintain his innocence and joy of life, and he wants to show him that life is still truly beautiful. With a wink and a playful gait, Guido preserves Joshua’s youthful hope to the very end, even as his own doom approaches. He sets aside his own need—and life—and humbles himself to ensure the safety and optimism of his son.
Although this is not a religious movie, this reviewer was struck by the biblical parallel demonstrated by Guido’s love—even to the point of death. The narrative of sacrifice in the Hebrew Scriptures comes to mind. And just as a lamb had to be sacrificed as an atonement for sin in the Hebrew Scriptures, so too, according to the New Testament, did Yeshua (Jesus) die on a cross for our sins. Benigni captures the true love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4–8).
In Life is Beautiful, Guido fantasizes, for his son’s sake, that the Holocaust is not happening. That’s commendable. It’s not commendable that some people deny that the Holocaust happened. And it’s ironic that Jesus’ death and resurrection were very real, yet many have also tried to deny that it really happened.
Charlie Chaplin learned about the reality of Yeshua’s death and this kind of love when his mother was reading to him one day from the New Testament. She came upon the passage where Jesus, while on the cross, cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” As she read these words, she wept. This emotional incident was a great opportunity for a mother to show her son that Jesus, too, was human and suffered, and that “greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).