“Turn your wounds into wisdom” – Oprah Winfrey.
Life is Beautiful (La Vita è Bella),a film of test of resiliency in a light humorous way but dark at the same time in the settings of WWII in the Nazi concentration camp. The main character Guido Orefice is a fun, humorous and sharp Jewish guy who makes the best of every situation he encountered with. The beginning of the film showed the easy and comical life of Guido from his old life in a small town to live with his uncle in the big city. Alongside, Guido met a beautiful woman named Dora and soon after they fell in love, got married and have a child named Giosuè (Joshua).
All were fun, free and fair till the political change when the fascist wave and anti-Semitism became prominent. Guido and his family were then sent to the Nazis’ concentration camps. Hardship came upon them. This film presents the concept of positive psychology being practiced mainly by Guido. There are four elements that represent positive psychology in film (Niemiec, 2007) – they are a) a balanced portrayal of a character displaying at least 1 of the 24 strengths(categorized by Peterson & Seligman, 2004), (b) depiction of obstacles and/or the struggle the character faces in reaching or maximizing the “strength” (can be metaphor), (c) a character portrayal that illustrates how to overcome obstacles and/or build and maintain the strength, and (d) inspiring or uplifting tone or mood. Further elaboration on each elements based on Guido’s character will be explained.
a) A balanced portrayal of a character displaying at least 1 of the 24 strengths.
From the list of strengths by Peterson and Seligman, Guido has showed strengths combination of wisdom, creativity, humour and perseverance.
“Turn your wounds into wisdom” (stated above at introduction). Guido portrayed wisdom and creativity in the hardships and struggles (wounds) of him being in the concentration camp along with his son. He perceived the bad situation with a positive and novel perspective to himself and to his son. As he did wants to protect his son from the horrors of the Nazis’ and the dreadfulness of the concentrations camps. For example, then conversation between Guido and his son when they were deported to the concentration camp by train (dialogues below).
“Guido: You’ve never ridden on a train, have you? They’re fantastic! Everybody stands up, close together, and there are no seats!
Giosué: There aren’t any seats?
Guido: Seats? On a train? It’s obvious you’ve never ridden one before! No, everybody’s packed in, standing up. Look at this line to get on! Hey, we’ve got tickets, save room for us!”
Besides that, in the camp, Guido made up a game for his son to protect him from the harsh reality of the cruelty by the Nazis on their fellowmen. Guido showed perseverance and humour with the game of riddles for Giosuè to complete to earn 1000 points to win a military tank. His perseverance of finishing the game he started off even though he was to be executed. He told his son to stay in a sweatbox (image above) until everybody has left. That being the final competition before the tank is his. While he was led to his execution by a Nazi soldier, Guido passes by Giosuè one last time, remaining in character and playing the game despite he is going to die. In the end, he saved his son by sacrificing himself protecting Giosuè using his persistency in finishing the game with his son. The sadness of sacrificing oneself for a loved one is masked with humour (seeing the light side of a sorrow – Guido playing the game with Giosuè).
(b) Depiction of obstacles and/or the conflict the character faces in reaching or maximizing the strengths.
The anti-Semitism movement had taken over the whole of Italy and all Jews are “offenders” and are prison in the concentration camps. Guido and his family were not sparred from the cruelty of the Nazis’. Before they were sent to concentration camp, one scene depicted the conflict that Guido faced with his son (dialogue below).
“Giosué: “No Jews or Dogs Allowed.” Why do all the shops say, “No Jews Allowed”?
Guido: Oh, that. “Not Allowed” signs are the latest trend! The other day, I was in a shop with my Chinese friend and his pet kangaroo, but their sign said, “No Chinese or Kangaroos Allowed,” and I said to my friend, “Well, what can I do? They don’t allow kangaroos.”
Giosué: We let everyone in our shop, don’t we?
Guido: Well, tomorrow, we’ll put one up. We won’t let in anything we don’t like. What don’t you like?
Guido: Good I don’t like Visigoths. Tomorrow, we’ll get a sign: “No Spiders or Visigoths Allowed.”
It showed blatant racial discrimination by the Nazis but Guido shielded his son from the cruelty that was stumbling upon them with his wisdom, creativity, humour and perseverance (persistently protecting his son from the cruel reality).
(c) A character portrayal that illustrates how to overcome obstacles and/or build and maintain the strength.
Throughout the film, Guido maintained his four main strengths positively whenever overcoming the obstacles and/or conflicts encountered. He practiced the elements of positive psychology (using his strengths) by perceiving and taking action positively on the hardships and making a positive meaning out of it. For example, even when Joshua points out a sign in a window that says Jews are not allowed, Guido makes up a story to protect his son from such discrimination (example on (b)). Not only that, Guido started a game with Giosuè in the camp (example on (a)) as well to hide their true situation from his son. Guido used the game to explain features of the concentration camp that would be scary and traumatic for a young child.
(d) ) Inspiring or uplifting tone or mood.
The film is portrayed in an uplifting tone with Guido’s humour and creativity in making the obstacles bearable to pass by with a bit of laughter but with tears of sorrow as the truth behind his efforts is to hide his own fears and calm his young son from the cruelty. It is also an inspiring film as it depicts that one should see the brighter side of life in the cruellest hardship one can ever be in. The art of meaning making out of hardship through positive psychology.
Overall, the effort and love that emanated from Guido are the messages relayed by the movie – not that the game would save your life. The conditions in the camps and the cruelty were real. Victor Frankl’s work on finding meaning out of the worst of all situations comes into play. His book on Man’s Search for Meaning talks finding meaning through suffering which I find suitable for the reason why Guido acted and behaved so. The film is a masterpiece to be able to touch the hearts through smiling at Guido’s silliness but cringe with tears as the big sacrifice made by him for protecting his young child. This film is a good portrayal of comedy with tragedy. Finding meaning in one’s suffering does alter the perception of suffering itself that it is bearable and a whole lot more purposeful. Guido executed the positive psychology elements into his suffering and finding meaning out of it to protect his son. A unique take on the usual sombre and sorrowful harshness of the Nazi concentration camps. With that, I would recommend similar films with the similar theme of war tragedy and sacrifices with some positivity outlook of the hardships. They are as follow:-
The Blue Kite – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-m3flVp9Aw
Out of the Ashes – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uinn19aoP2Y
Niemiec, R. M. (2007). What is a positive psychology film? Retrieved from http://nebula.wsimg.com/cb81d4d6ba0734557e6f861f9adce8fc?AccessKeyId=3B2DE41DF5642C2C8A84&disposition=0