Study Guide

Life Is Beautiful What's Up With the Title?

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What's Up With the Title?

This movie deals with war, anti-Semitic attacks, systematic extermination of Jews, and the incalculable suffering humans can force upon each other. So why is it titled Life Is Beautiful? Is Roberto Benigni one of those postmodernist filmmakers who enjoys being ironic for irony's sake?

Not at all.

But before we get into why that's the case, a little history lesson's in order. Don't worry, it's not a boring lesson dealing with legislation or the agricultural developments of Mesopotamia. In fact, it has an assassin in it. Cool.

Trotsky's Creed

Time warp to Mexico in the 1940s. Leon Trotsky has been living in exile here for three years. Trotsky, you may recall, helped start the Russian Revolution of 1917 and was appointed the leader of the Red Army by Vladimir Lenin.

Internal conflicts in the Soviet government put Trotsky at odds with Joseph Stalin, and seeing as Stalin was a total dictator, those were bad odds indeed. He fled Russian in 1937 when Stalin decided enough was enough and set out to assassinate him (both politically and actually).

Trotsky knew either Stalin's assassins or his failing health would get him sooner rather than later, so in February 1940 he wrote a final testament to be published posthumously. He concluded his testament with the lines: "Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression, and violence and enjoy it to the full" (source).

On August 20, 1940, Ramon Mercader, a Russian undercover agent, snuck into Trotsky's study and bludgeoned him with an ice ax. Trotsky died a day later. (By the by, Trotsky's life is crazy-super interesting, and you can read more about it here).

What's So Beautiful About It?

So what was the point of this history lesson? Well, Benigni has directly cited Trotsky's words as inspiration for his film's title (source). And the parallels are clear.

Like Trotsky, death hangs over Guido. He's a Jewish man in a concentration camp who's forced into slave labor and given next to nothing to eat. If Guido can't work, he'll be executed. If he tries to escape, he'll be killed. If he works as he's told, he'll die of malnutrition or exposure. He might even be killed for no reason, because Nazis.

Life seems pretty grim at this point, yes?

Not for Guido.

Guido agrees with Trotsky and maintains that life is beautiful. As we saw in the first half of the film, this guy has some serious joie de vivre (that's French for "love of life").

This philosophy is the impulse that drives him to woo Dora, and it carries into the concentration camp, when he combines love with comedy to create a philosophy of resistance. Although he suffers, his suffering never destroys his humor or desire to live.

Echoing Trotsky's final testament, Guido believes that future generations will do better. He wants to keep Joshua safe and his innocence intact through the invention of the game. In fact, Joshua's make-believe game can be seen as an actual win against Fascism and hate by the movie's end—but that's a discussion for the "What's Up with the Ending?" section.

So, what's up with the title is that it is the ultimate message of the movie. Despite it all, life is beautiful.

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