Prejudice seems way too mild a term for what Nazi Germany did to Jews like Guido and other people it deemed "undesirables." Murderous, soulless hatred is more like it, but the beginning of it all was anti-Semitic prejudice.
The film doesn't make it immediately clear that prejudice will infect Guido's life. In fact, the first half of the film is a typical rom-com: boy meets cute girl, boy expresses love for cute girl in increasingly romantic (or potentially creepy) ways, girl falls in love with boy. Acts of prejudice foreshadowing the Holocaust are few and far between.
By the movie's second half, the racism of 1940s Italy is on full display. Here, Life Is Beautiful shows how those random acts of anti-Semitism gradually evolved to foster a policy that dehumanized some of its citizens.
Once Italian society saw the Jews as something less than human, it became easier to round them up like chattel, put them to work in the concentration camps, and kill them when they were too weak to be useful anymore.
Guido has no political or social power against such prejudice—it's state-sanctioned, after all. Even seemingly decent people like Oreste buy into the party line. Guido can only fight it with his wit and his love. How well those weapons truly work will depend on how you read the film in relation to history.
Questions About Prejudice
- Uncle Eliseo says, "Silence is the most powerful cry." What does he mean? Do you think he's right?
- Are there any acts of prejudice in the film against non-Jewish individuals? If so, who? If not, why not? Either way, how does this help you understand this theme in the film?
- Why do you think Dora's allowed to go to the concentration camp? How does this elaborate on the story's exploration of prejudice?
Chew on This
In order to whip up ethnic hatred against Jews, the fascist government in the film had to encourage the idea of Italian racial superiority.
Guido jokingly says he won't allow Visigoths into his store anymore. This is a playful jab at deep-seated nature of racial conflicts, since the Visigoths were a tribe that invaded the Roman Empire (read: Italy) between the 3rd and 5th centuries C.E. Jeez, Guido can sure hold a grudge.