Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Life is Beautiful
In 1997 a film came out of Italy called Life is Beautiful. It starred, and was directed by, Roberto Benigni, and, you might recall, won a couple academy awards.
Set in the Mussolini days, the film begins as a cornball love story reminiscent of a Charlie Chapman bit. Benigni himself plays Guido loud, tenacious, and bumbling…like the cartoon Goofy brought to live-action. Some of the early romance scenes are so cheesy that I have friends who couldn’t stomach it, and walked out. It IS rather unfortunate, but serves to introduce the characters: Guido, his love and fight for Dora, their son Giosue. However, when the Nazis take the father and his four year old boy to a concentration camp, the film turns brilliant. Guido embarks on a single-minded mission to ensure that his wife and his son make it out of the camp alive. To keep his son’s spirit up, right from the very beginning, the dad tells him that it (the camp and the work and the uniforms) is all a very competitive game, and that first prize is a real army tank they will drive home. He weaves an elaborately constructed rule system together, and Giosue is hooked.
The boy faces the days with excitement, he faces the challenges with anticipation, and he views his dad as heroic, all because of the focus of winning the game, and riding in a tank.
As you might imagine, the tragedy becomes harder and harder to mask, and as the war comes to a close, the Nazi’s try to cover their tracks by destroying everything and everyone. The father plays his last card, he convinces his boy to hide, and helps Dora escape…but he is caught in the process. He is marched across a courtyard, where he catches his son’s eye. Knowing this is the last chance to provide hope for the boy he loves, he smiles real big at his son, winks, and then marches, Goofy-style, out of the courtyard and to his death.
Giosue never doubts it’s a game. He remains hidden until everyone else is gone. He slowly emerges, wondering where to go next, when an Allied tank comes rolling into the courtyard. The boy is ecstatic. He gets his ride. Together, he and his father were victorious.
I watched the film again last Sunday afternoon. To say that it calls to the very best of being a man, a husband, and a father…that’s not an understatement. I found myself yearning to be that kind of single-minded man. Getting messages to his wife despite the danger to himself. Going to extreme measures to protect his son’s mind, and heart, from the brutality surrounding him. Sacrificing himself at the last, for the life of his family.
It’s a good movie.
As a pastor, I hear stories all the time of people who choose themselves. People leave their spouses. People abandon their kids. They have affairs and choose divorce, and embrace a life that puts SELF as the highest good. Convenience as god. MY choice. MY way. ME. I even see those temptations in my own heart.
But there is something higher and holier we are called to. Something grand and glorious. Something that is majestic in sacrifice. Jesus calls each of us to Himself…to the selfless love that he gives freely…to the selfless love that cost Him everything. And He calls us to give in that same selfless, sacrificial way. This is true heroism. This is laying down your life for your friends. This is husbands loving wives like Christ loved the Church.
And why does Jesus heroically, sacrificially, lovingly give Himself away?
Life is Beautiful.