My time in Italy was marked by my appreciation of beauty. Growing up in Australia, a society increasingly pockmarked with forced ugliness, I observed the push against beauty by the progressive Left. Whether it was in art, architecture, film, literature, fashion, or music, beauty could have no place in the postmodernist world. One example of this was a line of European trees on a street close to where I lived. The gave great shade in the heat of summer, while in the autumn their leaves turned a fiery orange that lent the street a sense of atmosphere. They were cut down en masse by the local council and replaced by stunted gum trees. The reason given was that they were not native and thus they were deemed unacceptable. But the real reason was because they were beautiful.
Released in 2013, The Great Beauty tells the story of Jep Gambardella, a famous writer and socialite in Rome who is past middle age and beginning to reflect on a life that has largely been unfulfilled. When a moment from his past returns unexpectedly, he begins a journey to unmask himself from his self-imposed cocoon and attempts to rediscover his gift for the written word.
Many people have interpreted the film as a damning examination of the moral degradation of modern Italy. This does not sit true for me. In fact, it is too easy to brush off the film with this lazy conclusion. For me the film is about one thing only:
The Great Beauty is a celebration of beauty in life. The cinematography is beautiful. The music is beautiful. The sets are beautiful. The script is beautiful. The fashions are stunning. This film puts male fashion front and center. Jep Gambardella has to be the best dressed male lead in the last 40 years of film-making. The way the characters interact with each other is beautiful, even when they are in violent disagreement.
And this sums up the Italian attitude to life. If it is not worth doing beautifully, then it is not worth doing at all. Other expats in Italy used to complain to me about the fact that they had to dress well even if they only wanted to pop out to do the shopping. They preferred the Australian manner of looking like you just rolled out of bed. They preferred laziness which is ugliness. It is a lack of pride in oneself and in one’s own culture.
The film is dark in many aspects but this is only natural. For how is it possible to appreciate beauty without ugliness? Thus the film finds beauty in the most seedy of circumstances. Even a shattered ocean liner is beautiful in this film. A failed beauty perhaps, but something that was beautiful once before it was ruined.
If you live in a modern Anglo-Saxon country then you will be short of beauty. Because beauty implies that there is ugliness. Beauty implies that someone is better than someone else. If I can play the guitar beautifully and you cannot then I am better than you. But this is not allowed in the progressive world of “equality” which is surely just another word for communism. Instead of inspiring people to lift themselves up and to strive for beauty, progressives do their utmost to bring everyone down to the lowest level possible. In this world our women become men and our men become women and all virtue is buried beneath a concrete layer of unassailable ugliness.
I have watched this film many times. The soundtrack is on constant rotation in my home. It is my antidote to the ugliness that surrounds me. On first viewing the film you may well be confused. But you cannot view this film like our modern progressive cinema with its bangs and flashes and undisguised attempts to batter your brain into submission.
Here is how you watch this film: Prepare your couch. Put on the film and arrange your devices so you will not be distracted. Sit and watch the film without interruption. Do not attempt to understand everything that is happening. From the very first scene, some things will not make sense to you. But beauty does not necessarily have to make sense. It just is. It is beautiful for its own sake. Get to the end of the film. Sit and watch the final journey along the River Tiber. Turn off the film and go about your day and ponder what you have just seen. Then, in the coming days or weeks, when you feel ready, watch it again in the same way. Now you will begin to understand more of it. And you will appreciate more.
Even the manner in which we watch a film can be beautiful.