Greta Christina

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Life Is Beautiful

Life Is Beautiful
reviewed by Greta Christina

I know, I know. Another goddamned opinion about this movie that every critic on the planet has been opinionating about for months. But I really need to chime in on this one. I found this movie intensely upsetting and deeply troubling, and while I usually like intensely upsetting and deeply troubling movies, this one was upsetting and troubling in a way that I didn't like one bit. Here's the thing. In order to accept the premise, in order to believe even for a second that a father could possibly deceive his young son into believing that life in a Nazi concentration camp was actually an elaborate game staged for the son's entertainment, you have to believe that life in a concentration camp really wasn't all that bad. You have to believe that the son wouldn't have seen horrors on a daily basis that would make any of us cower and blanche just to think about. You have to believe that he wouldn't have seen people being beaten and tortured and shot and starved to death in front of his face; that he wouldn't have been hungry and cold and sick and riddled with lice and terrified out of his mind. You have to believe that, after months or weeks or even days of this, he would give a rat's ass about winning this stupid game, that he wouldn't have wanted more than anything in the world to get the hell out of there and go home and see his mother and uncle again. And in order to believe all this, you have to believe that... well, that the camps really weren't all that bad. Unpleasant to be sure, but something less than the physical and geographical condensation of one of the vastest, purest, most deliberate evils in human history. And I find that premise intensely upsetting and deeply troubling. Besides, the idea that an appropriate response to deep and terrible evil is to deliberately construct an elaborate denial of its existence is one that gives me the chills.

Copyright 1999 Greta Christina. Originally published in San Francisco Frontiers.


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