The Mindful Bard – The Great Beauty

The Visual Feast at the Wedding of the Sacred and the Profane

Film: The Great Beauty

Director: Paolo Sorrentino

Writers: Paolo Sorrentino & Umberto Contrarello

“Rome is a place where, more than any other city, the sacred and the profane go together.”

-Paolo Sorentino in an interview with Larry Rother for The New York Times

Have you ever experienced that peculiar astonishment that follows profound loss, that sense of surprise at the fact that the people around you are carrying on as usual? If so, you may have asked yourself, ?How can they continue like this? don’t they know the world has ended??

What if you were to experience this astonishment in one of the most inspiring cities in the world, a city almost numinous with history, art, wealth, and religious devotion?

For Jep, a famous journalist and the darling of Rome’s high society, this kind of astonishment is the prevailing mood of his (superficially) charmed life. The exquisite splendor of his days and nights, coupled with a growing number of encounters with death, often leave him frozen with despair in the midst of the most fabulous spectacles.

Though much of the art and many of the people he encounters fill him with mild contempt, he experiences one instance after another of profound aesthetic gratification. These latter scenes comprise a visual feast whose surpassing beauty renders the film’s message all the more poignant.

The message? we’re all going to die in the end, and there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s a fact that somehow renders the beauty of life poignant and frustratingly empty at the same time, like a fading rose or a disappearing act.

Rome grapples with the fact of death with both arms?the sacred and the secular. The Roman Catholic Church embraces death through submission to a murdered master and a renunciation of pleasure (a renunciation seen as a bit of a put-on) and a pursuit of poverty, silence, and service. (There’s an excruciating scene in which a 104-year-old nun climbs a long marble stairway to visit a statue of the Crucifixion.) The secular world, on the other hand, responds to the fact of death either by pursuing artistic achievements on a heroic scale or by wallowing shamelessly in endless debauched amusements.

Jep has chosen the secular route (while revealing a covert attraction to the sacred road), but his life is a flight from the artistic achievements expected of him; his first and only novel was a highly lauded flash-in-the-pan that left his readers begging for more. People keep asking Jep why he hasn’t written another novel, and his replies are key to the meaning of the film. At first his excuse is that he’s too busy partying to get any serious writing done. But later he admits that his mind has been occupied with a search for ?the great beauty.?

The film owes much to Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, right down to the journalist protagonist with the wild social life and jaded cynicism, disappointed and disillusioned with Rome while remaining utterly smitten with her.

Why should an artist watch this film? For one thing, It’s incredibly inspiring, sparking the imagination to a degree That’s almost explosive. For another, it provides a kind of roadmap of the creative life? its delights, its pitfalls, and its underlying web of conflicts.

The Great Beauty manifests eight of the Mindful Bard’s criteria for films well worth seeing.

It’s authentic, original, and delightful.
It poses and admirably responds to questions that have a direct bearing on my view of existence
It provides respite from a sick and cruel world, a respite enabling me to renew myself for a return to mindful artistic endeavor.
It inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation.
It displays an engagement with and compassionate response to suffering
It gives me artistic tools.
It makes me want to be a better artist.
It makes me appreciate that life is a complex and rare phenomena, making living a unique opportunity.

Wanda also penned the poems for the artist book They Tell My Tale to Children Now to Help Them to be Good, a collection of meditations on fairy tales, illustrated by artist Susan Malmstrom.