ITALY: The Great Beauty (La grande belleza, 2013)

La Grande Gioventù: a critique on mortality

by Antonio Osso

Please read the crafter statement before watching the video essay.  Thank you.

Part One

When do we die? This is a simple question that doctors struggle to answer (NPR 2014.) Legally, dying is when a person’s brain function is “irreversibly” stopped, yet even under these circumstances a person’s body can physically survive for months more. Typically, death is associated with old age, especially in recent years with the COVID-19 pandemic and its targeting of older individuals. I believe this definition of death is narrowminded, vague, and diminishes the value of life while also leaving unanswered questions. This essay seeks to examine mortality with an emphasis on youthfulness rather than age. The film I chose to aid me in this is La Grande Bellezza by Paolo Sorrentino. It is about an aging man of great social stature, the metaphorical king of Rome’s night life, Jep Gambardella. The film comprises of mostly aged socialites whose lives are nearing their biological end, which Gambardella acknowledges and uses in his steady growth throughout the film. As his friends leave him, whether through falling out, passing away, or migrating, he slowly realizes that despite being 65 years old, his life is far from over. At this point, you are recommended to watch the first part of the video essay.

Part Two

In the clip you just watched, Jep Gambardella is attending the funeral of his late friend Andrea. Overlayed is the audio from a different scene, a set of strict rules Gambardella explains to his lover that should be followed throughout the funeral. In essence, you must be stoic yet caring in a way everyone can positively remark on. And yet, by the end of it, Gambardella is heaving with tears, a clear violation of his own rules. Does this make Gambardella a hypocrite? No, it simply makes him human. The idea that human emotion should be completely controlled by a certain age is perhaps one of the greatest dangers to our mortality. Part two of the video essay seeks to provide Gambardella some remedy with his conflict; the natural need to enjoy the life ahead of him.. At this point, it is recommended you watch the second part of the video essay.

Part Three

At last, the key to Gambardella’s ailments should be shown in the clip you just watched. In the conversation between him and Dadina, a close friend and editor-in-chief at Gambardella’s job, she highlights the need to embrace the child in him, “Little Jep.” With that said, I will add some necessary clarification to my view of death. The biological part doesn’t involve our physical processes, but rather our view of our own age. A curious thing I noticed throughout the film is how little Gambardella laughs. We mostly see him ecstatic in the extravagant party scenes, which will be further discussed later. However, it isn’t as much of a laugh as it is a permanent grin, which may or may not be different. Regardless, the most genuine laugh I’ve heard from him is while discussing how his aforementioned lover, Ramona, comedically lost her virginity. It’s not the type of conversation you’d expect from two aged individuals, however they’re both going back to their younger selves and finding genuine joy out of it. In furtherance of my perspective of age, I included a clip of Carmelina, a young artist. Her parents are stripping her childhood to please art curators and gain riches. It is a tragic scene that drags Carmelina closer to a metaphorical death than she deserves. At this point, it is recommended you view the final part of the video essay.


Before delving into the content of the final part, I would like to draw attention to a subtle detail throughout the entire video essay. The song I chose for each part is the same, but it is slowed in the first part and gradually speeds back up towards the last part. I did this as a representation of age and clarity. Note how Gambardella’s personality becomes more energetic and cheerful throughout the video. This part begins with him at his 65th birthday party, which is one of the first scenes in the film. As you might be able to tell, Gambardella is a charismatic man as a man of such popularity. With that said, this man of many words has only been truly speechless twice in the film. First when a child says he, one of the most powerful men in Rome, is a “nobody.” There lies the question of how society, particularly young people, view age. At a certain point, a generational disconnect establishes itself between the young and old, which is only exacerbated by the idea that old age equals death. The second time he was speechless was when he was reminiscing about the time he lost his virginity at 18 years old. His younger self had considerably less power, wealth, and experience, yet is it possible that he was happier? If so, perhaps Gambardella was speechless because he was overwhelmed with the emotional memories of that time. Both times he is baffled by young people, and despite his 65 years of experience, is left without an answer. It is a silly concept, but these silly concepts are exactly what motivated Gambardella to write his second novel, which was a major milestone for him. This is confirmed by the interviewee, who is Paolo Sorrentino himself. By accepting the fact that he’s still young and should appreciate the “silly and useless things” in life, Jep Gambardella has found a new spark of motivation. Death is when we accept that our lives are over and embrace the idea of letting the future pass by instead of through. Physical age does not serve as an apt marker of death, but rather a way to signify how much time one has left to enjoy their own life.

Works Cited

Singh, Maanvi. “Why Hospitals and Families Still Struggle to Define Death.” NPR, NPR, 10 Jan. 2014.