The narrative paradigm of Life is Beautiful

Throughout time society has created ways to cope with everyday situations, one of the most common ways to cope is through entertainment. After a stressful day at work, the manager comes home, takes off his tie and turns on the TV to his favorite sitcom. The housewife may sit down while the kids take a nap and read a good book. Teenagers may go watch the latest movie at the theater. Walter Fisher proposed a theory to analyze the content of a narrative called the narrative paradigm. “The basic premise of Fisher’s theory is that human beings are storytellers and to communicate with one another, we construct narratives that “ring true” and possess “good reasons.” (Hinkson)

In the popular movie, “Life is Beautiful” directed by Roberto Benigni, an example of narrative rationality is shown. Guido, a Jewish father in 1939, protects his five-year-old son from the horrors of a Nazi death camp by creating a fantasy that the entire experience is an elaborate game to win a tank. Guido makes several fantasies to help his son frame his understanding of this reality. He creates a system of points, hides his son from the soldiers, and even plays games with his son trying to make him enjoy his time. The five-year-old Giosue finds meaning in his life with this game and is able to bear the boredom and rigors of a Nazi concentration camp to come out practically unscathed; mentally, physically and emotionally. (Internet Movie Database)

This movie, ten years later, still has great appeal to the general public. It is included on many people’s lists of favorite movies and many people have heard of the title. This film truly seeks
“story elements that “ring true” with what these audiences know and believe. This element of communication is what Fisher terms “narrative fidelity” – fidelity being a quality in a story that causes the words to strike a responsive chord, to “ring true,” with the listeners’ experience.” (Hinkson)

“Life is beautiful” rings true in the mind of the receiver in many dimensions. One dimension that Fisher explains is that it must “ring true” with other items we know about the story. The audience of this film has seen many other stories about World War II and the atrocities of the concentration camps. Thus there is the comparison that allows this film to portray yet another side of the same story.

Another dimension of the film that explains its appeal to the masses is that it fits in with their personal experiences. The story of a father and a mother and their son is something that the majority of people have experienced. Guido fills the father’s role of protector and thus fits in with a large majority of other’s personal experiences with their fathers being the protectors as well. When a film truly taps into the social reality of an audience, the narrative constructed is no longer a story told to them, but for them. Every choice the director made – the quotes, frames, anecdotes, and language selected – had to pass the test of fidelity if the narrative was to be accepted by the general public. (Hinkson)

The “good reasons” to buy into this narrative are many. Not only does this film fit in with our personal experiences, but also with consistent values of family and perseverance. The family goes to all extremes to remain together, an element that many would like to have in their own families, even if the actual family is not so. The father’s perseverance in maintaining his child’s innocence is admirable, thus touching another personal value.

An examination of this film with Fisher’s element of narrative probability finds it with all of the elements of a story. There are many different angles, the characters all act as we would expect them to act, the story explains and accounts for all of the details we already know about the history of World War II. (Baldwin) Thus the film is internally consistent, one reason for its great appeal to the general public. Being internally consistent, ringing true with the audience and employing good reasons to believe this narrative make the film “Life is Beautiful” have timeless appeal.

Reference

Baldwin, John R. Perry Stephen D. Moffitt, Mary Anne. “Communication Theories for Everyday Life.” Illinois State University. 2004.
Hinkson, Steve. “Speechwriting as Motorcycle Maintenance: John Kerry, Vietnam, and Narrative Fidelity.” 2005.
Internet Movie Database. “Life is Beautiful” <
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118799/combined> 1999.

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