In The Great Beauty we follow Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) who's a sagacious, genial and perceptive intellectual who once upon a time wrote a highly acclaimed novel, and has since devoted his life to becoming the king of his own affluent and elite social society. Jep wants to be the epicenter of it all, as he regularly hosts extravagant parties from his lavish apartment, all while writing an occasional and perfunctory column for a literary magazine. This has been Jep's life for the last forty years, as inspiration for his next book continually eludes him, although the sincerity of his search has been halfhearted at best as Jep is lost in the whirlwind of Rome. Jep laments that Rome is a great place to spin your wheels and yet go absolutely nowhere, just as he has done. Jep is aware of the rut he's in too, but he seems to be unwilling to change his situation.
Soon after Jep's 65th birthday, he reaches a point in his life where he starts looking back on his life with a mounting sense of profound regret. Jep visits old friends, looks up an old girlfriend, rediscovers long forgotten places and meets new people along the way, people who cause him to reevaluate his own life. It's the classic dichotomy of living a life of materialism, unrestrained hedonism and ostentatious decadence, while neglecting his emotional and spiritual side of yourself. It's a lifestyle that has left him with a perpetually increasing sense of meaninglessness and emptiness in the world.
Jep has spent a lifetime trying to find the 'the great beauty' in the superficialities of life, the glamorous side only to come to the realization that there is no 'great beauty' or not the sort that he was looking for anyway. The great beauty lies in the little moments that we remember fondly, as Jep recounts, "The haggard, inconstant flashes of beauty. And then the wretched squalor and miserable humanity. All buried under the cover of the embarrassment of being in the world." there is no 'big beauty', only beautiful moments that are quickly lost in the "wretched squalor and miserable humanity". Spoken like a true misanthrope as Jep openly admits to being. The direction of The Great Beauty, the production values, the acting, the soundtrack, the cinematography, it's all gorgeous and fantastically put together. The Great Beauty is a well realized idea of contemplation and reflection in our modern and excessively acquisitive age, but it didn't resonate with me as much as I was hoping it would.
The Great Beauty is a lofty two and a half hour long movie, yet every character and every moment is fleeting, but perhaps that's the point. People leave your life as quickly as they enter it, but I wanted to know more about the people and the situations that Jep often found himself around and observing. What was that cosmetic doctor about? What happened to the mentally unbalanced man? What happened to the stripper? I liked that connection between them, and we're given nothing more than a throw away line for her when I felt invested in their relationship.
However I have to admit, as frustrated as The Great Beauty often made me feel, I was never bored by it, although the last twenty minutes did take a turn towards the surreal and I wasn't sure what to make of it, but there was no big emotional payoff for me. It's tough to articulate a movie like The Great Beauty that's so deliberately esoteric. The Great Beauty opened with a quote from Journey to the End of the Night, “To travel is very useful, it makes the imagination work, the rest is just delusion and pain. Our journey is entirely imaginary, which is its strength.” That makes me think that the delusion and pain was Jep and his decadent parties, while once he began his inner journey, he found a kind of spiritual nourishment that he had been missing all those years, or maybe I'm way off...
Written by - The Sentry - 18/07/2015