In the 1997 film Life is Beautiful, we are introduced to Jewish father Guido Orefice and his son Giosue. They have been separated from Dora, Guido’s wife and Giosue’s mother, in a concentration camp during the Second World War, and the movie tells the story of how Guido helps Giosue cope with the tragedy, pain, and loss of Nazi persecution.
They play a game.
Unwilling to give up on his son’s innocence or to turn his back on laughter, Guido convinces his boy that the entire camp is a live-action role-playing game. The guards are the opposition, the prisoners are the heroes, and the grand prize for winning is a tank.
Guido dies during the internment, but Giosue survives and is reunited with his mother. She sees him, at the end of the film, riding in the middle of a parade of American soldiers.
On a tank.
Here is a redemptive work of art that layers (military) victory on top of (family) victory on top of (paternal) victory on top of (ideological) victory on top of (circumstantial) victory.
The Allies win and the Axis loses.
The mother is reunited with her son.
The father protects his boy.
Laughter and hope persist in the face of cruelty and war.
The future is born out of past ashes, and what once was fantasy has now become the present reality.
If you were to have asked someone at the beginning of World War Two what victory would look like, most would have responded with something about their side winning. A few would have spoken about peace. A few more, likely, would have spoken about preserving their souls, or their goodness, in the midst of the ugliness of bloodshed.
But no one would have guessed at a game for a boy with a tank for a prize.
And this is my point: there are an inexhaustible number of ways to win. Victory is defined by who you are in the midst of the struggle and what you choose to create with what you have in front of you.
Don’t quit. But don’t just try to survive either. Don’t forget about the things that make victory worth having: laughter, family, hope, ideals. Because keeping those is victory all on its own.