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Roberto Benigni, Life Is Beautiful

Movies that have been signposts that indicate how our culture has changed

Which movies have been signposts that indicate how our culture has changed? — Barack
That’s a vital question to ask in the year of Brokeback Mountain. Most movies, even a weeper as revolutionary as Brokeback, don’t so much change the world as crystallize changes that were already in play. Every so often, though, a film mirrors back to its audience an image so bold and mythic and zeitgeisty that representation, in effect, becomes reality. I’d say that happened in East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause, which elevated teenage turmoil into the self-dramatizing passion that would underlie the 1960s; in Midnight Cowboy, the first Hollywood movie to say that grunge, more than glamour, had become the spiritual condition of our lives; in Star Wars, which helped set the stage for the modern American political climate by redividing the cosmos into good and evil; and in Life Is Beautiful, which in its day-the-clown-cried way buried the 20th century, recalling its horrors only to say, ”It was all just a dream.”

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