La Dolce Vita


Don’t think that safety is being locked up in one’s home. Don’t do what I did. I’m too serious to be an amateur, but not enough to be a professional. A more miserable life is better, believe me, than an existence protected by an organized society where everything is calculated, everything is perfect.

Steiner (Alain Cuny)

La Dolce Vita is a movie that follows Marcello, a gossip rag writer who lives a fast-paced life off Via Venito in Rome. He has a pretty girlfriend, interesting friends, access to beautiful women, a decent job, and a dream of being a respected writer. “Now that’s the lifestyle I wouldn’t mind living,” I thought, halfway through the movie.

But things weren’t so great beneath the surface. His relationship with his smothering girlfriend was draining him, most of his friends were vapid parasites, the beautiful women had nothing to offer him but their beauty, and his job was wholly unfulfilling. And when his most respected friend—the only person who was in the position to help him—committed suicide, Marcello simply gave up and became the type of upper-class garbage that he wrote about, defeated by bitterness and cynicism.

This movie does not tie things up for you in a neat little package. It does not tell you what the sweet life is, what is right or wrong, and who is good or bad, but it does make you think about your own life. Am I living the life that I want? Is chasing my dream going to be worth it? Does it even matter if I reach success, whatever that is? Like life, the movie does not provide you with clear answers.

What did it mean when Steiner, the most successful character in the movie, kills himself and his children? Then I read that quote up top again. While the movie had many themes, I think the main one is entrapment. The main characters are trapped in some way by their desires or their lot, unable or unwilling to get out. So the sweet life is about being free? That’s part of it, but sweetness for me will not be sweetness for you. It’s the freedom to go for long-term meaning instead of short-term thrills, of not letting yourself to be held back, and of avoiding comfort. It’s the opposite of how most of us are living now, and this movie was made nearly fifty years ago. I suppose that makes sense because the human condition does not change.

Marcello thought being a respected writer would make his life better, but it’s really the attempt, trying to be something, that would have made the difference in his life. He was looking at the end result, comparing himself to other people, when he missed out on the journey to becoming one, the most important sort of travel that a human can make.


  1. Ned April 18, 2007 at 10:18 am

    One of my favorite movies. I thought the end scene was a good representation of his inability to leave the lifestyle.

  2. The Dude April 18, 2007 at 10:19 am

    Holy shit– this is one of my favorite movies.

    Probably one of the best movies I have ever seen and the commentary on the modern life is extradordinary. I love your take on it– especially given your “sabatical” and world view.

    Also probably one of the most stylish movies ever made as well.

  3. mike says April 18, 2007 at 10:21 am

    guess I’ll bump this one up in the old netflix queue

  4. mm April 18, 2007 at 10:30 am

    “It’s the freedom to go for long-term meaning instead of short-term thrills, of not letting yourself to be held back, and of avoiding comfort.”

    Well said, man. We tend to equate comfort with boredom, moving through life like a shark. We have to learn how to stay put for a bit, form attachments and achieve personal goals. If we continue to bounce from one adventure to another, we will never ever gain wisdom.

    I got to check this movie out.

  5. inowpronounceyou April 18, 2007 at 10:43 am

    This is a CLASSIC. I saw this a few years ago and someone said “they should re-make this!”. Ummm…no. It’s perfect the way it is.

  6. Some Catchy Chic April 18, 2007 at 1:33 pm

    Never seen it. Maybe now I will…

  7. Phil April 18, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    Lots of similar themes in Kenny Roger’s “Six Pack”.

  8. Roissy April 18, 2007 at 2:07 pm

    i’ll check it out.

    couple thoughts. for some people, sweetness is the freedom to go for short term thrills. so many guys map out their lives and follow the plan diligently, never veering off to run on instinct and do something unpredictable. had marcello dedicated his life to toiling away for years in pursuit of respectable writing, he might’ve looked back as an old man and asked himself if life would’ve been more exciting as a gossip writer bouncing from one celebrity party to the next.
    “doesn’t make sense not to live for fun.”

    also, people rarely exercise their freedom to avoid comfort. usually they are pushed out of it. hence why so many must hit rock bottom before making changes.

  9. boc April 18, 2007 at 2:20 pm

    Quality thoughts, as usual.

  10. mike says April 18, 2007 at 2:31 pm

    Good point, Roissy. No matter what you do in life, you’re more likely than not going to end up wondering what things would have been like had you taken the other path. Not REGRETTING, necessarily, but wondering. The latter is natural, the former is what you’ve got to guard againt.

  11. dpdawson April 18, 2007 at 2:55 pm

    7th best movie of all time.

  12. The Dude April 18, 2007 at 3:17 pm

    Mike and Roissy–

    Good points, but you gotta see this movie. Ultimately these things can’t be summed up into neat packages and that is what is so great about this movie– sort of shows the futility of life in general.

  13. Garrett says April 18, 2007 at 4:19 pm

    Great post. As I approach 30 I tend to think my life has been all about what I want – the destination. Many mentors and friends wiser to me have lead me to appreciate its not the end goal but the journey, the challenges, the experiences we all must overcome that matters the most in life.

    Keep up the thought provoking posts.

  14. phi April 18, 2007 at 5:42 pm

    I find it hard to focus on the journey even though I know that’s what counts. The destination is hardwired for some reason. Its only once I get to the destination do I reflect on what’s transpired and then I’m like…oh.

    @Phil: HA! Man, I used to love that movie as a kid.

  15. itscool April 18, 2007 at 9:01 pm

    Very profound, indeed. But what I can’ believe that this is the same guy who dissed people wearing same clothes a week ago. Man, are you bipolar or something?

  16. shmooth April 18, 2007 at 11:22 pm

    good post.

  17. Yeders April 19, 2007 at 1:26 am

    I haven’t seen the movie, but i might get it out now. but from everything you’ve written, seems pretty spot on about how the typical life is lived.

    i like your points Mike and Garrett.


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  19. madmax September 22, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    maybe the film just represents the idea that life is an ‘illusion’

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