The plot is hopelessly simple. Antonio needs a bicycle. His endearing wife pawns their sheets so Antonio can get his bicycle. Now, Antonio can work hanging posters.
Until his bicycle is stolen.
Full of pathos yet unsentimental, Bicycle Thieves tells the story of Antonio and his son, Bruno, searching the streets of Rome for his bicycle. Set during postwar Italy, the production of this neo-realist classic embodies certain values: non-professional actors, simple street-level shots possible on a low budget. Yet, while Director Vittorio De Sica may have been aiming at a critique of capitalism, he stumbled upon a story that is achingly beautiful.
A reaction against the glamorization of Hollywood, Bicycle Thieves is almost too human. Antonio and Bruno search for the thief in a church and a brothel, and both the holy and the unholy places bring frustration. The church is powerless as the poor come and worship simply to get a shave and a meal; the brothel and surrounding neighborhood depict a worn-down population intent only on keeping the outsiders where they belong—out.
As the film critiques individualist society, we face our own roles in the 21st century. Even if the police, the pious, and the poor all have no regard for the man who lost his bicycle, do we?
In such a system, we’re left with startling questions of what moral action is. A moral life, according to Aristotle, is a well-lived life: but what if that is not an option? With parallels into the 21st century and the continual dehumanization of those on the margins, Bicycle Thieves continues to resonate—and haunt. We’re left wondering what connects us in modern society, and face the final image of the film as best we can: a father holding his boy’s hand, walking in a crowd, unknown.