While at first The Way We Laughed seems slow and benign, as the movie explores the relationship between two brothers, a twisted, parasitic, psychological relationship unravels. Filmed dark and languid, we watch an uneducated older brother, Giovanni, leave his hometown of Sicily for Turin, where he finds purpose in taking care of his scholarly younger brother, Pietro. By any means, Giovanni makes money to pay for his brother's books, and is steeped with pride and anticipation of Pietro one day becoming a professor.
Pietro, on the other hand, could care less. He's a sociopath, cares for no one, pays no attention during school, lies, and eventually leaves his brother without a word. When Pietro leaves, Giovanni falls into depression, and eventually takes on the same lack of spirit that his brother demonstrates.
And such is the psychology of the film. The two brothers care about no one but each other, and it is not even certain whether they genuinely love each other, or are merely on the take. Every time they are together, one is hyperactively in love, while the other is dejected and uninterested. They reach moments of catharsis and then separate, only to rejoin and find the other brother filled with affection. This push and pull finally reaches a point where they are both seemingly without conscience.
This is exemplified when Giovanni sits in a bar, and a man he knows sits down and asks him if he knows of any work. He says his four children are hungry, and he will do anything. While Giovanni is seen as a friend and social worker to everyone, he previously would have tried to help the man; now, however, he tells him that instead of raising children, he should raise hogs, because then he would have something to eat.
The vacillating melodrama of the film can become tiring, and the seemingly deep psychology must be catalogued closely, and, in the end, reaches no definite conclusion. But overall, it is a compelling study of the displaced. The two men are free floating; therefore, their behavior has no consequences. They have no laws to abide by, no one to impress, no one to provide for except themselves--and, in moments of false (or real) emotion, each other.