Life is Beautiful Summary and Analysis
Guido is at the hotel restaurant, being quizzed by his Uncle Eliseo on his skills as a waiter. Guido describes how to prepare a chicken and then begins explaining, very poorly, how to prepare a lobster. "Lobster is a crustacean," he declares. "Off goes the crust--of the crustacean--and..." After watching him struggle for a moment, Eliseo tells him that you simply serve it as is. Guido then begins demonstrating the correct behavior and comportment of a waiter, down to the exact degree to which a waiter should bow. Eliseo stops him: "You serve people," he says, "but you are not a servant. Serving is a supreme art."
Guido and Ferruccio lie together in a grand old bed in the warehouse. Ferruccio is in the middle of a sentence when he falls into a remarkably deep sleep. Guido, astonished, awakes his friend, and Ferruccio tells Guido about Schopenhauer, who believes that you can do anything if you put your mind to it. "Right now," Ferruccio says, "I want to sleep, so I was saying to myself, ... 'I'm sleeping, I'm sleeping,' and I fell asleep." Guido begins to try the technique, but Ferruccio tells him that it's a serious process that takes time. Ferruccio falls back asleep, and Guido leans over him. "Wake up ... wake up ..." he coos into Ferruccio's ear. Ferruccio bursts awake. "It works!" cries Guido. Ferruccio simply rolls his eyes. "You were yelling in my ear," he says. "That's why I woke up."
The next day, Guido is walking down the street when he hears the man call out again, "Maria! The key!" The key is tossed down, and it hits Guido on the head. Suddenly, across the piazza, Guido sees the beautiful schoolteacher. "Look!" he says to Ferruccio, "There's that teacher. Boy, is she pretty." But then a car drives into the piazza, and Guido hides behind Ferruccio. It is Amico, and he stops for a brief chat with the two women. When Amico drives off, Guido jumps out from behind Ferruccio, exclaiming, "Good morning, princess!" and surprising the woman and her friend. He introduces her to Ferruccio as the princess who fell out of the sky into his arms. She says that they keep meeting this way, and he offers to make a plan to meet her, but she declines: "No. It's nicer this way."
Guido now approaches a table carrying a tray. The distinguished man sitting there, Doctor Lessing, is astonished when Guido declares, "Obscurity!" It seems that this is the answer to a riddle that the doctor told him only minutes earlier ("The bigger it is, the less you see it"). The doctor is delighted with Guido; it took him eight days to solve the riddle, and it took Guido only five minutes. Guido serves the doctor salmon, salad, and a glass of white wine and then offers the doctor a riddle of his own: "The dwarves and Snow White sit down for a bite. How fast can you guess what she serves her guests next?" The doctor is intrigued, saying that he no longer wants his food; he wants to solve the riddle right away.
The head waiter approaches Guido and says that a man from the Roman Ministry has arrived and wishes to eat, but Guido tells him that the kitchen is closed. "Oh well," says the head waiter. "He would have given you a big tip." "The kitchen," replies Guido, "is open." The man from the Ministry sits. Guido begins to recite the menu to him. Ultimately, he manages to convince the man to order exactly the meal that the doctor sent away, even while he lets the man think that he is making the decision for himself. The man asks for his food as soon as possible, and he is astonished when Guido returns within seconds to present him with his meal.
The doctor exits contemplating the riddle. The man asks whether the doctor is drunk. Guido explains the riddle: the answer is "Seven seconds." Guido then learns that the man from the Ministry is expected at the local elementary school in the morning, the very school where the beautiful woman teaches.
Next, several teachers-the beautiful woman, whose name is Dora, among them-stand before a classroom. The principal tells the students to listen carefully to the man from the Ministry, who will be telling them some very important things about their country. Guido enters and walks straight to the beautiful woman: "Good morning, princess." He begins improvising, asking the teachers questions, one by one. When he gets to Dora, he asks her what she is doing on Sunday. Dora says that she is going to see Offenbach at the theater. Guido attempts to excuse himself, but the principal says that Guido is expected to talk about the race manifesto and will demonstrate to the class that their race is a superior race, "the best race of all."
Guido puts on a remarkable performance for the children: "I was chosen," he says, "by racist Italian scientists to demonstrate how superior our race is." He jumps up on the table and begins to illustrate exactly why he is so superior. "Where," he asks, "can you find someone more handsome than me?" He points to each part of his body, examining its perfection and beauty, which elicits delighted giggles from the children. Just as he is showing his bellybutton and doing a little dance to demonstrate the remarkable ways in which the body can move, however, he is interrupted by the arrival of the real Minister. He excuses himself and jumps out a window, saying, "I'll see you in Venice, princess!"
Throughout Life is Beautiful, Guido's remarkable luck and singular skill at entertaining those around him set him apart from the crowd. He is truly unique. Yet, Benigni does not isolate his hero, who also has elements of "everyman" and does not put on airs. While his lighthearted attitude never fades, Guido is noticeably uncomfortable in the glamorous hotel. He has never been exposed to "sophisticated" foods like lobsters, and he fumbles his way hilariously through an explanation of how to prepare one. Later, Guido enchants the local children by putting on a performance in which he challenges the idea of racial superiority: "Look!" he says. "Have you ever seen such a beautiful ear?" Guido is a hero, but he is not a hero along the lines of Achilles or Aeneas. Guido is an everyman--as a hero he has the cunning of Odysseus and the citizen virtue of Hector, yet his courage and attitude towards life--not physical strength, money, privilege, or education--put him in position to care for those he loves.
At times, Guido can even seem hopelessly naÃ¯ve. It seems possible that Guido takes Ferruccio's description of the Schopenhauer method quite literally and actually believes that Ferruccio awakens because Guido wills him to, rather than because he is yelling in his friend's ear. Yet, given his great abilities, any naivete is probably just an act.
Nevertheless, "the Schopenhauer Method" is a recurring theme throughout the film, and each time Guido employs it, the technique does appear to work after all, through a series of remarkable coincidences. Guido's almost childlike fascination with the Schopenhauer Method is thus portrayed as yet another of his extraordinary qualities: he views the world around him with the eyes of a young boy, and because of his willingness to believe, magical things happen. The magical things happen not just because Guido wills them and makes them come to pass; there may be something in Schopenhauer's suggestion of a larger "will" that controls fate.
The friendship between Guido and Doctor Lessing is cemented by their mutual fascination with riddles. Though Doctor Lessing is an esteemed, highly educated man of decidedly contrary political opinions while Guido is a lowly waiter, humor serves as a universal language, bringing the men together on common ground. These riddles also serve to highlight Guido's mental acuity. Though Guido is presumably a relatively uneducated man, his ability to think quickly and devise solutions to difficult puzzles exceeds even that of a man like Doctor Lessing.
One of the most interesting scenes in the film occurs when Guido, pretending to be a delegate from the Ministry, leads a classroom full of young children in a raucous lesson on the superiority of their race. Even in a situation as fraught with danger and tension as this, Guido is able to find levity and joy. He jumps atop a table, yanking up his shirt to expose the wondrous construction of his bellybutton, and the children burst into laughter--a far cry from the serious class we saw when Guido first walked into the room. The impact of this scene is twofold: first, we see Guido's willingness to attack even the most serious political subjects using humor (a tactic Benigni himself has used), and second, we see his (perhaps not fully conscious) desire to provide those around him with a brief respite from the monotony of their lives. Even though Guido's "lesson" is unlikely to have any real impact on these children's beliefs, he takes what might have been yet another hour devoted to fascist doctrine and replaces it with an enjoyable experience that reveals the hypocrisy and absurdity of fascism in a way that they can understand.
Life is Beautiful Essays and Related Content
- Life is Beautiful: Major Themes
- Life is Beautiful: Questions
- Life is Beautiful: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Roberto Benigni: Biography
- Life is Beautiful Summary
- About Life is Beautiful
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Part I
- Summary and Analysis of Part II
- Summary and Analysis of Part III
- Summary and Analysis of Part IV
- Summary and Analysis of Part V
- Summary and Analysis of Part VI
- Summary and Analysis of Part VII
- The Great Dictator: Benigni, Chaplin, and the Holocaust
- Related Links on Life is Beautiful
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources