Life is Beautiful Summary and Analysis
The boy running out of the house, we quickly realize, is Giosue, the son of Guido and Dora. It is several years since the restaurant episode. The happy family climbs aboard Guido's bicycle, heading to school to drop off Dora. Guido and Giosue ride through the piazza towards Guido's place of work-it seems that he has finally realized his dream of running a bookstore. They pause in front of a bakery, where Giosue reads out a sign: "No Jews or dogs allowed." Guido explains that everybody does what they want to-for example, he says, no Spanish people or horses are allowed into the hardware store. He suggests that they make a rule that no spiders or Visigoths should be allowed into the bookstore.
At the bookstore, two men in suits enter looking for Guido. They tell him that he has to go to see the Prefect, and Guido protests that he has already been then. He then takes note of the ominous air about the two men and consents. He leaves Giosue to tend the store and says that he will be right back. Giosue runs to the door, nervous at the sight of two men leading his father away, but Guido looks back at his son and does a funny walk to make him smile.
Giosue returns to his duties minding the store. A well-dressed woman enters and says good-morning to him. She selects a book and pays for it. She then hands Giosue a letter for his mother and tells him to say that it is from Grandma. "I've never seen my grandmother before," Giosue says. The woman says that he will meet his grandmother tomorrow, and she will bring him a present. She turns to exit. "You forgot your change, Grandma!" Giosue calls out. At the end of the day, Guido is locking up the store. He pulls down the grate to reveal that the words "JEWISH STORE" have been scrawled across it in big, black letters.
Back at home, Doro and Guido are setting up for Giosue's birthday party. Dora tells Giosue to take a bath, and when Guido says that Giosue took one on Friday, Dora tells her husband that he should change his shirt. "I changed my shirt on Thursday!" he protests. When Dora again tells Giosue to take a bath, he stomps his foot on the ground petulantly and crawls into a cupboard to hide. Guido sets some flowers on the cabinet and hears his son hiccupping from inside. He takes this opportunity to surprise Dora by using the Schopenhauer Method ("Come, flowers! I want the nightstand to come here"). The idea is to bring the cabinet over to them, and Giosue simply puts his feet through the bottom of the cabinet and walks them over. Giosue pops out of the cupboard: "Good morning, princess!" he cries, smiling and throwing out his arms.
Later, Dora and her mother walk up to the house but quickly realize that something is very wrong. The house has been ransacked, and Guido and Giosue are missing. The shot changes, and we see that they are in the back of a truck along with Uncle Eliseo and a number of other people. Giosue asks his father where they are going, and Guido, after searching for an answer for some time, says that they are going on a trip for his birthday. "It took me months to plan the whole thing!" he says. "It makes me laugh. My pop planned something like this for me. Boy, it was so ... was it funny!" When Giosue falls asleep, Guido catches Eliseo's eye: "Where are we going?" he asks, serious now.
As Giosue and Guido wait in line to board a train, Guido continues the charade. He tells Giosue that they are right on time, and when Giosue asks him whether there are seats, Guido looks at him in shock: "Seats? It's obvious you've never been on [a train]! No, everyone stands real close together." He even yells out to the guards to save some room for them-they don't want to have to go home. When one of the guards roughly shoves Guido into the train compartment, he just smiles and thanks him. As the heavy wooden door slides shut, he looks down at his son and rubs his hands together in feigned excitement.
Dora stands before a soldier, telling him that there has been a mistake: her husband and son are on the train. "I want to get on that train, too," she says. The soldier tells her to go home, but once again Dora's stubborn streak rears its head, and she insists that she must get on the train. The soldier stops the train, and she boards. Guido and Giosue watch through a tiny window. "Mama!" cries Giosue with a smile.
It becomes night, and the train pulls into a large courtyard surrounded on all sides by tall, imposing buildings. Some time later the passengers disembark and are separated into groups by gender and age. Guido hands Giosue to Eliseo and rushes through the crowd, searching frantically for Dora. He finds her but is pushed aside by a female guard. As Eliseo, Giosue, and Guido walk through the courtyard, Giosue says that he did not like the train. Guido calls out that they want to take the bus on the way back. "What game is this?" asks Giosue. "That's it!" says Guido. "It's all organized. It's a game. It's hard. It's not easy. If somebody makes a mistake, they are sent home. But if you win, you get first prize!" Eliseo leans forward and says that the winner gets a tank-a real tank-and Giosue's face lights up in excitement. Eliseo is led away with the other older men.
The life Dora and Guido have created is apparently filled with the magic with which it began. Giosue is very much like his father, and he is a perfect audience for Guido's performances. Giosue loves when his father rides his bicycle fast, and he shows his admiration for Guido by mimicking him, such as when he says to his mother, "Good morning, princess!" He also has his mother's affliction of hiccupping whenever he is made to do something he does not want to do. He is the embodiment of their common life and love.
Although Guido, Dora, and Giosue's life is idyllic, the specter of fascism is becoming more and more threatening. Guido still manages to deftly deflect the intrusions of a hostile world from his son's life. When Guido tells his son that they will put up a sign outside their store saying "No spiders or Visigoths," he is making light of a dismal truth about the tension and hostility in Italy. Still, it is clear that he cannot change this situation; one day, Giosue will learn the truth. It is just a matter of time.
Throughout the movie, Guido has been able to manipulate his surroundings to create a beautiful world for himself and his loved ones. Now, however, he is in a concentration camp, and, for the first time, a positive outcome seems impossible. When he tells Giosue that they are going on a trip for fun and that everything is a giant game, there is a sense of impending doom. The Fascists are in control now, not Guido, and it seems as if their story can only end badly. The ethics of Guido's strategy suddenly come into question: if they are going to die, is Guido's decision to deceive his son cruel? As the stakes are raised, can his magical charade continue? How can he maintain his son's morale in such a bleak situation? The audience at once fills with dread at Guido's and Giosue's situation and with exhilaration at Guido's determination to find beauty even in the darkest of places.
In the first half of the movie, Guido jokes that writing "Jewish waiter" on him is the worst thing that the Fascists can do. When they actually write "Jewish store" on the entrance to his bookstore, he does not realize the error of his optimism. Even when he and Giosue are in the concentration camp, his awareness of the gravity of the situation is rarely apparent. He is always playing the part of the excited director of Giosue's birthday surprise. His optimism is so constant that one wonders how it could be entirely an act; it must be at least partly genuine. This is another example of fantasy becoming reality. By pretending to be happy and excited for Giosue's sake, Guido actually increases his own ability to deal with the difficulties confronting him. Though the specifics of his elaborate act are fictitious, the spirit behind it is real. By resolutely conveying his optimism to those around him, Guido actually becomes more optimistic, or as optimistic as one can be in such a place.
Dora's decision to follow her husband and son on the train is at once sad and beautiful. Her bond with her husband and son is so strong that she is willing to give her life (one can guess) just to be by their side. She is a very different woman from the spoiled girl who fell out of the barn into Guido's arms. She is braver now, and she is able to follow her good heart. Fate, however, is still leading her life in a direction that she does not want. Instead of a fiancÃ© she does not love making decisions for her, now the Fascists are forcing her into difficult situations. She can stay in Italy since she is not Jewish, being separated from her husband and son, or she can follow her loved ones, risking her own life in the process. Her insistence on getting on the train with Guido and Giosue reveals her determination to guide her own life, not simply to abandon her future to fate. She refuses to let the Fascists separate her from her family, defying their power to control the lives of others. Her decision to get on the train is at once a declaration of love and a statement about a person's ability to control her own destiny.
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