Life is Beautiful Summary and Analysis
Guido and Giosue walk into an overcrowded dormitory filled with gaunt, sad-eyed men. Guido makes a production about selecting their bed, but Giosue looks upset. He is hungry and tired and wants to see his mother. Guido tells him that they will see her again after they get a thousand points and win the game. Giosue says again that he wants a snack, and Guido asks the man in the next bed, Bartolomeo, if the man with the bread and jam already came through. Bartolomeo nods, a slightly sardonic expression on his face. Several guards enter and yell something in German. Bartolomeo tells Guido that they asked if anyone speaks German since they want to explain the camp rules. Guido, of course, raises his hand and "translates" the soldier's instructions so that they sound like the rules of a fun game, much to Giosue's delight. "You lose points for three things!" Guido says. "One, if you cry. Two, if you want to see your mommy. Three, if you're hungry and want a snack. Forget about it!" When the guard makes his exit, Guido "translates" his parting words as, "Sorry I have to go so fast. But we're playing hide-and-go-seek." He walks over to Giosue and grins: "I told you we were going to have fun!"
Guido and Vittorino, another prisoner, lug anvils through a stiflingly hot room. Guido's faÃ§ade has disappeared: he is exhausted and convinced that he cannot go on. Bartolomeo walks by, his arm sliced open and bleeding profusely. At the end of the day, the men shuffle despondently back into the dormitory, where Giosue is waiting patiently. Guido is last to enter, and when Giosue leaps into his arms, he stumbles and almost falls to the floor. All the other men fall asleep, but Guido regales Giosue with tales of his day: he "signed them up" for the game and got a number, which he also had tattooed on his arm "just in case." Giosue says that he saw some other children who knew nothing about the game, but Guido replies that they're "sly as foxes" and are just trying to trick him. Guido says that he had a great day playing hopscotch, tug of war, and ring around the rosy. "Boy, was it fun!" he says. "I can't wait to start all over again tomorrow."
In another part of the camp, Dora shuffles down a flight of stairs with the other female prisoners, one of whom explains to her that the reason why the old women and children do not work is that they are taken to the showers and gassed. Dora stares out the window, thinking of her son.
Guido is back at work, carrying anvils up a flight of stairs, when Giosue appears. Giosue says that the guards made all the kids go to take a shower, but that he does not want to. Guido orders him to take a shower, but Giosue stamps his foot and yells, "no!" When Giosue asks his father what he has been doing, Guido replies that they are building the tank for the first prize winners. Guido tells him to hide, and they will go home together when he is done.
Eliseo and the other old men file into a room, where they are told to disrobe for a shower. One of the female guards stumbles, and Eliseo kindly helps her to her feet, but she only fixes him with a cold look. Back at the dormitory, Guido tells Giosue that he must hide there all day long and that he must be careful not to be seen by "those mean guys who yell." Meanwhile, Dora and the other women silently sort through a huge pile of clothes, the clothes left by the old men, women, and children who have been gassed.
Guido pushes a wheelbarrow filled with rags alongside his fellow prisoners. From inside the wheelbarrow comes the sound of hiccups. He passes an open door and, after ensuring that nobody is inside, tells Giosue to follow him. He turns on the loudspeaker, and his voice is broadcast throughout the complex: "Good morning, princess!" he cries out, and his voice echoes across the brick buildings, finding Dora where she sits sorting clothes. "You're all I think about, princess!" Giosue takes the receiver and yells, "Mama! Pop wheels me in the wheelbarrow, but he doesn't know how to drive. We laugh like crazy!" Dora walks towards the sound of her husband's and son's voices, her eyes sparkling.
Back in the barracks, the men come in out of the rain, and Guido realizes that several men, including Vittorino, have died. Later, the prisoners are being inspected by a doctor, and Guido recognizes that the doctor is Doctor Lessing. Guido quietly recites the riddle to him, "If you say my name, I'm not there anymore," and then answers himself: "Silence." The doctor recognizes him but moves on to the other prisoners before returning with instructions for Guido. Later, Guido returns to the barracks, telling Bartolomeo that Doctor Lessing has asked him to wait tables at a dinner that night, and he hypothesizes that the doctor might help him escape with Giosue. At this, he realizes he cannot find Giosue and calls out for his son. Hiccupping, Giosue comes out from hiding and solemnly tells his father that "they make buttons and soap out of us." Guido laughs, telling Giosue that he has fallen for the trickery of his opponents, and he says that the idea is ridiculous. Giosue says he wants to go home, so Guido says that they will, and he begins packing their things in earnest. He laments the loss of the prize and says that they probably would have won the tank. But they will leave on the bus this very second. Giosue changes his mind and decides he wants to stay.
It has become clear that the "game" Guido has concocted for Giosue is not only to keep him in good spirits; it is designed to protect him. Guido's job has become twice as hard. He not only wants to keep his son happy, but he also has to do so while shielding him from the harsh realities of the camp and keeping himself alive. For the first time, we see Guido in despair. He knows they are going to die in the camp, and he is not sure he can go on. Nonetheless, his determination to protect his son is unflinching. When he regales his son with stories about the fun he has had each day (when in reality he has been enduring cruel labor and torture), his face betrays his true feelings, but he never lets his son notice this despair.
When Giosue runs away from the prospect of a shower (actually a gas chamber), the dramatic irony has an effect close to comedy. Guido and Giosue are both unaware of the dangers of the "shower," and Guido's fatherly advice is actually a death sentence. Giosue's childish stubbornness is the thing that saves him. The gravity of this situation, however, significantly tempers the comedic effect. This scene is indicative of the bold nature of the film; it juxtaposes standard comedic form with the bleakness of the Holocaust. On one hand, maintaining levity and spirit in the face of death and torture shows that the human spirit can endure anything. On the other hand, however, this scene sharpens the pain of the Holocaust by placing it in a comedic light. Guido's unique outlook and fortuitous coincidences like Giosue's hatred of showers remind the viewer that most prisoners in the concentration camp are not lucky enough to have fate on their side.
When Guido recites a riddle to Doctor Lessing, the concept of silence comes up again. Earlier, Eliseo said that silence is sometimes the best weapon. Eliseo, however, never puts up a fight, and he is gassed. His strategy does not save his life, raising the question of whether Eliseo was wrong. Doctor Lessing is also silent about the Nazis' treatment of the prisoners in the camp. He is silent about his friendship with Guido, only willing to talk to him in private. Whereas the doctor's voice could have saved Guido, his silence damns him instead. Silence, it seems, is not a good weapon.
In contrast to the silence of Doctor Lessing, Uncle Eliseo, and all the prisoners, Guido is always energetic and talkative. He never directly disagrees with or fights against the guards; he usually goes along with what they tell him to do, pretending that the things they tell him to do are expected and sometimes even fun. Although this can be construed as a type of silence, Guido finds other ways to speak out. He risks his life to speak to Dora over the loudspeaker, and he talks with Giosue to keep his spirits up almost constantly. Guido's voice is a very important part of his personality and his role in the camp. He uses it not to contradict the guards or speak out against the Fascists but to bolster the morale of his loved ones. He realizes that he cannot stop the Holocaust from happening by himself, but he can try to help those who are important to him. His actions imply that even though one voice may be too small to stop something with as much inertia as the Holocaust, it can still do good.
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