Life is Beautiful

Life is Beautiful Summary and Analysis of Part IV

Guido walks through a grand ballroom carrying an ostrich egg. He hides his face when he sees Amico. Upstairs, a maid and Dora's mother are trying to get Dora out of bed. Finally, they pull the covers off of her to reveal that she is wearing a beautiful gown. She hiccups and reluctantly walks downstairs. A waiter runs up to Guido and tells him to go outside since something has happened. Outside, Eliseo stands next to his horse, which is painted green. Someone has also written on it, "Achtung, Jewish horse." Guido tells him not to be upset, but Eliseo tells him to get used to it; soon they will start with him, too. "What can possibly happen to me?" asks Guido. "Achtung, Jewish waiter?"

Guido reenters the ballroom, and Ferruccio comes running up to him to tell him that Dora is there. Guido says that he wishes to surprise her, but he hides when he sees Amico coming towards her. Doctor Lessing is also there, and he tells Guido that he has to leave for Berlin immediately. He says that he truly enjoyed his time with Guido, the most ingenious waiter he has ever come across. With one final riddle ("If you say my name, I'm not there anymore. What am I?") the doctor leaves. "Silence!" declares Guido to the concierge. "If you say the word, it's not there anymore. Silence. Beautiful."

The party sits gathered around the dinner table. The school principal from earlier in the film says how shocked she was by a problem given to the third-grade students that involved figuring out how much the state would save if the cripples, lunatics, and epileptics were eliminated. She was shocked, she says, because the problem requires math far beyond a third-grade level! Amico solves the problem, saying that it is easy. Suddenly a cake arrives bearing the words "Good morning, princess!" Dora startles, then stands up to look around her, searching for Guido, but Amico pulls her away onto the dance floor. Confetti in the colors of the Italian flag begins to fall.

Amico makes an announcement that he and Dora are engaged to get married. Everyone applauds: "Kiss her! Kiss her!" As Amico kisses Dora's cheek Guido looks on, aghast, and then trips over an armchair, sending his tray flying. Ferruccio comes up to console him, but Guido insists that he is fine. Uncle Eliseo approaches Guido to ask him whether he is all right. "Why do you ask?" says Guido, who has just placed a small dog onto his tray in place of the spilled food. He is completely at his wits' end and cannot even remember where the kitchen is.

A decorated officer, presumably a Nazi sympathizer, approaches Amico and makes a rude joke about how he no longer has to accompany Amico to the brothel. "What a jolly fellow!" says Dora's mother. Suddenly, Dora spots Guido at the end of the table, cleaning up another mess that he has made, and her face lights up. Guido ducks down under the table, and Dora does the same, crawling between the legs of the other guests to meet him. "Princess," Guido says, "you're here too?" Dora leans forward, kisses him gently, and says, "Take me away."

Drums roll, and the band announces that the hotel has prepared a magnificent surprise. Several porters enter carrying an ornate ostrich-shaped cake that is set down behind Dora. It seems that the surprise is over, but then Guido enters astride Uncle Eliseo's green horse. "Music, maestro!" he cries, and stops before Amico and Dora. He hands Amico a bottle of champagne and tells Dora to get onto the horse. She climbs over the table and sits down in front of Guido, and the two ride out of the ballroom together. Everyone applauds. The champagne cork pops, shattering the egg in the ostrich's mouth, which then falls down onto Amico's head. Amico suddenly realizes where he has seen the strange rider before and runs out of the room, yelling.

In the next scene it is dawn, and Guido helps Dora disembark from the horse in front of Uncle Eliseo's house. As Guido searches for a way to open the house, Dora slowly climbs the steps to the door of the greenhouse and enters. Guido follows behind her-and suddenly it is daylight, and a little boy is running out of the greenhouse and down the steps.


This section opens with an ominous portent of what is to come: Eliseo's horse has been spray-painted with the words "Achtung, Jewish horse," and Eliseo tells Guido to be careful. This scene speaks to the shock that many Holocaust victims experienced when the attentions of the Nazi soldiers turned on them: what, they wondered, could they possibly have done to deserve such treatment? Guido similarly laughs off the warning, though it is his style to laugh. "What can happen to me?" he asks. "Achtung, Jewish waiter?" Guido is an ordinary man-a good man, as we have seen-yet even a simple bookshop owner is not safe from the scourge of fascism.

Guido continues to turn negative experiences into positive ones. He uses the green horse to rescue Dora from her stifling existence as Amico's fiancée. When he rides the horse into the ballroom, gathers Dora, and sets off into the coming morning, he transforms all the negative parts of the day into a "knight on horseback" moment. Still, the strange circumstances of the event make fun of the courtly ideal. Guido can find levity and hope in even the most oppressive, frightening circumstances.

The portentous moments that foreshadow the events to come become more prevalent as well. At dinner, Dora's colleague repeats a mathematics problem that was given to students asking how much money would be saved if the "cripples," "lunatics," and "epileptics" were "eliminated." Dora is rightly shocked, but her colleague is shocked in a way that increases Dora's shock-the teacher complains that the problem is too difficult for third graders! No one else at the table seems offended by the idea that third graders would be asked to consider the economics of genocide. Even Amico, Dora's fiancé, is blasé about the idea, calmly explaining that the problem as such is not very hard to solve.

Moments later, Dora is shocked again when an official makes a lewd joke about her fiancé, but Dora's mother laughs and declares, "What a jolly fellow!" Dora's peers could not be more different from the kindhearted, innocent Guido. Thus, when she sees Guido at the party, she at last realizes that by going with him and leaving her old life behind, she is hardly giving up anything. This idea turns out to be false, however, for Dora's peers could save her from the fascists, while being associated with Guido will lead her deep into the horrors of the Holocaust.

The moment when Dora finally succumbs to Guido's pursuit is a perfect encapsulation of the unique nature of their romance. Dora notices that Guido has dropped to his knees to clean up a mess (or to hide), so she climbs under the table to join him. The two would-be lovers approach each other on hands and knees, entirely unbeknownst to the guests dining above them. Dora has joined Guido's world, one that thrives beneath the staid society life in which she grew up. Guido and Dora are literally right under their noses, but the other diners are so ensconced in their own lives that they cannot imagine anything as fantastical as two lovers meeting under a table.

When Dora and Guido return to Eliseo's house on horseback, it is a moment of pure magic. The early morning light gives the scene an almost unreal quality, suggesting that the two of them have entered an otherworldly place created by their love. Dora, far more lovely and calm than we have seen her before, wanders towards the greenhouse, filled with a newfound curiosity and appreciation for the beauty of life. This moment, however, marks the end of the first half of the film. The half that is characterized by fantasy, light, and humor is ending. Soon the new family will be forcibly removed from this magical world and taken to a place entirely devoid of beauty and light.