It's time to toss those soggy tissues and open up a fresh box. We're diving back into the ending of Life Is Beautiful. While we're there, we're to going to ask ourselves what's up with the ending and then wonder why we're torturing ourselves with all these feels.
To start, let's do a quick recap of how things played out. After hiding all night in a…whatever that box thingy is, Joshua emerges to an empty camp. A tank rolls up, and an American soldier lifts the hatch to ask him how it's going. Joshua's stunned and shocked since, of course, he thinks this is the tank he won in Guido's make-believe game.
Riding with the American solider, Joshua spots his mother among the camp survivors. The soldier stops the tank, and Joshua runs into his mother's arms. The narrator, whom we haven't heard from in a while, pipes in to tell us: "This is my story. This is the sacrifice my father made. This was his gift to me."
Yep, the narrator was Joshua the whole time. Well, we say, "the whole time," but adult Joshua had, what, two lines of dialogue?
We learn what became of Joshua. As a child, Joshua doesn't understand the truth of the concentration camp; Guido's game worked to successfully hide the horrors of their situation. But as an adult, Joshua has come to realize the truth of what happened to him and his father. He's come to appreciate his father's supreme sacrifice as a "gift," something he's grateful for.
This line gives us the sense that he's adopted Guido's philosophy of life. That is, despite it all, that life is beautiful.
And the Winner Is—
But adult Joshua doesn't get the final lines of the film. That honor goes to boy Joshua. As he and his mother reunite, the two embrace and have the following exchange:
JOSHUA: We won!
DORA: Yes, we won!
JOSHUA: A thousand points to laugh like crazy about! We came in first! We're taking the tank home! We won!
This final message of the film takes a little unpacking and outside knowledge. Life Is Beautiful was inspired by a Rubino Romeo Salmoni's memoir, titled In the End, I Beat Hitler (Source). In the memoir, Salmoni uses gallows humor to tell about his time in Auschwitz. His argument is that his ability to live and laugh proves that Hitler lost. Not only did Hitler not succeed in killing Salmoni, he couldn't even steal his love of life.
Although Guido didn't survive the camp, he succeeded in hiding the atrocities from his son. Also, Joshua and Dora managed to survive until the Americans liberated the camp. Joshua and Dora's victory over Hitler and fascism—through surviving and maintaining a love of life—is Guido's victory in life and death.
And that's what's up with the end of Life Is Beautiful.
Now, will someone please pass that tissue box?