GUIDO: Now! [A woman falls from the top of the barn. Guido catches her.] Good morning, Princess!
DORA: How frightening. I almost killed myself. Did I hurt you?
GUIDO: I've never been better. Do you always leave the house like this?
Life Is Beautiful starts like all love stories: girl falls out of barn into boy's arms, a roll in the hay, love at first sight, done. At least, that's how most love stories in Hollywood get going. In real life, most love stories start with the boy asking the girl some inane question like, "Which do you like more, Nacho Cheese or Cool Ranch Doritos?"
DORA: Can we get a chocolate ice cream?
RODOLFO: Yes, but we'll have to be quick.
RODOLFO: We have to be at the Prefect's at eight. We were invited to dinner.
RODOLFO: At the Prefect's.
DORA: Have pity on me, Lord. Let it not be true. Another dinner at the Prefect's?
Rodolfo's so obviously wrong for Dora that it makes it all the more awesome when she starts to realize that Guido's got groove.
Side note: Do you ever wonder what happens to these "he's not the one for you" guys from rom-coms? Like, is there a support group or something?
GUIDO [to Rodolfo]: Congratulations.
RODOLFO: Thank you.
GUIDO [to Dora]: Right this way, Princess.
RODOLFO: But you're…
GUIDO: Quickly, Princess.
[Guido rides off with Dora.]
RODOLFO: But he's…[Cork pops on the champagne bottle, knocking the ostrich egg onto Rodolfo's head.] He's that jerk with the eggs!
We finish our rom-com romp with the loving lovers riding off into the sunset on a magnificent steed—or, at least, riding to Guido's place down the street on a green horse. In a normal rom-com, they'd live happily ever after. But this film's not done with the theme of love yet.
GUIDO: They just don't want Jews or dogs to go in. Everybody does what they want to. There's a hardware store there. They don't let Spanish people or horses into his store. Further ahead, there's a drugstore. I was with a Chinese friend of mine yesterday who had a kangaroo. I said, "May we?" "No, we don't want any Chinese or kangaroos here." They don't like them. What can I tell you?
JOSHUA: We let everybody into our bookshop.
GUIDO: No. From now on, we'll write it too. Is there anybody you don't like?
JOSHUA: Spiders. What about you?
GUIDO: I don't like Visigoths. Starting tomorrow we'll write, "No spiders and Visigoths allowed." I'm sick and tired of these Visigoths.
The second part of the movie pulls a switcheroo. While the first half was classic Hollywood rom-com, the second half focuses on a father's love for his son. Specifically, his wish to protect his son from reality's nastier side. Here, Guido uses his quick wit to keep his son from realizing the sad fact that some people will hate him for who he is.
DORA: There's been a mistake.
OFFICER: What mistake?
DORA: My husband and son are on that train.
OFFICER: What's your husband's name?
DORA: Guido Orefice.
OFFICER: Joshua Orefice…and Eliseo Orefice are on that train, too. There's no mistake.
DORA: I want to get on that train too.
Guido gets most of the grand gestures of love, but here, we see that Dora's love for her family is truly monumental. Not wishing her family separated, she chooses to go to the concentration camp, despite being an "acceptable" citizen in her society's eyes.
Life Is Beautiful's second half focuses on the sacrifices we make for the ones we love, and Dora's sacrifice is one of the film's premier examples of selflessness.
GUIDO: The game starts now. Whoever's here is here, whoever's not is not. The first one to get a thousand points wins. The prize is a tank! Lucky him. Every day we'll announce who's in the lead from that loudspeaker. The one with the least points has to wear a sign saying "jackass" right here on his back.
Guido's love for his son has him using his wits and imagination to hide the reality of their situation. This time, he has to hide the true nature of the camp, and he makes up this game on the spot with the Nazi guards standing right next to him. It's a difficult charade to keep up, and it takes its toll on poor Guido.
GUIDO: Anybody here? Am I disturbing? Joshua, come here. Quick as lightening.
[into the speaker system]: Good morning, Princess. Last night, I dreamt about you all night. We were going to the movies. You were wearing that pink suit that I really like. You're all I think about, Princess. I always think about you. And now—
JOSHUA [over the loudspeaker]: Momma! Pop wheels me in the wheelbarrow, but he doesn't know how to drive! We laugh like crazy! We're in the lead! How many points do we have today?
Yeah, we were screaming at the screen when we saw this scene, too. We mean, it's not like the Nazis would hear that and think, "Well, that's weird. Hey Franz, is it bring-your-kid-to-work-in-a-wheelbarrow day?" No, they'd turn that camp upside down looking for Joshua.
But let's remember that this story contains fable-like elements to it. The point here is to show the power of love to uplift Dora's spirits, and its use as a weapon against tyranny. So it gets a pass thematically, if not realistically.
GUIDO [running after a truck]: Is there a Dora here? She's Italian. She's my wife.
JEWISH WOMAN: Yes, there's a Dora here.
GUIDO: It's me, Dora. It's not her! Is there another Dora? Jump out of the truck as soon as you can! Get off! Jump out!
Guido learns from Bartolomeo that the Nazis, knowing the American forces are getting closer, plan to destroy the evidence of their genocide. To protect Dora, he infiltrates the woman's side of the camp to rescue her in another extraordinary act of love. This time, it doesn't pay off. Guido's luck runs out, and he's discovered and dragged off and shot by a Nazi guard.
NARRATOR: This is my story. This is the sacrifice my father made. This was his gift to me.
We learn that Joshua is the narrator, all grown up and looking back on his childhood. As a boy, he couldn't have understood the sacrifice his father made. As a man (and maybe a father himself), he gets it. And if you ask us, that's just a pitch perfect ending for both the film and this theme.