GUIDO: You fell asleep while talking to me! How did you do that?
FERRUCIO: Schopenhauer says that with willpower, you can do anything. "I am what I want to be." Right now, I want to sleep, so I was saying to myself, "I'm sleeping, sleeping," and I fell asleep.
GUIDO: Amazing. And it's simple. I want to try, too. I'm sleeping, sleeping, sleeping—
Let's set aside that these two middle-aged men are having the most uncomfortable sleepover ever. Here, the movie introduces the concept of willpower, and how it can help people accomplish their goals.
GUIDO: Look at me, Princess. Go on, I'm down here. Look at me, Princess. Turn around, Princess.
Guido tries out his new willpower, um, power, and we see that it works. We're guessing the wavy fingers are optional though. After this scene, Guido sets about winning Dora's heart, and wouldn't you know? That works, too.
RODOLFO: Just a few words. You already know it all by now, and you've known for several years. Dora and I were born on the same street. We went to school together, we had the same friends. Dora is the woman of my life, and I'm the man in her life; therefore, we've decided to get married within the year. You're all officially invited on April the 9th to the Basilica of Santa Maria del Pellegrino. And then we'll celebrate till dawn all together, right here, just as happy as we are now.
Rodolfo's willpower, on the other hand, is a total flatline. He doesn't try to win Dora's affections or prove his love for her. He just kind of expects it because that's how it is. He lacks the ability to make any change in his life, and as a result, Dora ditches him for the irrepressible Guido.
BARTOLOMEO: Do you speak German?
GUIDO: No. [The officer speaks and Guido "translates."]
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.
Drawing from the same willpower he used to win Dora's heart, Guido sets out to protect his son from the horrors of the concentration camp. He decides to play make-believe that the whole terrifying affair is an elaborate game, where the winner gets a real live tank.
GUIDO: We're going to die here. I can't take it anymore. I'm putting this down. I'll tell them I can't do it. What can they do to me?
VITTORINO: They'll kill you!
GUIDO [rises up with renewed strength]: Where does this thing go?
VITTORINO: Down there.
GUIDO: Good Lord! I'll never make it!
Of course, it isn't a game. Guido's life is on the line, and if he doesn't work hard, he will be killed. Mostly we see his perseverance manifest in a clownish energy, but here, we see him pushed to his physical limits.
JOSHUA [running in]: Pop! Pop!
GUIDO: Joshua, why are you here? You're not supposed to be here! Go away! Why aren't you with the other kids?
JOSHUA: They said all us kids have to take a shower today, and I don't want to.
GUIDO: Go take a shower!
JOSHUA: I'm not going to.
Speaking of willpower, little Joshua's got a fair amount for a pint-sized procrastinator. Like most young boys, he hates baths and will fight to the bitter end to stay dirty (remember that we saw this earlier in the film, too). Here, the showers prove to be the gas chambers, and Joshua inheriting his father's willpower/stubbornness saves his life.
GUIDO [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?
And let's not forget Dora. She willingly went to the concentration camp to keep her family from being separated, even though as a gentile Italian, she wouldn't have been deported. Guido and Joshua use the intercom system to give her a much-needed burst of encouragement. In Life Is Beautiful, perseverance is sustained as much for the ones we love as it is by the ones we love.
DOCTOR LESSING: So. Pay attention. "Fat, fat, ugly, ugly, all yellow in reality. If you ask me what I am, I answer, 'Cheep, cheep, cheep.' Walking along I go, 'Poopoo.' Who am I? Tell me true." A duckling, right? Is it a duckling? It's not!
Doctor Lessing has perseverance, but unlike Guido, he doesn't channel it towards anything positive. His perseverance—it's more like obsession—is solely directed toward his own selfish desire to solve every riddle because…actually, we don't know why. Maybe a riddle made fun of him in high school.
NARRATOR: This is my story. This is the sacrifice my father made. This was his gift to me.
In the end, Guido's perseverance pays off. He manages to protect his son, and Joshua survives. Looking back, he sees Guido's sacrifice as a gift, but that sacrifice took enormous perseverance to see it through.