OBJECTIVE: Watch a popular or critically acclaimed film we’ve never seen to the halfway point. Pause it. Work together to predict the ending.
LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL (1997)
THE LAST THING WE SAW: We paused at 00:58:00, as Dora is coming home to the trains being boarded.
And now… discuss!
Ben: Full disclosure: I’m feeling a little choked up here for what I’d assume are obvious reasons. Also, I think the quick and severe shift in tone has contributed to my shock. But on to predictions: Guido will use his lovable scamp attitude and Schopenhauer-inspired will to break on through to the other side.
Phil: Agreed. I, too, was very struck by the recent events in the movie, especially considering the exceptionally light and fun nature of the first half. I also agree that he will use his joie de vivre attitude to make everyone feel better during this horrific time. The film is called Life is Beautiful, and unless it’s a cynical or ironic title (which I neither believe nor want), he will be the one helping everyone through this with his unstoppable happy positive spirit.
Ben: Up until just before the halfway point, we’ve seen Guido as very self-interested. But now, even though you could argue that saving himself and his son are self-serving, we begin to see him not just as the protagonist, but as the hero, two very different things. Can’t wait to see him ride in on that glorious horse.
Phil: Absolutely. It was very touching to see him use what is almost a superpower at this point, his completely pure joy for life and laughter, to already begin this transformation when he is trying to answer his son’s questions. As for specifics in the film’s second half, I have some predictions, but, truth be told, I am not sure at all how this film will end. It’s a very well-crafted, intelligent, and thoughtful film in the hands of an artist, which I feel will make it harder to predict—and beyond that, while I was taking notes, I wrote down: “I don’t think Guido and Dora will end up together.”
Ben: And not to rub it in, but directly after that, you proclaimed, “There hasn’t been much conflict up until now,” one second before goose-stepping soldiers marched through the town square.
Phil: Yep, I’m totally nailing this movie.
Ben: But that’s a microcosm of life for non-Aryans under this type of rule: one moment you’re mildly annoyed at spray-painting thugs, the next day, your life is upside-down. We obviously know the outcome of the overall conflict, but I think (and hope) that our beloved family gets out okay.
Phil: I do, too. However, my guess is that, although Guido will come out all right, his uncle will likely not make it through, and I am guessing that this would be one of the harder moments for Guido to continue his joie de vivre. I am far less sure about what will happen to Guido’s son, Joshua. To be honest, all of this is very hard to even think about, and on top of that Benigni has done a magical job of creating a truly beautiful family, which is happy, non-cynical, and excited by everything, come to life in front of us.
Ben: Agreed. Which is too bad, because I remember how resilient his uncle was to the “barbarians,” and can see how Guido has learned (or is trying to acquire) that resiliency. The most coherent prediction I can make is that Guido will have to humble himself to succeed. Two quotes lead me to this conclusion. One, “silence is the most powerful cry.” And two, “serving is a supreme art.” As we’ve already seen, all of this film’s set-ups pay off in short order.
Phil: I hadn’t thought of that. It did strike me that, although charming and hilarious, Guido was at times bordering on the manipulative and perhaps self-serving. (Of course, it was all still under the umbrella of making the situation better/funnier/more enjoyable.) So now this powerfully positive and ebullient energy can be directed toward this new heroic goal where he is joyfully serving the others in need.
Ben: Whether he’ll be able to suppress his otherwise bold and ebullient tendencies and focus enough to accomplish a clandestine task to pull out a win remains to be seen. That would be a horse of a differently spray painted color, as he’s usually doing the opposite, but he certainly has more to fight for now. There was a literal Kristallnacht as we saw the broken glass at his residence from when he was captured. Now it’s Guido’s turn to kick some glass and save his family.
Phil: My prediction is slightly different than yours, in that I think that Guido is not going to change his behavior too drastically. I think Guido will retain his positive spirit, and in fact it will be through this unstoppable positive outlook that he and those around him will still be that much better off.
Ben: Whether or not I think that’s realistic (I don’t), I hope that’s the case. This flick has been a non-stop lesson in the triumph of a daring spirit & a sunny outlook. So now I’m faced with two very different (and sadly, probably equally likely) conclusions: every little thing is gonna be alright, or my worst fears will come true.
Phil: Yes, indeed. Either is possible, and I’m hoping for the first. Guido is clearly a clever person, from his wild Harold Lloyd-type escapades to his facility with riddles and puzzles. This ingenuity, added to his tremendously warm, kind-hearted, and joyous spirit, will mean that, no matter the situation, he will still be able to find beauty and joy.
Ben: Here’s hoping! I want this Prince to fall safely into his Princess’s arms as soon as possible.
Phil: To quote Schopenhauer, “With willpower, you can do anything.”
Phil Hobby can be heard alongside Alfred “Doc Ock” Molina in The Starling Project, an audio drama you can listen to right here. Ben Katz can be contacted at (207) 797-3400 if you’re looking for work in the Portland, ME area.