Candide is a pure and sincere young man. He is an illegitimate nephew of a poor but wain German Baron. He was brought up with Baron’s own son and daughter and now lives in Baron’s castle. Their home teacher, Dr. Pangloss who is an amateur philosopher, teaches the children his optimistic worldview, saying that they are living in the best of the worlds possible and everything that happens here has a causes and consequences, leading in the end to the greater good. While hearing these words Candide believes in them as in an axiom, without questions.
The Candide’s misfortune starts from his stepsister’s curiosity. A young girl named Cunegonde spots her teacher having sex with their chambermaid Paquette and decides that it may be funny to do the same with Candide. When the Baron sees the couple, he kicks the young man off from the castle without any money or other possessions.
Cold and hungry, Candide is ready to do anything just to survive. The outside world appears much harsher than he was told. Exhausted he is found by two soldiers. They seem to help him but after they bring Candide to the town, they forcefully recruit him to the Bulgarian army. The wide-eyed pacifist is flogged almost to death by his commanders, mocked by fellow soldiers and ordered to kill other people. Hardly escaping death in a horrible battle, Candide deserts and flees through the devastated and burned land. Seeing the atrocities of war, the young man stars to doubt in his former beliefs in fair and just world.
Candide reaches Holland hoping to find kind people not touched by war, but instead sees that people everywhere are greedy, cruel and selfish, even if they live in a peaceful and prosperous land. Candide finds his teacher dying on the streets of syphilis. The teacher recognizes his former pupil, and pleads for mercy. The young man cares for him and Dr. Pangloss tells him the horrifying news about Baron’s family exterminated by Bulgarians. Shocked, Candide asks his teacher if he still believes in his optimistic philosophy, and Dr. Pangloss says that he does.
The only compassionate man Candide meets in Holland is Anabaptist man who genuinely cares about him. So Candide brings Dr. Pangloss to him explaining the situation and asking his new friend to help him cure his teacher. The Anabaptist agrees and soon Dr. Pangloss’ health is almost completely restored. The Anabaptist buys tickets to Portugal for himself, Candide and Dr. Pangloss. But while they are sailing a horrible storm starts and the Anabaptist dies trying to rescue one of the sailors. Now Candide and Dr. Pangloss are alone.
Their misfortune continues. As soon as they step onto the shore, a terrible earthquake begins. Both men are wounded and get into the hands of the Inquisition as heretics. Dr. Pangloss was careless enough to draw their attention by preaching about the free will for everyone. The head of the local church decides that executing heretics should help to stop the earthquake, and the philosopher is promptly murdered before the crowd. Candide is again beaten to half-death and thrown to the street to die there. A stranger old woman picks him up and nurses back to health, then inviting Candide to a luxurious palace. There he sees Cunigonde, who miraculously escaped death from the hands of Bulgarian soldiers, but was sold to slavery instead. Now she is a property of a wealthy Portuguese Jew, who is forced to share her with the Grand Inquisitor himself. It was she who sent the old woman to rescue Candide as soon as she learned he is here and in danger.
Suddenly both men enter the hall and frightened Cunigonde somehow manages to kill them both. Now she has to flee. Cunigonde relies on jewellery, presented to her by Grand Inquisitor, but an unknown monk steals it from her. Cunigonde, Candide and the old woman hardly manage to reach the port and buy the tickets to the first ship that is ready to depart: to Buenos Aires. While they sail, the old woman tells the couple her story and the tortures, misfortune and cruelty she endured in her life make Candide almost refuse his optimistic worldview.
And he seems to be at least partially right. The vessel they boarded is a military ship going for a mission. The Spanish general who also travels onboard is deeply impressed by Candide’s military training and knowledge and offers him a position of an infantry captain. Candide agrees but still he believes that Cunigonde is his main reward for all he had to survive.
After reaching Buenos Aires, the couple asks the governor for audience and Candide asks him to arrange marriage for her and Candide. But the governor, seeing Cunigonde, says that such a beautiful girl shall belong to him and offers her to become his mistress instead. Concerned with her financial troubles Cunigonde promptly agrees - to Candide’s shock.
At the same moment, the old woman sees through the window the monk who robbed them. He followed them by another ship, seemingly unintentionally. He tries to sell jewelry, but the jeweller easily recognizes the property of the Grand Inquisitor. Frightened by his possible fate, the thief admits to stealing and describes the company who he stole the jewellery from in explicit details. Candide’s servant, Cacambo, persuades him to flee immediately saying that the women are now out of danger and he will be framed for killing the Grand Inquisitor.
They run away and soon meet the army of Jesuits who fought for the Paraguay land, oppressing the locals in the name of Christianity. Their leader, named Reverend Father Commander, united the roles of a military commander and the high priest. Shocked, Candide recognizes in this mighty authority figure his stepbrother and brother of Cunigonde. He seems to also miraculously survive after the massacre in Baron’s castle. In his naivete, Candide gladly tells him that he is going to marry Cunigonde. However, the Reverend Father doesn’t take this news well, trying to kill the low-born fugitive, but Candide wounds him in self-defence. Now he and Cacambo need to flee again. But not so far from the Jesuits’ camp they are captured by the native tribes of Oreillons. The Oreillons first think they are either Jesuits or their allies and decide to eat them, but Candide proves that he has just killed the Reverend Father Commander, so the two friends avoid death again. Cacambo wisely says that he was right telling his master that a crime from one side may be a benefit from another one.
Oreillons treat them with hospitality providing with supplies for further travel. But Candide and Cacambo again stray off the road shown by Oreillons and suddenly get to the legendary land of Eldorado. Candide heard that the gold there is valued no more than sand and everyone living in this country is forever happy. But Eldorado is surrounded by barren lands and high cliffs, so no one can enter or exit it. Due to never leaving their country and seeing the cruelty of outer worlds, the native inhabitants of Eldorado retained the original moral purity and bliss. People peacefully work there, content and cheerful, there are neither prisons nor crimes. Even praying people don’t beg God for blessing, but just thank Him for what they already have. No one can be forced to do anything, people want to work as hard as they can by their own free will. Even the King is simply walking the streets as any other citizen of Eldorado and people just kiss him in both cheeks as greeting.
Everything appears to be right like in tales Candide was told. The King is surprised and glad to see the first strangers for a long time. He greets Candide and Cacambo warmly and tries to persuade them to stay and live in Eldorado, because it is better to live in the country you like. But the two really want to return to their native land with fame and fortune and Candide still desires to marry Cunigonde. Hearing their decision, the King presents them a hundred sheep and countless gems and coins. He also allows them to use his amazing machine able to transport them with all the wealth over the mountains and, with deep regret, Candide and Cacambo leave the country where everything indeed happens for the greater good.
While they are moving from the borders of Eldorado to the city of Surinam, all the sheep, except for two, die. In Surinam they finally find Cunigonde’s tracks: she is still a concubine of the governor. But Candide is still wanted for murdering the Grand Inquisitor, so Cacambo volunteers to go for Cunigonde and Candide himself shall wait for them in free city of Venice.
However, in Venice almost all of his treasures are stolen by a dishonest merchant and the judge, to whom Candide goes with complain, punishes Candide and not the thief! After these incidents, Candide is completely disillusioned in humans, believing that their true nature is indeed shown in their worst qualities. Therefore, he decides to choose the most unfortunate person he can find as his next companion. He finds a man named Martin, who survived through the similar misfortunes and became a deeply depressed pessimist. Together they sail to France and on the way Martin tries to convince Candide that the nature of a man is to kill, betray and lie and people everywhere are equally miserable and evil. Only the memory of Eldorado prevents Candide from falling into the same depression.
In Paris Candide is immediately surrounded by scammers, flattery and deceit. This deeply disappoints him and reassures Martin in his pessimistic philosophy. All the people around Candide use his incredible naivete as parasites. He is careless enough to tell about his adventures and his love to Cunigonde and instead of help, he gets in a trap and is put in prison. Luckily, Martin manages to bribe the guards and two companions get to the ship and secretly sail to England. They don’t stay long in England, but still see a senseless and cruel execution of an innocent admiral. Finally, he and Martin finally return to Venice. Candide hopes to see Cacambo and Cunigonde there.
But instead of them, he finds another familiar face - Paquette, the chambermaid from the Baron’s castle. Life was as harsh to her as to himself and now she is forced to work as a prostitute just for food. Candide wants to help her and gives Paquette some money, despite Martin’s warning. But later he learns that Martin was right: when he meets Paquette the second time, the poor woman is even in more miserable condition than before, getting in troubles because of money she had.
Seeing that suffering is inevitable for everyone, Candide searches for a man who sees happiness in ordinary things. He finds a noble Venetian who seems to indulge the simple joys of life, but, after learning his worldview, Candide understands that he is happy also criticizing others, humiliating them and destroying beautiful things.
Finally Candide finds Cacambo, but his friend and servant is also in distress. He says that after paying a huge ransom for Cunigonde he sailed with her to Venice but the ship was attacked by pirates. They sold Cunigonde to Constantinopole and what’s worse, she is not beautiful anymore. But Candide decides that he is still morally obliged to marry her and travels to Constantinopole on a slave ship.
On the ship, among the slaves, Candide sees Dr. Pangloss and the Reverend Father Commander, the stepbrother of whom Candide himself killed. They both (yes, miraculously) evaded death but became slaves. Candide immediately pays ransom for them. The rest of his money is barely enough to free Cunigonde together with the old woman who still serves her and buy a small farm to live on.
Although Cunigonde indeed lost all her beauty, Candide still marries her. The little community has no choice but to live and work on the farm. Their life is hard and dull, nobody wants to work hard, boredom drives them mad. They often just sit and talk about nothing, arguing what is worse: all their misfortunes before or that miserable life they have now. Dr. Pangloss finally loses his faith in kind and just world but Martin, on the other hand, learns to face difficulties without complaints, because the world is the way it is and one have to live in it no matter what.
But suddenly they meet a neighboring farmer who tells them that ambitions, pride and laziness are not only sinful but fatal for people and only labor can save people from the horrible fate of going mad. Candide makes a saving decision: the community should work as hard as they can. They really do work hard and land rewards them with a great harvest.