FELLINI AND CONSIDERING THE IDEAL
On our recent trip to Rome we went to the Trevi Fountain. Unlike the evocative scene in Fellini’s LA DOLCE VITA, the fountain was not deserted and mysterious. It was instead surrounded by hundreds of tourists, as well as kiosks hawking plastic, miniature versions of Bernini’s sculptures. There was something disorienting about it, and I barely remember taking in the experience of the fountain itself. But it was nevertheless its own kind of wonderful: a crowd of people, teeming with life, energy, and happiness.
And anyway, there’s always the movie—the dreamlike image of Anita Ekberg walking in the fountain wearing a black dress, with the water cascading over her.
In the film, the protagonist Marcello follows the character of Sylvia into the fountain, desiring her. But they never even kiss—they come close, but they don’t connect, the water stops and they venture out into the dawn without understanding what their experience has been about--the same way we often wake up from a dream that feels unfinished. We’re left wondering what it was which seemed so potent even moments before.
LA DOLCE VITA is broken up into seven episodes which take place over seven nights: each episode ends in the early morning, with an unsuccessful attempt to make sense of the night before. One could say that the film is essentially seven dreams that are to be interpreted by the viewer.
Fellini’s films often evoke the unconscious—dreamlike images that resonate with the power of archetypes. (He himself spent years in Jungian analysis, and his dream journals are remarkable—you can check them out at this link.)
The opening dream from 8 1/2 symbolizes the protagonist's sense of being stuck in his creative process.
Giulietta Masina in JULIET OF THE SPIRITS experiences visions that help her process her unhappiness.
I have always loved Fellini, who said about his films: “My work can’t be anything other than a testimony of what I am looking for in life. It is a mirror of my searching…. In this respect, I think, there is no cleavage or difference of content or style in all my films. From first to last, I have struggled to free myself—always from the past, from the education laid upon me as a child. That is what I’m seeking, though through different characters and with changing tempo and images.”
The manner in which Giulietta is framed against the red wall expresses her emotion in a visual way.
His films offer a real sense of this search, and the heart behind it. His images evoke the emotions of longing and introspection and his movies draw no distinction between high and low culture. His characters often are those that we judge, ignore or discard. He examines the pursuit of love, and also the search for meaning. Watching his films provides a sense of catharsis--I feel more human and more attuned to the world around me after one of his movies.
If one watches LA DOLCE VITA, 8 ½, and JULIET OF THE SPIRITS in succession, one can see his “searching” very clearly—characters look for an answer, and the answer is finally to accept the variety of life without resisting its difficulty. Instead they move forward, embracing the totality of experience.
Fellini said, “We must cease projecting ourselves into the future as though it were plannable, foreseeable, tangible, controllable—it’s not; or as though it were a dimension existing outside and beyond ourselves. We must learn to deal with matters as they are, not as we hope or fear they may eventuate. We must cope with them as they exist now, today, at this moment. We must awaken to the fact that the future is already HERE, to be lived in the present. In short, wake up and live!”
In other words, our major obstacle to living in the present is some “ideal” that has been suggested to us as to where we should be as opposed to where we are. It is an insidious enemy—this thought that where we are presently is not good enough.
Robert Johnson and Jerry M. Ruhl write in their book CONTENTMENT: “Our society teaches us that the only reality is the one we can hold onto. It values outer experiences and material possessions. Accordingly, we look for contentment ‘out there’ and live with a ‘just as soon as’ mentality. ‘Just as soon as I get my work done, I can relax.’ ‘Just as soon as I get married, I will be content’ or conversely, ‘Just as soon as my divorce comes through, I will be content.’ (etc.) …And so our contentment slips through our fingers like quicksilver—another time, a different place, a better circumstance.”
But it need not be this way. In any moment, we have the choice to embrace what is happening to us right now as an avenue to a deeper self-awareness.
Fellini’s films appeal to me partly because of the way they turn the mundane into poetry. They capture the fine line between joy and despair. He never judges his characters for the decisions they make, nor does he try to suggest that their problems are resolved. Instead his movies portray the inner images that are inspired by their conflicts and the dilemmas of the external world. He looks at reality, even its ugly parts, but then creates beauty in fantasy and imagination. His characters are presented with a choice of how to view their circumstances and a choice of how to continue. As one character says to Guido in 8 1/2: "…You're free but you must learn to choose. You don't have much time. And you have to hurry."