Freudian and Rothian Interpretation of Federico Fellini’s 8 ½

Many parallels can be drawn between Federico Fellini’s 1963 drama/comedy 8 ½, the theories of Sigmund Freud in The Interpretation of Dreams, Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, and Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint.

Freud explains the reasoning in dreaming of suffocation in The Interpretation of Dreams. The opening scene in which the protagonist Guido suffocates in his car represents a condition of lung disease, according to Freud (Interpretation, 31). This problem does not pose itself as a dilemma in the story, nor does it even conflict Guido’s character arc. However, clues surrounding the dream strongly support the matter of Guido being afflicted with a lung-related disease. When he wakes in terror, he coughs violently. The doctor that immediately tends to him listens to the quality of his breathing and instructs Guido to cough. The doctor then diagnoses “the organism [as] sluggish” and leaves. There is no further mention of Guido’s illness in the remainder of the film.

In the same dream, after he bursts free of the car in which he suffocates, he soars into the sky. Freud explains that dreams of flying are recreations of the giddy moments during a child’s life when he is lifted playfully by an adult (Interpretation, 208). For a moment, Guido is free to enjoy the bliss and giddiness of the fresh air, until his producers below pull him down like a kite, sending him into rude awakening.

Guido’s harem dream sequence has the same setting as his fondest childhood memory. In both dream and memory, women affectionately carry him in cloth after they bathe him. Freud suggests that “sexual wishes in the child…develop very early” (Interpretation, 198). Guido’s greatest sexual fantasy includes the surroundings and elements of his sexual arousal as a child.

During the screen test, Luisa’s caricature is unmasked when the actress dons identical glasses to Luisa’s, which Freud would consider a degrading exaggeration of her traits (Jokes, 258). In mimicry, we laugh at the faithfulness of the imitator to the imitated, yet Luisa does not find it funny for the joke is on her, and her close friends are the spectators (Jokes, 258).

Guido and Alexander Portnoy share common relationships with the worlds that surround them. Alexander Portnoy remarks on Heshie’s “long dark Hollywood lashes. We are not a family that takes defection lightly” (Roth, 317). Guido also has a similar intention when he tells an annoying actress with pins in her bun that she looks like a snail (8 ½). The many times when Guido visualizes his mother, she is always crying. When adolescent Portnoy is in the bathroom masturbating, his mother sits in the kitchen chair crying, thinking that he has diarrhea from eating hamburgers and French fries (Roth, 299). In one of Guido’s dreams, his dead father tells him “it’s sad for a man to realize how miserably he’s failed” (8 ½). Portnoy’s father becomes disappointed to the point of tears when Alexander refuses the Jewish religion and refuses to celebrate Rosh Hashanah (Roth, 319). Guido seems like an Alexander Portnoy who regrets his past with his father, since both relationships are estranged, but Guido pleads to the vision of his dead father not to leave, and to spend more time with him. Guido’s religious stance is not as staunch and militant as Portnoy’s, yet they both approach religion unconventionally. Guido wants to include the Pope in his film in a mud bath scene, a minor sign of disrespect, and Portnoy refuses God completely (Roth, 319).

So many similarities exist between Guido and Alexander Portnoy. 8 ½, Portnoy’s Complaint and Freud’s theories delight very humorously, present the Oedipus Complex and involve the audience’s emotions dramatically.

Works Cited

8 1/2. Dir. Federico Fellini. Perf. Anouk Aimee, Claudia Cardinale, Marcello Mastroianni. Image Entertainment, 1963. DVD.

Freud, Sigmund. Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. Trans. James Stratchey. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1960. Print.

Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams. New York: Oxford UP, 1999. Print.

Roth, Philip. Novels 1967-1972. New York: Library of America, 2005. Print.


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