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Postmodernism and Psychoanalysis in Fellini’s 8 ½

Federico Fellini’s 8 ½ is his magnum opus, his chef d'oeuvre, his piece de resistance. 8 ½ is filled with postmodern elements and psychoanalytic commentary, truly, it is a film that cannot be defined or characterized.

8 ½ is a tight knit exercise in the mixing of styles, and these mixes are expertly crafted, therefore, 8 ½ is truly the work of an auteur, it is a transcendent piece of art, one that makes the aesthetics and narrative structures of its counterparts look like rehashed fast food. 8 ½ is a fascinating blend of reality, fantasy, desire and Bildungsroman.

Characterizing 8 ½ as just a postmodern film can be dangerous, since the film features many elements from different genres and artistic movements. However, many postmodern elements are ubiquitous in 8 ½. For instance, much of Guido’s existential crisis is about truth being constructed.

At the beginning of 8 ½, Guido’s character (which is based on Fellini himself) seeks to make a film that makes sense of our absurd world. As time goes by, Guido realizes that he can’t make sense of the world through film, or through his personal life, and this moral struggle that Guido faces wonderfully encompasses the postmodern ethos [1]. This meta narrative where the audience is aware, they are watching a film is also deeply postmodern.

Much of 8 ½’s postmodern identity manifests in its dream sequences. To expand, in 8 ½, the audience sometimes cannot differentiate between the real and the dream, and this phenomenon is indeed postmodern, since postmodernists often like to experiment with concepts such as objective reality and like to blur lines between reality and dream.

This thematically postmodern position that Fellini takes allows for a unique space for the audience to psychoanalyze Guido.

When Fellini looked to make a sequel to the film Le Dolce Vita, he was immensely interested in the works of Carl Jung, which provided him with unique insights when making sense of the collective unconscious of his characters [2].

We learn through Guido’s dreams that he has many sexual anxieties, and the film hints to sexual repression by the Church as a reason for this inner struggle. Fellini’s sexual anxieties are symbolized in his mistresses, who he keeps as his objects of desire. Fellini’s past sexual traumas and his present-day objectification of women shows us that he is not in touch with his anima, which is the feminine part of a man’s personality.

The role of the Freudian phenomenon of the Oedipus Complex is omnipresent throughout the film. For instance, Guido is bathed by his aunts, and in another scene, Guido buries his father and kisses his mother.

It seems that Guido is innocent, almost childlike, in many of the sequences. Fellini uses the character of Guido as a means to criticize himself, while simultaneously projecting his anxieties to the world.

Guido’s character can be interpreted in terms of the Freudian concepts of ID, Ego and Superego. The ID, which serves as the pleasure principle here, manifests in Guido when he is childlike and impulsive, while by the end of the film, Guido’s ego and superego kick in, and this is when Guido reconciles with the world around him, and finally becomes a true man. This is Guido’s Bildungsroman.


[1] Shanahan, Christine. "Critical Film Theory: The Poetics and Politics of Film." Critical Film Theory The Poetics and Politics of Film 8 1/2 as a Postmodernist Film

[2] Hayes, Mark, "Psychoanalysis & the Films of Federico Fellini" (2005). Honors College Theses. Paper 12.


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