8 1/2 (stylized as 8 ½ or Eight and a half) is considered one of the masterpieces by the Italian director Federico Fellini. Often included in the lists of the best movies ever made, 8 ½ is a fascinating vision that usually leaves viewers puzzled about what they saw. It has been defined as “the movie that never existed” for a reason: in this article, we will have the film’s plot and meaning explained poetically, as the movie itself inspired.
You can watch the official trailer for 8 ½ here on Youtube.
8 1/2: the movie plot and meaning, explained
Once upon a time, there was a movie. It existed, that’s for sure, otherwise we wouldn’t be talking about it. There was the idea; there was the producer; the director already had several intuitions ready to be developed. There was no title, that’s true. It was called 8 ½ for fun, a number more than a title: up to that point, Federico Fellini had made six films plus three others co-directed with other directors. The subject was also quite confused, but knowing the mastermind behind all this, they were confident that everything would become evident sooner or later. Instead, one fine day the film vanished. One could say that he flew away, like Mastroianni in the first three minutes of 8 ½. The first three minutes of a movie that no longer was.
Overnight, the ideas no longer matched, and nothing seemed to respond to the minimum set of elements necessary to be able to start a film. The inspiration was hopelessly lost. It can happen to everyone. Even to someone like Federico Fellini, who in the 60s was the most esteemed Italian director in the world, with two films like La Strada and La Dolce Vita behind him that had managed to convince anyone. Even if your name is Federico Fellini, and you have that innate talent for transposing pure mental visions into instantly captivating images, even if you base all your strengths on aesthetics rather than on stories, subjects, and screenplays, the fact remains that you can’t be forced to make a film of which you have nothing. No, not even Federico Fellini can.
“But is there a script? Two pages, an idea?”
“He wants to possess and devour everything. He can’t pass anything up. He’s afraid he’ll miss something. He’s drained.”
“That’s how the film ends?”
“No, that’s how it begins.”
“There’s no part. There’s no film. There’s nothing anywhere. As far as I’m concerned, it can all end right here.”
Or maybe not?
When Fellini gives up definitively and decides to go to the Producer Angelo Rizzoli to explain that the film is no longer there, he is blocked by a Cinecittà chief engineer celebrating the birthday of a stagehand. During the celebrations, everyone congratulates him on the new film, and Fellini, sitting alone on a bench, begins to think about actually making that film that doesn’t actually exist. Thus Guido becomes the projection of a director who has lost his inspiration, amid an existential crisis, with his doubts, his disillusioned ambitions, and the pressure of the critics who keep reminding him that the artist must produce art as the world needs. Marcello Mastroianni will play Guido, and the world knows it: when Mastroianni is the protagonist of a Fellini film, he’s interpreting Fellini himself.
Childhood flashbacks, anecdotes, the thousand women who populate his life. The cumbersome presence of Sandra Milo, in a role that, years later, will be revealed as the role of herself, Fellini’s hidden and chatted lover during the period in which he was married to Giulietta Masina.
“Happiness consists of being able to tell the truth without hurting anyone.”
Fragments of a reconciliation that is impossible to achieve. The famous harem fantasy, in which all the women finally get along, the rebellion of the showgirl, the Fellini-Mastroianni with the whip on his hand, restoring order.
“Who do you think you are?”
You can’t have 8 1/2 explained because it’s a film that never existed. The presumptuous egocentric fantasy of a director who believed he could fully legitimize his art only with his imagination. The improbable stunt of a genius who had run out of ideas. The final “double or nothing,” hoping that the world will not rebel and reject its deceptions once and for all.
List of directors who consider 8 ½ one of the best films ever made, or who have been influenced by it in their careers: Woody Allen, Guillermo del Toro, Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Terry Gilliam, David Lynch, Tim Burton, Charlie Kaufman, Quentin Tarantino, Todd Haynes, Paul Mazursky, Wim Wenders, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, François Truffaut, Bob Fosse, Paolo Sorrentino, Terrence Malick, Ingmar Bergman, and Alejandro González Iñárritu, among others.
8 ½ is the definitive victory of the greatest cheater in the history of cinema.
8 ½ is the history of cinema.