The Monomyth of Frederico Fellini`s 8 1/2

The Journey of Guido Anselmi according to Parker Tyler and Joseph Campbell

Term Paper, 2001

17 Pages, Grade: 1 (A)

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I. Introduction.

II. Parker Tyler’s Myth and Magic

III. Fellini’s relationship to Jung

IV. Joseph Campbell’s monomyth

V. Monomyth applied to Fellini’s 8 ½

VI. Conclusion

VII. Footnotes

VIII. Bibliography

I. Introduction:

One reason that stories and films are such a popular component of our culture lies in the fact that they contain mythic story-telling patterns that enhance our ability to “suspend disbelief” and engage fully into a dreamlike fantasy world. Many film theorists have elaborated on the notion that the arena of the film theatre acts as an enabling port to the subconscious, from analogies to Plato’s theory of forms as mentioned in his cave parallel to the absurd adaptation of Bertwin Lewin’s hypothesis that the motion picture screen is in reality a white maternal breast-display1.

Parker Tyler’s contribution to film theory follows the gravity of these first ideas and finds its applicability more immediately. Combining Jungian psychoanalysis and his ideas on the collective unconscious 2 and re-occurring elements of myths and archetypes, Parker Tyler elucidates certain film texts that follow predictable Jungian patterns . Among such texts is Frederico Fellini’s 8 ½. This highly visual masterpiece proves an excellent exemplar for mythic analysis, as both form and content combine with an overabundance of Freudian symbols and concepts of neurosis. And yet, one must question the possibilities of Parker Tyler when relying solely on his ideas of the dreamlike state. The below in-depth analysis of Fellini’s film will suggest that the overuse of this aspect of Tyler’s theory can deduct meaning resulting in counterproductive stasis. To sustain many of Parker Tyler’s claims it will be necessary to draw on Joseph Campbell’s ideas concerning monomyth 3 in his work The Hero With a Thousand Faces. His theory supports the Jungian notion of “archetypes of the collective unconscious” and illustrates the sequence of events within identifiable mythological cycles. Many elements of Frederico Fellini’s film that have gone unnoticed now acquire new meaning in light of these findings via monomythic analysis. It is clear that the main character, Guido Anselmi is a mythological anti-hero in conflict with his interests, but even so, the diegetic reality of the film in which he finds himself offers numerous elements of the monomythic quest-like journey.

Throughout this paper, it has become apparent that Campbell’s theory enhances our perspective of Fellini’s 8 ½ only through detailed breakdown. It is important to realize that Campbell’s monomyth has a clear defined social function as he aspires to integrate the hero in the end. As 8 ½ never attempts to fully re-integrate Guido back into society, but rather offer an open-ended Jungian alternative, the means that Campbell offers towards an end must be applied with caution.

Upon viewing 8 ½ for the first time, it might seem as if identification with an aloof and struggling film director is unachievable. This superficial frustration subsides quickly as the film’s mythic structure links the viewer to the collective unconsciousness, an intuitive understanding of oneself among the archetypes of history. My contribution is not only to prove that identification is possible, but to suggest that our identification is as unique as 8 ½’s ending, not a typical harmonious “crossing the return” threshold, but rather a poignant alternative of an anti-hero: to stay among circus crowds on a set design that was never filmed.

II. Parker Tyler’s Myth and Magic:

In the preface of his book Magic and Myth in the Movies, Parker Tyler proposes, “the true field of movies is not art but myth” defining myth as “free, unharnessed fiction, a basic, prototypic pattern capable of many variation (Braudy, Cohen p.795).” Whatever these variations and distortions may be in their filmic expressions, Parker Tyler embraces the Jungian concept of the collective unconscious. Myth has become an imaginative truth that operates analogously as shifting facts trivialize previous axioms that stand refuted by new discoveries. Summarizing his ideas on myth, Tyler adds that myth “has the status of permanent possibility” and “desires may have the same power over the mind and behavior, indeed a much greater power, than facts (Braudy, Cohen p.796).” This notion of a strong desire overriding truths and facts entails the assumption that we welcome myths over facts, their impact affecting us far more than particulars. To Tyler, movies are dreamlike and fantastic. His ideas regarding the spectator, the movie going experience and the daylight dream are quoted below:

“The movie-rite corresponds directly to the profoundly primitive responses of the audience; the auditorium is dark, the spectator is relaxed, the movie in front of him requires less sheer mental attention than would a novel or stage play - less attention because all movement seems to exist on the screen…From the capacity of the screen for trick illusion, plus the dark-enshrouded passivity of the spectator, issues a state of daydream. […] The movie theater is the psychoanalytical clinic of the average worker’s daylight dream (Braudy, Cohen p.797-798).”

Examining Parker Tyler’s theory of the daylight dream in detail reveals a number of shortcomings. Tyler bases his hypotheses of the passive and mentally relaxed spectator and on the fact that more movement takes place on screen than in any other art form. How does Tyler justify his argument in regard to the criteria of movement? Why should more movement relax us? Theater moves in the dark as well, just as the reading of a novel in a dark university auditorium moves lips that read from the novel’s pages. Action movies with engaging juxtaposition do everything but relax us, because they force us to actively read the action a certain way. For Tyler, heightened external processes generate internal ones in opposite proportions (more movement — less spectator engagement), a fundamental belief that enables him to discuss the dreamlike state.

Although Parker Tyler’s ideas concerning the viewer’s diluted motoricity are flawed and his rash conclusions invalidate the logical progressions of the dreamlike state argument, examining any film with the aid of Jungian psychology offers many enlightening possibilities. One of these possibilities concerns the cinematic form itself, the apparatus of the camera and projector along with their ability, through persistence of vision4, to magically transform single frames into realistic movement. Many film theorists have fascinated over this technological wonder, but Parker Tyler seems to mystify the process to the point of the supernatural:

“…Camera trickery is really camera magic, for illusion can be freely created by the movie camera with more mathematical accuracy and shock value than by slight-of-hand magic or stage illusion. The very homogeneity of camera illusion - the images of the actors themselves are illusive, their corporal bodies absent - creates a throwback in the mood of the spectator to the vestiges of those ancient beliefs that I discuss in detail later in the chapter on supernaturalism, such beliefs in ghosts, secret forces, telepathy, etc…(Braudy, Cohen p.797).”

The camera obscura 5 and the projector thus act as precise myth-enabling machines as they transform projected fragments of facts into a whole operation of desires, which is similar to the audiences’ wish to assemble these archetypal units into the collective unconsciousness. Tyler’s supernatural commentary on the camera institutes the possibilities and explorations undertaken by Frederico Fellini in 8 ½. Fellini enjoys a unique closeness to Jungian psychology, allowing the images of his imagination to flow freely from the pages of his mind to imprinted celluloid.

III. Fellini’s relationship to Jungian psychology:

Frederico Fellini’s own personal analyst, Ernest Berharnd, was strongly influenced by Jungian psychology. Fellini not only read a number of Jung’s work, but he also visited C. G. Jung in Zurich in 1965 (Bondanella, p.151). As Bondanella points out, “Fellini has always believed that there is no dividing line between imagination and reality” and Jung helped to convince him that “the dreams and fantasies he had experienced since childhood […] were a means of gaining access to the imaginative world of far greater significance (ibid, p.152).” In 8 ½, this world of Fellini’s dreams, memories, fears and frustrations as a director have been analyzed by himself and therapists numerous amounts of times, reconstructed, projected to screen and re-analyzed by the main character Guido Anselmi. This subjective insight into the protagonist-director along with Fellini’s massive compilation of visual material presents a complex construct, undeniably more exhausting than at all relaxing.

IV. Joseph Campbell’s monomyth:

Joseph Campbell’s ideas on Jung, myth and narrative archetypes have penetrated many filmmakers’ work. As the titles of his book suggests, The Hero With a Thousand Faces offers a plausible theory about the summation of many heroic personalities, from Mohamed to King Arthur, into a single archetypal hero, who embarks on a formulaic journey or quest. Campbell’s responses to mythology, Jung and Freud are methodologically an empirical classification of a wide range of folk-tales, tableau paintings, all in all incorporating both Western and Eastern story-telling traditions. His definition of myth is the “secret opening through which the inexhaustible, energies of the cosmos pour into cultural manifestations (Campbell, p.3).” These inexhaustible findings however are placed into a rigid cycle that abridges universal myths into the concept of the monomyth. This circular pattern of events comprises the hero’s adventure with all of its phases, hurdles, reaching various levels of experiences that result in some final reconciliation or transcendence. The hero and his relationship to God seem to dominate the monomyth as the separation-initiation-return sequence forms the nucleus of this rites of passage formula.

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are the encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons6 on his fellow men (ibid, p.30).”

Because of the large variety of mythological happenings within the monomyth and its narrow relevance to 8 ½, only a few of the enumerations marked with an asterisks will be explained and discussed in detail. As mentioned above, the monmythic structure is 1) the departure, 2) the initiation and 3) the final return to society. Figure 1 lists all monomythic variables according to stage.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Fig. 1

“The Call to Adventure” is the event that sets the hero on the path of quest; a “Helper”, who requests the heroes’ aid, causes the inciting incident in most cases. The version most suitable for 8 ½ is rooted in the quote below:

“Whether dream or myth, in these adventures there is an atmosphere of irresistible fascination about the figure that appears suddenly as a guide, marking a new period, a new stage, in the biography. That which has to be faced, and is somehow profoundly familiar to the unconscious - though unknown, surprising, and even frightening to the conscious personality - makes itself known; and what formerly was meaningful may become strangely emptied of value (ibid, p. 55).”

The “profoundly familiar”, yet “unknown to the conscious personality” divulges the inner dichotomy or conflict of the hero. He is ultimately human and though he is “a personage with exceptional gifts”, frequently honored, disdained or unrecognized by society, he suffers from “symbolic deficiency (ibid, p.37).”

These shortcomings often negatively influence the hero’s ambition to embark on the journey as he refuses the call. Campbell points out, “the subject [hero] loses the power of significant affirmative action and becomes a victim to be saved.” This “wasteland of meaninglessness” creates “new problems” that “await the gradual approach of his [the heroes] disintegration (ibid, p.59).”

“The first Threshold” stands metaphorically for two things: 1. The “limits of the hero’s present sphere, or life horizon.”, or 2. The “regions of the unknown as free fields for the projection of unconscious content (ibid, p. 79).” After partially coming to terms with one’s fallacies, the hero continues his journey until he reaches the portal to the unknown, heralding the onset of real adventure. Here he must face his demons, those projected libidos 7 or tanatos 8 emerging from the depths of his subconscious.

A rebirth or “swallowing up into the unknown” follows the first threshold crossing and is named “The Belly of the Whale” in biblical reference to Jona’s cathartic transformation (ibid, p.90).” The hero appears to have died, but has in reality entered a new and different world.

“The Road of Trails” offers to bulk material to myth-adventures such as the Nibelungen or King Arthur Sagas:

“Once having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trails […] The hero covertly aided by the advice of the supernatural helper whom he met before the entrance to this region. Or it may be that he here discovers for the first time that there is a benign power everywhere supporting him in his superhuman passage (ibid, p.97).”

The Goddess is the “incarnation of the promise of perfection”, the “reply to all desire” and often a strong maternal counterpart with all of its Freudian implications.

“The mythological figure of the Universal Mother imputes to the cosmos the feminine attributes of the first, nourishing and protecting presence. The fantasy is primarily spontaneous (ibid, p.113)”

In addition, this cosmic maternal figure can take on various forms, from the literal mother to the symbolic embodiment of the ultimate loving wife, mistress or unattainable acquaintance.

After transcendence and reaping the rewards of the flights and journey, the hero is now faced with the reality that he must return home or to his previous starting point. Often linked to societal commitments and rhetorical obligations to contribute the found elixir or benefits to a longing community, this return can be met with immense reluctance. Can the threshold experiences be communicated? Are they really beneficial?

Doubt and uncertainty infiltrates the mind of the hero and many characters of mythology refuse returning.

Figure 2 illustrates and summarizes the circular relationship between the three Departure-Initiation-Return phases according to the hero’s adventure.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Fig. 2. Source: Campbell 1949

Joseph Campbell gives a wonderful explanation of figure 2, as he briefly resummarizes the above-mentioned phases:

“The mythological hero, setting forth from his common day hut or castle, is lured, carried away, or else voluntarily proceeds, to the threshold of adventure. There he encounters a shadow presence that guards the passage. The hero may defeat or conciliate this power and go alive into the kingdom of the dark […] Beyond the threshold, then, the hero journeys through a world of unfamiliar yet strangely intimate forces, some of which severely threaten him (tests), some of which give magical aid (helpers). When he arrives at the nadir of the mythological round, he undergoes a supreme ordeal and gains his reward. This triumph may be rewarded by the hero’s sexual union with the goddess-mother of the world (sacred marriage), his recognition by the father-creator (father-atonement), his own divinization (apotheosis), or again - if the powers have remained unfriendly to him - his theft of the boon he came to gain. The final work is that of the return….(ibid, p. 245-246)

V. Monomyth applied to Fellini’s 8 ½:

Guido Anselmi is definitely “a personage with exceptional gifts.” The cynical varied nomen et omen 9 of Guido’s last name is a well-hidden reference to the medieval Christian philosopher St. Anselm, Abbot of Bec and later Archbishop of Cantebury. Anselm’s ontological argument as set forth in Proslogium is based on the assumption that God can be defined as a thought, as “That-than-which-nothing-greater-can-be-thought.” This interesting side note introduces Guido as a character blessed with ontological potential; someone that can create the Greatest of All in his mind. But Guido also has weaknesses and flaws. He finds himself in a critical philosophical phase, a “wasteland of meaninglessness” at the height of his career as a film director. Negatively influenced by this moral barrier, Guido refuses the call to adventure. He has becomes a victim of his writer’s block and creates “new problems” that spark his interests to side track him from his obligation to make a new film under the pressure of screenwriters and producers - the socially expected journey. In the beginning of Fellini’s 8½, this struggle between Guido’s desire to loath in his crisis and his producer’s determination to force Guido into moviemaking is presented beautifully as metaphor:

“The audience sees a strange traffic jam in a tunnel and hears an eerie silence. Then, fumes start to come out of the car’s dashboard. A man is suffocating and desperately trying to escape - the doors won’t open and the windows won’t roll up. Then we see strange people in the surrounding cars […] Finally the victim struggles out of the car window and miraculously floats his way out of the tunnel in which the traffic jam takes place and soars up to heaven, a freed spirit. […] The soaring figure in the sky now has a rope around his ankle. Another man pulls on the rope and. Like a dream Icarus, the figure comes hurtling down, towards the water (Stone, p. 2-3).”

The comparison from independent film critic, Aaron Stone, of Guido to Icarus, a fallen mythological figure, is remarkable in regard to Parker Tyler’s comments regarding the “homogeneity of the camera illusion.” This provides evidence to the idea that the trickery of the camera generates “a throwback in the mood of the spectator to the vestiges of those ancient beliefs (Braudy, Cohen, p.797).” Guido has reverted to an archetypal hero, not a Ulysses but a fallen inventor.

Guido awakes from this surreal dream in a health spa, trying to recover from mood shifts, mental instability under the disguise of physical health decay due to overt film-related stress. The visually impressive opening also foreshadows the journey that Guido will unwillingly embark on, limited by “symbolic deficiency”. He is the victim of a prescribed journey, antagonizing the objectives of his producer and co-writer, making Guido ultimately an anti-hero.

Masked as “Helpers”, Guido’s producer and co-writer initiate the adventure as “tests” he must face prior to reaching the “first threshold”. He must confront their interests and find the strength within him to say “No” to their ideas and suggestions. His success in avoiding them is when Guido crosses the first threshold. Entering the “wonder journey”, he travels deep into his subconscious, his fantasies and childhood memories. There are no boundaries of time or space, the hero being a conglomerate of past, present and future. This journey swallows him from the anxious public eyes that await his new movie. His distance and apathetic behavior functions as outward contact to the world that’s not his anymore.

In the “Belly of the Whale”, Guido must travel on many roads of trials. One of the childhood memories that enter his mind is that of voluptuous prostitute Saraghina.

Along with his schoolmates, Guido would ogle her, flirtatiously awaiting to be caught or touched by her. This encounter could be interpreted as a “Meeting with the Goddess.” Saraghina is Guido’s first object of desire, his first meeting with the ultimate feminine and maternal figure. This familiar, yet frightening memory is linked to guilt, as young Guido must face inquisition from Catholic Church leaders after the incident. Looking back on these feelings of guilt and the didactical instructions he received from church leaders, they appear absurd and obscure. They have estranged, been “emptied of value”, for Saraghina is no longer the embodiment of the first deadly sin, lust, but the mythological and archetypal “goddess” presence. His connection to this memory isn’t nostalgic in nature, but Guido’s first attempt to tap into the collective unconsciousness. Another “road of trails” that Guido must embark on relates to his struggle of fusing the impression of his fantasy with his surrounding realities. Many moments within the diegetic reality of the film that Guido finds himself in requires more than passive objectivity, but actions, words and concrete human dealings. In the health spa, Guido sees the “symbolically deficient” reality through his Gucci sunglasses. The gravity of reality offsets his fantastic imagination, when Guido is forced to function within reality in a logical and coherent way. His irresolute relationship with his wife Anouk Aimee is the epitome of this struggle as her strong desire to re-integrate him into society, monogamy and commitment is obstructed by Guido’s desire for the “white dressed lady”, the muse of his Jungian intuition. Guido’s wife can now longer satisfy the hero as he has entered the realm of unreality, the threshold of adventure that only refers to Anouk as simile, allusion and in the screening room a mere joke. He is the unattainable hero, a medieval archetype reminiscent of King Arthur.

Probably the most important element of Fellini’s 8 ½ concerns Guido Anselmi’s initial suicide, for the hero never returns to the reality he is forced to live in. Instead, his competence is restored in a transcendent ending among circus artists, all joining in a chaotic stream of consciousness; to a world of symbols in full understanding of the hero. The pictures and symbols carry us to the collective unconsciousness, allowing us to remain within the Jungian adventure of the first threshold.

VI. Conclusion:

This study has shown a definite correlation between Parker Tyler’s theories of camera trickery, illusion and reversion to archetypes of the collective unconsciousness, as well as definite parallels to Joseph Campbell’s monomythic cycle. Frederico Fellini’s 8 ½ offers a plentitude of mythological symbols that ultimately translate into obvious archetypes, following a mythic pattern, a journey-like quest that result in transcendence and literal reunion with the world of the collective unconsciousness.

IX. Footnotes:

X. Bibliography:

Bondanella, Peter. The Cinema of Frederico Fellini. Princeton University Press: Princeton, NewJersey, 1992.

Braudy, Leo and Cohen, Marshall. Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings. Oxford University Press: New York, 1999.

Burke, Frank. Fellini’s Films. Twayne Publishers: New York, 1996.

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton University Press: New Jersey, 1949.

Stone, Alan. 8 ½: Fellini’s Moment of Truth. Boston Review:Boston, 1993

Tyler, Parker. Magic and Myth of the Movies. Simon and Shuster: New York, 1970.


1: Film theorist Jean-Louis Baudry adapts Bertwin Lewin’s theory of the maternal dream screen in his late article “The Apparatus: Metapsychological Approaches to the Impression of Reality in Cinema” (1975).

2: “Our personal psychology is just a thin skin, a ripple on the ocean of collective psychology. The powerful factor, the factor which changes our whole life, which changes the surface of our known world, which makes history, is collective psychology, and collective psychology moves according to laws entirely different from those of our consciousness. The archetypes are the great decisive forces, they bring about the real events, and not our personal reasoning and practical intellect ... The archetypal images decide the fate of man (Jung. Analytical Psychology: Its Theory and Practice: The Tavistock Lectures (1935) P. 183). ”

3 The term 'monomyth' was coined by James Joyce in “Finnegan ’ s Wake ” , a work that meant to summarize the ‘history of the world’, categorizing complex archetypes in circular fashion: “The genetic study of Finnegan’s Wake is suspended in such doubts. The task is enormous, and enormously difficult, the outcome is unknown. (How like life!)”

4 Persistence of vision: The technique in action was the old zoetrop technique ("... by which a series of drawings appear as continous motion due to the eye’s persistance of vision," the article on "Film" in the Nationalencyklopedin), invented already in the 1830s. This process creates the illusion of single frame movement.

5 camera obscura: camera = lat. for "room"; obscura = lat. for "dark"; an aperturated box that fills with light with the exact image in reverse.

6 boons: rewards of journey or battle;

7 libido: Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytical term for the sexual and emotions of lust;

8 tanatos: Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytical term for hate and emotions of aggression;

9 nomen et omen: lat. name has meaning is a dramaturgical device to reveal character through the connotation of the meaning or sound of a name.

17 of 17 pages


The Monomyth of Frederico Fellini`s 8 1/2
The Journey of Guido Anselmi according to Parker Tyler and Joseph Campbell
Brigham Young University
Film Science
1 (A)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
438 KB
Monomyth, Fellini, Campbell
Quote paper
Ethan Vincent (Author), 2001, The Monomyth of Frederico Fellini`s 8 1/2, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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