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Postmodern Village
est. 1999
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"What About [Guido's] Vaunted Virility?":
Castration Anxiety in 's Harem Scene

by Francine DuBois

Federico Fellini's benefits greatly from a psychoanalytical reading due to the "psychological realism [which] takes the form of a character's subjective view of events" typically present in art cinema (Hayward 10). Since Guido (played by Marcello Mastroianni) drives the film's action, any attempt to further understand his insecurities, ambitions, and motives add to one's understanding of . Whether Fellini intended for a psychoanalytical reading to be applied is not an issue:

Approaching the text with a conceptual framework--the theories of Modes, Symbols, Myths, and Genres--the critic can interpret the work not by pulling out what the poet was aware of putting in but by extracting the elements of the various modes, genres, symbols, and myths which may have been put in without the author's explicit knowledge. (Culler 325)

Indeed, a psychoanalytical reading of is greater than the scope of this paper: by focusing on castration anxiety in Guido's harem fantasy, one can see how psychoanalytic theory applies to Guido's inner thoughts.

Sigmund Freud suggests "that happy people never make fantasies, only unsatisfied ones. Unsatisfied wishes are the driving power behind fantasies; every separate fantasy contains the fulfillment of a wish, and improves on unsatisfactory reality" ("Relation" 126). After Luisa (Anouk Aimée) calls his mistress Carla (Sandra Milo) a "whore" and a "cow," Guido imagines Luisa complimenting Carla on her singing: they begin dancing together. The image then fades to a roaring fire in his childhood home--the setting of his harem. He enters from a blizzard, bringing gifts to his bevy of women, and asks them to shut the door on the frigid air outside.

Freud suggests that "[o]ne may say that a fantasy at one and the same moment hovers between three periods of time": one of those times is the "memory from childhood in which this wish was fulfilled" ("Relation" 127). As revealed in Guido's flashback earlier in , bathing with his aunts and being called "the sweetest boy in the world" are some of his happiest times. In his harem, his aunts, bath time, and "the sweetest boy in the world" all appear. What is key about both his flashback and fantasy is the lack of male adults: there is no father (or paternal figure) with the power to castrate him, so Guido can love his mother (and maternal substitutes) without fear of punishment by castration.

Guido (Marcello Mastrioanni) cracks that whip.

Although Guido is not wearing a hat while fantasizing, he appears in a black hat for the duration of the harem scene. Freud suggests that the hat

has been adequately established as a symbol of the genital organ, most frequently the male, through analyses of dreams. . . . It may be that the symbolic meaning of the hat is derived from that of the head, in so far as the hat can be considered a continuation of the head, though detachable. ("Connection" 143-44)

Guido's hat is only removed when he relives specific acts from childhood: his mother dries his hair and his aunts (with the help of other women) carry him in a towel. He is willing to temporarily castrate himself for maternal love and attention by removing a symbol of his sexuality. He rests his hat on his groin while the women carry him: his sexuality is not completely denied, merely suppressed and hidden. After Jacqueline (Yvonne Casadei) screams that he has unfair rules, Guido puts his hat back on and nonchalantly stares at his fingernails. By replacing his hat, Guido is reasserting his sexuality and distancing himself from childhood.

Guido's potency is expressed through his whip: the whip gives him the power to please women with his prowess and castrate challenging women. The women, upset over his rule that women over thirty must be sent upstairs, call attention to his inadequacies: "What makes him think he's still young? He's a lousy lover! Talk and kisses . . . that's his speed. Then he goes to sleep!" He immediately takes on Saraghina (Eddra Gale), the heavy-set woman from his childhood who delighted him with the rumba. The first woman the viewer sees hit by his whip is Gloria (Barbara Steele); she squeals, smiles, and shrieks "How delicious, how incredible!" after she is struck. Then Guido confronts the Actress (Madeleine Lebeau), the most threatening member of the harem: she calls Guido a "hypocrite" and denies his status as a "real man." Guido attacks the two phallic columns of hair sprouting from her head: he effectively castrates her with his whip and forces her to be Other or a "real woman." Guido strokes the rim of his hat in a self-congratulatory manner with a smile of satisfaction. When he begins to assault Jacqueline (the viewer only sees flying feathers from her costume), she hides behind Luisa--Luisa is never touched by Guido's whip. Luisa smiles and tells Rossella, "My husband can do exactly as he pleases. It's the house rule. . . . He likes excitement. He does this almost every night." The viewer then witnesses more girls squealing in ecstasy as Guido cracks his whip.

To rid himself of any lingering fears of castration, he fetishes women so they are less threatening (Mulvey 843). The camera's gaze lingers on certain aspects of a woman's appearance: breasts, shoulders, eyes, and buttocks. When Carla is chased by a whip-cracking Guido, her ostrich-feather trimmed robe falls open to reveal her cleavage. Most women (especially Saraghina) wear tight-fitting clothes while Luisa wears a simple black dress that hides her figure. One nameless woman ("My name doesn't matter. I'm happy to be here, that's enough") wears a dress that exposes her back down to her lumbar region. Gloria, The Actress, Carla, and Saraghina appear in heavy eye make-up and false eyelashes. The gaze falls on the "Negro girl" Luisa gives her husband for Christmas: the camera zooms on her rear end as she runs across the room while Guido cracks his whip. She is immediately rewarded with a string of pearls from Guido.

Gloria proclaims, "[Guido is] a monster. We're all women created from [his] imagination." Guido's imagination drives the action : his flashbacks, fantasies, and dreams invite psychoanalytical analysis. The limited scope of castration anxiety is only one psychoanalytical tool: Lacanian theory and other Freudian theories (ego, Oedipus trajectory) could also be applied successfully and provide a richer reading of .

Works Cited

Culler, Jonathan. "Beyond Interpretation." Critical Theory Since 1965. Eds. Hazard Adams and Leroy Searle. Tallahassee: UP of Florida, 1990. 324-27.

8 1/2 . Dir. Federico Fellini. Perf. Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimée, and Sandra Milo. Cineriz, 1963.

Freud, Sigmund. "A Connection Between a Symbol and a Symptom." Delusion and Dream and Other Essays. Ed. Philip Rieff. Boston: Beacon, 1956. 143-44.

- - - . "Relation of the Poet to Daydreaming." Delusion and Dream and Other Essays. Ed. Philip Rieff. Boston: Beacon, 1956. 122-33.

Hayward, Susan. Key Concepts in Cinema Studies. London: Routledge, 1996.

Mulvey, Laura. "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings. 5th ed. Ed. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford UP, 1999. 833-44.