La Strada Poster

Analysis of Fellini's La Strada

J. E. L. 1997

The title of Fellini's film, "The Road", connotes some kind of journey, and this can be seen as the Journey of Life.  This also reminds me of the saying that "all roads lead to Rome" (especially since it's an Italian film.)  I seem to remember reading once that Rome is at the center of a circular pattern of converging roads.  This is a kind of "mandala" pattern, which Jung says  is a symbol of wholeness - a center source, with all the manifestations that arise from it, in the form of polarities.  For me, the title of this film brings to mind that we are all on some kind of journey, unique to each of us, but the destination is the same for each of us - back to the source of our being.

In a biological sense, we all arose from the sea, and the sea is a very important image in this film.  When we first see Gelsomina, she is by the sea, and throughout the film it's clear that she loves the sea and feels happy when she's near it.  When she first tells Zampano that she wants to be with him, they are by the sea, both seeming content and happy.  You could say that, as archetypal woman, she and the sea are one, because we all arose from the amniotic fluid in our mother's womb, and the ocean is the original matrix of all life on earth.  In another one of Fellini's movies, La Dolce Vita, Marcello Mastroani tells Anita Eckberg, admiringly, as she stands in a fountain, that she's a symbol of all womanhood and of the ocean, so this seems to be an important metaphor for Fellini.

Looking at "masculine" and "feminine" as different but complementary ways of perceiving the world (with masculine perception being logical and incisive, and feminine perception being metaphorical and integrative), Gelsomina represents the archetypal feminine principle because she's in touch with intuitive, sensory, metaphysical realms, which have been submerged in a left-brain culture that doesn't value right-brain perception.  This gives her a feeling of kinship and communion with trees, fire, and other "inanimate" things.  The ocean is a symbol of the unconscious, and Jung talks about the "numinous" quality of archetypes and symbols in the unconscious.  Gelsomina lives in a numinous world, full of wonder and beauty, as shown by the expression on her face.   

She feels a kinship with the secluded child in the hidden room, because he also lives in this magical world (within himself), free from the linear restraints of the intellect.  The Fool also represents this realm, beyond logic and reason.  He is a Christ figure and also a Wise Man, in the guise of a fool.  He's also a kind of Pied Piper, because he plays his music to attract people, and he gives Gelsomina her trombone, awakening her musical gift.  Music is another right-brain faculty, and whenever the film introduced the poignant little tune that Gelsomina learned from The Fool, I was reminded of the passage from The Wind In The Willows, where one of the characters says, about the distant music that captivated him down by the riverbank, that "the call in it was stronger even, than the music was sweet."

The fool puts people in touch with a part of themselves which has been submerged and forgotten, except when they catch an occasional, elusive glimpse of it.  All through this film, I was being reminded of a book by Alan McGlashan, called A Savage and Beautiful Country (1970), in which he says that we suppress our right-brain wisdom, individually and collectively, but it comes out anyway, in distorted form, through comic books and other things that we ridicule, unaware of the wisdom treasure there.  These things hold a great fascination for us before we "grow up", because we're intuitively drawn toward this lost world, without which we're incomplete. 

It was pointed out in class that a circus is one of Fellini's favorite themes, and a circus can be seen as a metaphor for a wholistic view of life. It's comprised of a very diverse set of characters, all of whom work together to create a show.  Although it isn't shown in this film, a circus has a mandala nature, with a Ringmaster who stands in the middle of a circle.  You could look at it as a symbol of the psyche in its entirety, without any rejected or disowned elements.

Zampano represents left-brain dominance which has lost touch with Gelsemina's world.  He is focused only on displaying his strength, earning money, and having control.  He does not seem to have much sensitivity or empathy, but he is irresistably drawn toward Gelsomina, even staying with her for two weeks when she is sick, before he finally leaves her to start earning money again.  Eventually, we learn that he has been very profoundly affected by her.  There are signs that Gelsomina has started to become a healing force for him, beginning to awaken his capacity for empathy and love.  After he has inadvertently killed The Fool and is tending to Gelsomina's illness, his manner toward her is much less brusque.  Before he leaves, he gently adjusts the blanket over her and even shows some empathy when he puts the trombone next to her.

The final scene in La Strada shows Zampano sitting by the sea, crying after hearing about Gelsomina's death.  He realizes how lost he is without her, because she was the heart-center that gave meaning to his life.  But he is by the sea, and the fact that he is crying shows that he has dissolved his barriers against sensitivity and feeling.  This is the Dark Night of his soul, but maybe not all will be lost for him once he begins a new life with new perception and meaning.

La Strada was made over forty years ago, and Jung was not a mainstream influence, but Switzerland isn't very far from Italy, and Jung had already published his theories then, so I'm guessing that Fellini might have been influenced by him.

As a woman and would-be filmmaker who was once a biology major, one of my dreams is to make a film about our present evolutionary leap, in which there's a new appreciation for the synergy of right and left brain in complementary interaction.  A filmmaker named Peter Russell once made a film that compared the communication network forming around our planet with a nervous system in a developing embryo.  I would like to add to this with the idea that when the nervous system reaches a certain stage, this is when the heart starts to beat.  As we begin to experience instantaneous communication between every part of the globe, things that happen in different areas are no longer hidden from our minds and hearts, and we're starting to feel empathy for all parts of the world, dissolving boundaries.

The human race, which has been focused for a long time on technological progress and building separate nations, is now on the threshhold of a reunion with heart energy, like Odysseus coming back home to Penelope.  Our rational minds have completed a turn on the evolutionary spiral, arriving  (in the words of T. S. Elliot)  back from where we started, knowing the place for the first time. We are the universe becoming aware of itself.  The most recent and esoteric scientific theories seem to be saying that our thought patterns affect our physical reality, even down to the DNA in our cells.  If this is true, our thoughts and perceptions influence our evolution, and this gives great significance to film as a kind of creative visualization for the collective unconscious, either negatively or positively.  This is one reason why I want to be a filmmaker, to foster a positive image of human potential, to help make it a reality. 

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