La Dolce ***
One Liner Review:
An unusual and deep movie that plays as a series of short stories, each one impacting the main character in a different way.
Full Length Analysis:
(1960, Written and directed by Federico Fellini)
La Dolce Vita (The Good Life) is a complex and symbolic film. It’s a movie that requires work. This is not a movie that is meant for just watching and enjoying in a guilty pleasure kind of way. Instead, to appreciate this movie is to try to figure it out. The movie does capture the viewer’s attention and even throws down a challenge, asking its audience to think about it and try to make sense out of it, and in doing so, participate in the fun and unusual journey.
La Dolce Vita is basically a series of short stories, all involving the same main character and then a number of repeating characters who appear in different stories throughout the film. The main character is Marcello, a paparazzi photographer in Rome who spends seven days and nights trying to make sense of his world. The movie captures each one of these experiences as an evening and then the morning after, and makes each one of them into it’s own event.
As if all of that were not enough, there are also some occasional mid-day sequences that continue with the events of the morning or lead up to the evening. In other words, nothing is clear or black and white in this movie. This is not as simple as seven different nights. Instead, it is the experience of spending a week with Marcello and seeing exactly what he goes through during that time.
Aside from the day by day encounters, which come to a total of seven different situations, there is also a prologue, an epilogue, and an intermission scene, although none of them are labeled in that way. It is just one of many deep level concepts for the audience to figure out. The movie opens with the prologue scene of a helicopter flying a statue of Christ over the city of Rome. The helicopter flies the statue passed the ruins of ancient Rome, with another helicopter following behind it. The second helicopter has three men in it. They are all paparazzi photographers, and one of them is Marcello.
Seeing the helicopters fly passed the Roman ruins is a combination of old world and new world imagery. The Roman ruins represent history, as does the Christ statue with his arms opened wide, welcoming us to the movie. The helicopters represent new world technology, and that’s where we find Marcello. He’s following the old world (statue), going past the old world (ruins), but he, himself, is more infatuated with the new world.
That is shown when Marcello’s helicopter makes a pit stop to get lowered down above a rooftop where some beautiful women are in bikinis sun-bathing. He cares more about these beauties than he does about delivering the statue or following the delivery to film the moment when the statue arrives in Vatican City. We don’t learn where the statue was being delivered to until later on, but when we are finally told that it was headed to the home of the pope, the theme of religion vs. sex becomes even more apparent. Marcello, in this moment, has chosen sex. He and his friends in the helicopter sit above the rooftop trying to get the girls to give them their phone numbers. When they can’t hear the girls because of the noise of the chopper blades, Marcello just shrugs and they fly off. He is interested, but too lazy to pursue and work at it to achieve his goal. This theme will appear again and again throughout the movie, most notably at the end.
From the arrival of the statue into Vatican City and St. Peter’s Square, we cut to a masked performer doing a dance at a night club. It is now the first evening of the movie. The helicopter-statue prologue is done and has left us with an unusual introduction to the film. Now we are at this club with Marcello socializing with the upper class elite.
He talks to a woman named Maddalena and the two of them leave together. They drive in a convertible to a secluded square, which looks a lot like Piazza De Poppola, although I have my doubts that it actually is. Once in the square, they call up to the balcony of a prostitute and get her and her friend to come out to talk. This is like Rapunzel or Romeo and Juliet, where the character being called for has the power to inspire the ones down below into romance and sex.
The prostitute comes out and asks for a ride home. Marcello and Maddalena give her one, and once there, the prostitute invites them inside. She leads them to the bedroom, offers to make them coffee, offers up her bed, and lights the fire under them to have sex.
Like the opening, where Marcello chose sex over religion, here he and Maddalena are choosing sex over their organized and structured upper class social life. They leave the populated club to go off into a deserted area and wind up in the home of a prostitute, something that would surely be looked down upon by the friends in their social circles. Only for these two characters their actions are escapism and running away from their usual lives.
Once at the prostitute’s home, Marcello and Maddalena want nothing to do with the woman who led them here. They want each other, and the prostitute’s home represents security and anonymity. Nobody is going to see them here and know what they did. It also represents the exact opposite situation as the club, completely dirty and degrading and yet endlessly free. That can be seen by an overhead shot of the prostitute entering her home and having to move around floorboards just to walk over giant puddles of water on her floor. This is very different from the elegant club where the characters met up earlier in the evening.
The next morning we meet Marcello’s girlfriend, Emma. She has just tried to kill herself, after Marcello didn’t come home that night and now he finds her lying there in bed. He rushes her off to an emergency room and reassures her that he loves her, but as soon as he’s out of the room, he’s at a pay phone trying to call up Maddalena.
All of this is to show us that Marcello is a jerk. He starts the movie off that way, more interested in himself and his own wants than anybody else’s. There was the evening of careless disregard as he and Maddalena found themselves sleeping together in a prostitute’s bed, and then the morning after deals with the repercussions.
For the new day, and the second sequence of the movie, Marcello goes to an airport as the Swedish-American actress Sylvia arrives in Rome for a press junket. He stands in the background of the room where she is being interviewed and he calls up Emma. This is just like his calling Maddalena while standing outside of Emma’s hospital room. Marcello always wants what he doesn’t have. He is just that impulsive. He’s the kind of guy who always needs to be kept busy and to have someone paying attention to him. As soon as somebody asks him to wait for a few moments, he has to run off and find someone else to give him attention. In this way, Marcello is very much like a child.
Marcello suggests that Sylvia be shown the Vatican and so they go with a whole group of photographers to St. Peters Basilica. Once there, Sylvia climbs the steps of the church while all of the other photographers tire out and decide to stop. Only Marcello can keep up with her, following closely behind. This shows that he has a child’s energy, willing to go further than anyone else with youthful disregard, in order to pursue what he wants. It goes even further a few scenes later when he ends up in the Trevi Fountain.
The scene of climbing the church steps after Sylvia is all about energy. Before meeting the prostitute, Marcello had very little energy and initiative, and while he had Maddalena in his car with him, he had no idea how to go about sleeping with her. The prostitute was the one who inspired and awakened him, and now he uses this newfound energy to follow Sylvia up the stairs to a balcony overlooking Vatican City.
After this it becomes evening with the characters gathering on the streets of Rome. Sylvia’s boyfriend, Robert, annoys her, and she walks off. Marcello follows her, much like he did when going up the stairs of the church in Vatican City. The same way that she is bored with her boyfriend, he is bored with Emma.
When Sylvia wades into The Trevi Fountain, Marcello goes in after her. This is clearly a different man than the start of the film. He is no longer the lazy watcher who won’t get close. Instead, he actually goes into the fountain himself, following Sylvia’s lead. She lets the fountain water run over his head, baptizing him, welcoming him to a new awakening.
When he returns Sylvia to her boyfriend, Robert, in the morning, Robert is not too happy. He slaps Sylvia before sending her off. Then he insults and beats up Marcello. This is now the second morning following a night of adventure and both mornings began with unpleasant consequences from Marcello’s carelessness the night before. Both mornings represent a welcome back to reality and all of it’s harshness, while the nights are about forgetting who one is and trying to escape usual life.
Like Maddalena, leaving the party to go off with Marcello in the first part of the film, Sylvia’s leaving her boyfriend and going off to the streets of Rome represents abandoning social structure. When she wades into The Trevi Fountain, she is acting like a child, herself, unafraid of the damage she might do to her reputation. The fact that Marcello goes in after her shows that he, too, is now willing to throw away his reputation in order to pursue his desires. He doesn’t need to hide out in a prostitute’s home anymore. With the Trevi Fountain, he puts himself out there, and into the water, for all to see.
Next up, for the third day, Marcello goes from spending a night with Sylvia, who was acting like a child, to coming across two real children. These two small children are living in the outskirts of Rome, and claim to have seen The Madonna. The media swarms in on them and it becomes a giant sensation with sick people coming to lie on the ground and hope that The Madonna can cure them.
Marcello wants to believe these kids. He climbs up on some scaffolding to get a better look at everything. The film takes us from a spoiled actress behaving like a child to real kids who become the target of an adult scandal and media frenzy. It seems like, once again, it is the adults who are acting like children here, believing the most ridiculous of stories and willing to make a big sensation out of it, simply because they want to believe. As it turns out, the whole thing is a hoax. The kids never saw The Madonna at all, and were most likely put up to it by their father. This segment is all about the corruption of innocence. The fact that the children can outsmart all of the adults shows how far the society that Marcello is a part of (the people who believe the children are all paparazzi, just like him), has fallen.
The theme of children and what they represent continues as Marcello spends the next evening at a party of his dear friend, Steiner’s. We have met Steiner before, briefly, at a church with him and Marcello sitting down for a quick conversation. Now we are brought into Steiner’s life as we enter his home for the party and meet his wife and children.
Emma and Marcello walk around the luxurious room together where the party goers entertain themselves, and Emma comments on how one day Marcello might have all of this himself. This can be his life in the future if things work out well for him. Emma tries to point him in the direction that could make this happen. She hopes to inspire him to become a better person and start putting love and family ahead of personal desires.
Marcello would very much like that too. He walks outside with Steiner and confesses to Steiner that he is envious and wishes he had all of this himself. Steiner tells Marcello that things are not what they seem. He is actually very unhappy and concerned about the future. Having so much security just makes Steiner worry about the things that are in nobody’s control. Because things are so safe and comfortable, he worries even more about the things that are unpredictable. Steiner doesn’t trust anything around him and is worried for how his children will grow up to experience the world.
Whether we understand what Steiner is talking about or not, he is clearly unhappy. This man who Marcello has always believed has it all is now revealing himself to be equal parts paranoid and crazy. And that effects Marcello, because it calls into question everything he thought he wanted for himself. Instead of comfort or happiness, Steiner’s children suddenly become a source of worry and resentment.
We have now experienced three evenings in a row, that all involve children in some way or other. Four if you consider that at the end of the first evening, Emma was acting like a child when she tried to take her own life. Then the next night was the actress wading into The Trevi Fountain, like an immature child doing whatever she pleased. And then we got two scenes of real children. First, the ones who claimed to have seen The Madonna and then Steiner’s house and his children. We watched as Steiner’s seemingly perfect life suddenly became full of uncertainty and threat to Steiner’s comfort and happiness.
It’s right about this time, with Marcello’s beliefs hanging in the balance, that we are ready for an intermission. That comes by way of a seaside restaurant scene with Marcello taking time away from distractions to try and write his book. He sits at a table in the empty restaurant, attempting to write, and gets distracted by the staff. Wouldn’t you know it, it’s children who cause the distraction.
The waitress, who gets Marcello’s attention the most, is a teenage girl. She is attractive, but far too young, and for some reason he can’t take his eyes off her. First he asks her to turn the music down so that he can write, but then he starts asking her questions, wanting to hear her story. After that he’s asking her to turn to the side to show him her profile, telling her how beautiful she is, and asking her if she has a boyfriend.
As far as the children theme, not only is she young, but her coworker is even younger. He’s a little boy who runs around getting the waitress whatever she needs. The children are the source of Marcello’s distraction, perhaps because they bring to mind all of the other children he has been around recently, and specifically Steiner’s kids. Marcello is still trying to make sense of the Steiner situation, and how those kids who he always thought showed off Steiner’s perfect life, could actually cause their father such grief.
The seaside restaurant scene is Marcello’s first attempt at work in a while, and it is certainly the first kind of work that he is doing for himself, and not for money. The fact that he gets nothing done just shows how confused he is. So does a moment where the waitress asks him if he wants anything to eat, and he flip-flops back and forth about three times before settling on an answer of “I don’t know.”
Marcello came here to write, but there is so much else going on in his mind right now, that sitting down and isolating himself from everything else that has been happening is impossible. He asks the girl for her story, simply to distract himself, because when left alone with his typewriter, all he can do is think about his problems. If Steiner is unhappy, then what hope is there for him?
The scene is an intermission scene because it is away from the usual upper class party experience that Marcello seems to find him in every night. It is also a scene where Marcello intentionally sets out to go somewhere by himself, where he would escape from distractions. Yet he still manages to find them, and in fact, even ends up distracting himself on purpose. He does not get his writing done and the waitress notices that, asking him if she can turn the music back on, since clearly he is not writing at all.
The second half of the movie begins with Marcello and his father. He hears somebody tell him that his father is in town and at first Marcello doesn’t believe it. How could his father be here, in Rome, without him knowing it. As it happens, the story is true, and Marcello’s father has come to visit, unannounced.
It’s a good way to start the second half of the film, because the first half ended with Marcello being lost and confused. Who better to start providing answers for him than his father, a character who can help Marcello trace his past, how he became the way he is, and what he really needs to make him happy.
Unfortunately, things do not play out the way Marcello expected. He and his father go to a night club together, and the father can’t take his eyes off one of the dancers on stage. When he does have a private conversation with the father, Marcello’s father advises him against marriage or serious commitments, asking him about the woman who sometimes answers his telephone.
Marcello lies about who this woman is, afraid to tell his father the truth about Emma. The father and Marcello then invite one of Marcello’s friends to come and sit at the table with them, and the friend tells all about his own parents and how his father drives his mother crazy.
Marcello’s father, meanwhile, does not recognize that his son needs guidance, and instead is only concerned about himself. He constantly makes comments about the dancer’s legs and tells the boys, “on the road I can keep up with any of these young guys, but at home, I’m 90.” this is another way that the father is talking up the single life, and warning against the act of settling down and starting a life of commitment.
Between Steiner’s unhappiness and now Marcello’s father, Marcello is hearing the same thing from all different angles. And with both situations, he is in a state of disbelief. He had no idea that these people felt like this about their lives. While Marcello hopes to keep positive, the negativity is everywhere all around him. There’s a trumpet player on stage, for example, who plays the trumpet as a small balloon rises in the air, but then suddenly the balloon pops. This is symbolic of how, just when things seem to be going well, and look like they’re great from the outside, they explode in your face. An example of such a situation is Steiner, and in particular, the things that will happen to Steiner later on in the film, a massive explosion to say the least.
The trumpet player goes on to play without the balloon, and suddenly he finds that there is sand inside his trumpet, clogging it up. This is symbolic as well, of how there will always be problems and you can’t ignore them. By getting rid of the balloon, the trumpet player thought his problems were over, but the real problem was actually with the trumpet. The lesson can be applied to Steiner, who is paranoid and unhappy, but doesn’t do anything about it. By ignoring the problem and not seeking help, he is setting himself up for disaster.
After the men have run out of material to talk to each other about, Marcello’s father asks his son to call over the dancer. She comes to their table, and the father’s infatuation with her turns into inappropriate talk. The father asks her about both her legs and her bra.
When the father goes to dance with the woman, Marcello now gets a private moment at the table with his friend, and confesses how little he really knows his father. He tells his friend that the reason why he never got close with his father was because his father was always away. You can tell in this moment that Marcello does not want to be the same way his father was. If he ever does have children, he wants to be a better father than the one he had. In that sense, instead of listening to his father’s advice about not settling down, Marcello is actually disgusted by his father and everything he stands for, and is trying to use the experience of seeing his father this way to make himself a better man.
Marcello is so unhappy about how the evening with his father turned out that he finds himself in denial and seeking the approval of others just to tell him that he is wrong about what he thinks of his father. He asks people, “my father is fun, right?” and then, “My father is handsome, right?” Leading questions if ever there were some. But he needs to hear acceptance from others just to convince himself that he is wrong about his father.
The whole father scene is meant to make Marcello confused about marriage. His father is terrible, and unhappy, and he was married. But it’s not all coming from the father. There was the story by the friend, and even the dancer, when she tells a story, mixes up the wife with the teacher, symbolic of how men can view their wives as unpleasant authority figures. Marcello leaves the scene feeling like wives often make men into children.
But he also leaves very unhappy and disappointed with his father, and more confused than before. Just like when he left Steiner after seeing his friend in a different light, and for the first time understanding his friend’s problems, he leaves his father the same way. Each of these scenes wakes Marcello up to a new realization about the person he is there with, and maybe even about the bigger picture. They make Marcello think about the way these things apply to the himself and his decisions about his life.
Marcello’s father goes home with the dancer, and Marcello decides that he wants nothing to do with them. His plan was to take his father to the airport, but after the evening is over, he just asks another friend if he will drive the father instead. Marcello wants to be alone and to walk around outside by himself and think about things.
By now it is the following morning, or the time when night becomes day. Just like the two mornings that began the film, first with Emma trying to kill herself, and then with Robert slapping Marcello around, the morning reveals some repercussions from the following night. Marcello’s father gets sick while he is with the dancer at her place. The dancer calls for Marcello to help. And it becomes very apparent that the single life is not for an old man. If Marcello hadn’t been there, who would have helped out the father? If he didn’t have his wife, and was out on the road by himself, and got sick like this, he would have been in trouble.
Following the evening with the father, we get our final two nights of the movie. They both take place at upper class parties, although they end up being vastly different. The sixth evening of the movie begins with Marcello going to a party at an old castle that has been turned into a mansion. The parts that were once a castle still remain, and as the evening goes on, the guests wander around it carrying candles like the old days, for fun.
Long before that, however, at the start of the evening, Marcello walks around the party meeting members of the family that reside in the mansion. He introduces himself to everybody he meets and seems fascinated with the history of the place. When he runs into Maddalena at the party, and she tells him that she is vacant, or available, Marcello ignores her and continues walking around looking at portraits. Is this the new Marcello? Has he changed?
Maddalena makes Marcello sit down in a chair in the center of an old echo room, designed like a cave. Then she goes off to a nearby room, sits down, and starts whispering into a hole in the wall. Her voice echoes into Marcello’s room, and as if by magic, he suddenly falls in love.
Marcello starts pouring his love out to Maddalena, speaking to her through the echo chamber hole in the wall, while she is in the next room. Neither one of them can see each other, and perhaps this is part of the appeal. Marcello is in love with what he can’t have, or in this case can’t see. While he is confessing how he feels to Maddalena, another partygoer comes into the room where Maddalena sits and starts kissing her. Is there some kind of magic spell in the air, or is this to show that nothing is to be taken too seriously, and even though Marcello is ready to commit, he still needs to find the right person to commit to.
Suddenly a group of ghost hunters approach Marcello. These are people who have banded together to search the house for spirits and ghosts. But why ghosts? Perhaps this is meant to tip us off that there is something in the air. Something that might be making Marcello have strange feelings that he normally wouldn’t possess.
He gets caught up in the crowd of ghost-hunters and loses Maddalena, only he does not forget about her so easily. While all of the people surrounding him are searching for ghosts, all Marcello wants to do is find Maddalena, and he keeps shouting her name and asking people if they have seen her.
As the search for ghosts continues, Marcello starts to give up on his search for Maddalena more and more. It dwindles out like a candle. He becomes a part of the ghost-hunting group and they all come across a woman who is supposedly possessed by a spirit. Only Marcello doesn’t believe it. He’s seen too much already. Just a few days ago, he was dealing with kids who claimed they had seen The Madonna, and watched the gullible media jump all over the story. He, of course, was one of them. Marcello believed when it was the kids, and even climbed up on scaffolding to show it. But now he is worn out. He’s been through too much and he’s learned from his mistakes.
In the morning, for the first time, we get an event that is not so negative. The ghost-hunters are still on their search, only have moved from inside the castle to outside, strolling the grounds. They come across the mother who lives there, an elderly woman who is the head of the family. And she convinces a bunch of them to drop what they are doing, give up on the search, and attend morning mass with her. This is the theme of religion vs. fun. It is similar to the theme of religion vs. sex that has appeared numerous times in the film, such as with the opening Christ statue in the air. This time, for once, religion wins.
Instead of a day or an afternoon scene, we now move to an early evening scene. It involves Marcello and Emma on the side of the road having a fight. He claims that she is smothering him and too much like a mother. Perhaps he is being influenced by the mother who just convinced a whole bunch of people in his group to drop what they were doing and go to mass with her. Or perhaps these are some of Marcello’s father’s word being channeled through him.
The scene ends with Marcello kicking Emma out of his car and then driving off without her. Then we come to the morning, and Marcello comes back for her, and drives up to where she is still walking on the road. She gets in the car and they drive off together. This just might be a change in the way they both feel about each other. He has changed his mind by coming back for her, and she has changed and dropped her anger by getting into the car with him.
The thing that is unusual about the scene is that it was originally supposed to be in an earlier part of the film. The whole scene was cut out, uprooted, and moved to this spot in the narrative. Originally it was supposed to take place right after the night in The Trevi Fountain with Sylvia. That would have made a lot of sense there, since Marcello wading into the fountain was so public and so much on display that word of it would have certainly got back to Emma. They could start off with the characters in a fight and we would know exactly why she was upset at him. Perhaps the original conception was that they could show Marcello’s problems with Emma more at the beginning of the film to illustrate the things that he would need to get over by the end of the movie.
But the scene was moved. And move has it’s benefits too. Now we understand where Marcello is coming from when he tells Emma that she is too overbearing. His best friend, Steiner, has told him that marriage is not all it’s cracked up to be, and his father certainly has a lot of negative things to share with him regarding settling down.
I like that in the course of one night, Marcello goes from despising Emma to accepting her. It’s unconventional and creative to have the character transform that quickly, but I also think it makes a lot of sense. The things Marcello says to Emma at the start of the scene, the anger he has with her, has been building up for some time now. He is finally being given the chance to get it out. And it’s not necessarily him, but the influence of everything that’s been happening to him. It is his father’s words, and his friend at the club, and the dancer who joined them. It is Steiner and Maddalena and everything else. And Marcello needs to just let it out. But then after he has some time to deal with this release and let it settle, he comes to his senses, starts thinking for himself, and realizes that he does love Emma after all.
I think the movie could have ended there. This is a very long film and it would have been more powerful if it was shortened and more to the point. Plus Marcello’s happiness is the subject of the movie, and this is the scene that shows us how he ends up. This is the scene that shows us what he finally decides to do. This and the scene after it, where we see Marcello and Emma asleep in the bed together in the morning, waking up together. That would have certainly been a fitting ending to the film.
But the movie does not end here, and has a lot more up it’s sleeve. There are surprises coming up that feel somewhat strange and even unnecessary, but still entertaining. They do fit, but the movie would have been just fine without them. Specifically, I am referring to the Steiner surprise and the sea monster ending.
The morning following the side of the road fight has Marcello and Emma sleeping in bed together, and for once we get a normal morning of happiness. So it seems, anyway. Yes, they are not out on the town for once in the morning, still dealing with the events from the night before. And yes, they are finally happy together, comfortably waking up in bed. But they are about to receive some of the most disturbing news regarding their friends.
Marcello answers the phone and then jumps out of bed and runs out the door before we even know what the news is. He quickly makes it over to Steiner’s house where he has to push through police and forensics, telling them all that he’s a friend of the family. As he runs upstairs, we hear the police talking to each other and learn the news that Marcello already knows. Steiner has killed his own children and then himself. His body now rests, dead, on the couch of the room where the party was held, just a few nights before.
The police and forensics team are all over the room taking pictures and measurements. They question Marcello and he has very few answers for them. He realizes now that, like his father, he didn’t really know Steiner that well at all. Never in his wildest dreams, could he have imagined that Steiner would do something like this. In fact, it was only during the party a few nights ago, that Marcello learned that Steiner was unhappy. Up until that point, Steiner was Marcello’s idol.
The police talk about how Steiner’s wife is currently riding a bus back into town and does not know the news. Marcello offers to go along with the police to be there when Steiner’s wife steps foot off the bus and learns that her life will never be the same. This is a very noble act of Marcello. It will clearly be a hard and uncomfortable moment, to tell Steiner’s wife what has happened, but he knows she will feel a little better hearing it from somebody who she knows, rather than from the police who are strangers.
Marcello rides with the police to the bust station and Steiner’s wife gets off the bus and starts walking before she sees them. The paparazzi photographers now mob her and surround her and start snapping photos. Steiner’s wife starts laughing at first, not knowing what to make of it, and assuming that they are mistaking her for an actress.
Marcello arrives on the scene and tries to get the paparazzi to leave, but it is no use. They are like vultures without any sympathy or respect, and for the first time Marcello gets to see them from a different point of view. They are no longer his friends and his colleagues in this moment. All they care about is getting the shot. And they represent what he was. If he didn’t know Steiner’s wife, than Marcello might have been one of these guys snapping photos relentlessly at her.
This is an important moment, with Marcello on the opposite side of the line where he has been many times in the past. His job is now being called into question as he has a realization moment. For the first time, Marcello must acknowledge that being a good person is more important than money.
The final night of the movie is probably the most difficult to understand in the entire film. Everything that has come before it has been preparing us for being able to interpret the events of this coming evening. While the Steiner surprise is not necessary to the movie, and just serves as bonus to a film that could have easily ended with Marcello and Emma waking up in bed together, wrapped in each others arms, at least the Steiner scene served an important purpose. Aside from showing the crumbling of what Marcello considered to be a great man, the reason for the Steiner situation was to put Marcello on the opposite side as the paparazzi. It was meant to give him an important realization moment that would lead to his change.
The final party scene is not nearly as straight-forward or clear. It involves a woman named Nadia who has just had her marriage annulled from her wealthy husband, Ricardo. Marcello and a bunch of their friends break into the Ricardo’s luxurious home with Nadia, and throw a party there.
The party is meant to be a celebration of Nadia’s newfound freedom. She is being baptized, or reborn, when she does a strip tease for everyone, and her friends sit around on the floor, watching and commenting. The people who surround Nadia at the party now begin to critique her strip tease, telling her that she is doing it all wrong. Marcello is disgusted by this. Let the woman have her moment of freedom. The striptease isn’t about them, it’s about Nadia, but the friends want it to be for their benefit alone.
Marcello is the one who threw a rock that broke the glass, enabling the partygoers to break into the home. He was the leader who started the party. Only he was doing it for Nadia. He saw that she was unhappy with her marriage, and knew that getting out of it was the best thing she could do. If only he had been able to help Steiner this way, and had done the same thing for Steiner, before it was too late.
But Marcello realizes pretty quickly that these friends aren’t there to support Nadia the same way he is. Instead, they are selfish and only care about their own pleasure and entertainment. They can’t help themselves from making comments about the way she goes about her striptease.
Marcello starts yelling and getting angry at the people at the party. He goes on a rant, but then his anger turns into enthusiastic energy as he decides to pull feathers out a pillow, walk around throwing the feathers in the air, and make a mess of the nice room. Marcello even begins to ride one woman around the room like a horse.
Like every other night in the movie, the scene leads out into the morning. Ricardo arrives at the house and kicks all the intruders out, and they walk to the beach to start their new day. When they arrive on the beach, they see a commotion going on at the shoreline. They walk over to it and see a sort of prehistoric fish monster caught in a net. This is something never seen before, history in the making, and yet Marcello is not really interested. He’s no longer on the side of the paparazzi. The guy who climbed up on scaffolding to get a glimpse of the children who claimed to see the Madonna, is long gone. Now, he is actually able to see the monster for himself, not just people who claimed to have seen it, and he doesn’t care.
Instead of the monster, Marcello’s interest lies with the girl off in the distance who is signaling to him. It is the girl from the intermission scene at the seaside restaurant. She stands all by herself, motioning to Marcello, and trying to tell him something. Is this girl real, or a figment of his imagination? If that’s the case, then was the seaside restaurant scene a figment of his imagination as well? Maybe it was a dream. After all, it’s one of the only scenes in the movie that featured none of the other characters from the film. Not Emma, Steiner, or Maddalena. If the seaside restaurant was a dream, then the purpose of it must have been to validate what Marcello was thinking about children. Think of how the little boy was the waitress’ helper. It was very strange, and quite possibly not real at all.
Now Marcello stands on the beach, looking at the girl in the distance, trying to hear what she is saying. This is very reminiscent of the opening scene, the prologue of the movie with the helicopter and the statue of Christ and the bathing beauties on the rooftop. There Marcello was trying to hear the women, but eventually gave up and flew off. Here, in the epilogue scene of the movie, he is doing the same thing. When he can’t hear the woman, this angelic figure who might be trying to lead him somewhere, he just walks off.
After all of the experiences of this movie, Marcello is right back to where he started. Looking for love or happiness, but not willing to make the extra effort. In this case, the effort is easier than it was at the start of the film. All Marcello has to do is walk over to the woman. But he refuses. A lot has changed since he climbed the stairs of St. Peter’s Cathedral after Sylvia, or followed her into The Trevi Fountain. Marcello has returned to his old self and the movie has come full circle, right back to where it began. These prologue and epilogue scenes bookend the movie nicely.
While Marcello has not changed in his approach to effort, the scene does show that he has changed in other ways. Up until now, Marcello has been a newsman, all about getting the first photographs. Now, he is no longer interested in that. He does not pay attention to the sea monster at all, which really is breaking news. He has changed his approach to being a paparazzi and is giving it up. If he can pass on this story, then there probably isn’t a story in the world that he couldn’t pass on, especially considering how close he is to the monster. It’s as if the sea delivered the creature right into Marcello’s lap to give him the ultimate test. And Marcello passed. His change and realization happened when he went to meet Steiner’s wife and was attacked and bombarded by the paparazzi who had no sympathy for the widow’s grief.
As Marcello turns away from the waitress from the seaside restaurant, having given up on trying to hear her, he grabs a woman’s hand and walks off. Who this woman is, we do not know. Is it Nadia? Emma? Maddalena? Her anonymity is intentional. Maybe she is just a random one of the partygoers. But it is a moment that shows us that maybe Marcello has found love after all. Maybe this is the reason why he gave up on trying to hear the waitress’ words so easily. Or maybe he’s just back to his usual path of going for a one night experience with a different woman. It’s a little different this time, however, since it is now the morning. It’s the start of a new day and a new outlook on life. The only thing definite here is that Marcello has put the paparazzi stuff behind him.
La Dolce Vita has a lot of symbolism and meaning. It also has a lot of character change. For most of the movie, Marcello is being pushed in one direction or another by the characters around him. He is also being influenced by outside situations to wake up and start realizing the way he should be living. Marcello receives a number of surprises, such as Emma’s attempted suicide, Steiner’s horrific murder act, and even the way his fellow paparazzi respond to a grieving widow. By the end of the movie, he has undergone a lot of change, but at the same time, his effort and approach to love is exactly the same as it was at the start of the film.
The title, La Dolce Vita, means The Good Life, and that really is the quest of the movie. Marcello doesn’t know what the good life is, but he searches for it around every corner. At the start of the film, he thinks the good life is being able to go out freely at night, have wild adventures, end up in the most random of places, and sleep with whomever he wants. All of this is represented by his first two nights. First he ends up in a prostitute’s home with another woman from his social class, and then the following night he finds himself in the Trevi Fountain, chasing after an attractive actress.
By the end of the film, things are very different. Marcello has listened to advice from both his father and his best friend, Steiner, and now he sees what happens to each of these characters. He watches as his father shows that the road and the single life is not a place where anybody really wants to be, with no one to take of you. And then he witnesses the tragic events and actions of Steiner’s unstable existence.
The final sections of the movie deal with Marcello taking a stand against the paparazzi, and then the partygoers who care only about themselves. He has found, in the end, that the good life is about being kind to people and understanding the needs of others. Turning his back on the sea monster really shows that Marcello is not the same guy that he once was. La Dolce Vita is the story of what caused this change. It isn’t always easy to understand why certain things happen in this movie, but it is certainly fun to try.