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Pursuit of Fame

Unraveling the meaning of eudaemonia in Fellini's 'La Dolce Vita' and finding its modern-day parallels


By DAYTON SIMPSON

Eastern Illinois University Graduate Assistant - Photography

June, 2024

                                                                                                   


The original artwork of La Dolce Vita from Federico Fellini
LA DOLCE VITA Italian theatrical release poster by Giorgio Olivetti

In the film La Dolce Vita by Federico Fellini, we can see many different themes come into play. This is one of the reasons it has become such an iconic Italian film that has remained popular since its original release back in 1960.


One viewing of this film is not enough to fully grasp everything that can be gleaned from it. There are many different themes such as religion, spirituality, communication and language barriers, relationships and love, alienation, and disconnection from society. However, today I will be focusing on the pursuit of fame.


The main character in the film is Marcello. Marcello is a journalist who spends most of his time traveling around chasing celebrities and attending parties with the elite of Rome. Marcello seems desperate to become part of the glamorous and intriguing lifestyle that he follows and is always seeking attention and recognition. We see this throughout the entirety of the film. Marcello is often driven by his desires for attention and recognition. In his mind, he believes that achieving wealth, fame, and success will bring him eudaemonia or fulfillment. Marcello pursues fame in a few different ways.


One of these ways is by being a successful journalist. He constantly searches for interesting stories that will attract attention from others. He tries to surround himself with famous people and is always at high-profile events.

Marcello is rather promiscuous as well, which leads him to garner more attention, and on the surface level, it seems as though this would help him feel wanted because he has all these lustful relationships with women, which would in turn make him feel more validated and successful. However, we will see that this is not always the case.


We see Marcello chasing fame and glamour, which often comes with detriments to personal morals and values. As we can see, issues already begin to arise with this ideology. The idea that attention and fame will bring happiness is a common misconception. It seems like everyone who is famous is happy, but that is not always the case. Many of the characters in the film have similar issues.

Since most of them come from generational wealth, they have nothing in their lives to fulfill them. They were handed most of their status and did not have to work hard and struggle to achieve it, which is where most happiness comes from anyway. The idea that acquiring fame will lead to happiness on its own is absurd. People often forget to realize that the journey is the most important part.


The reason fame and wealth are so desired is because they are difficult to obtain. When you are handed them or do not have to work for them, it removes the satisfaction and happiness from the achievement. In the film, we see that the pursuit of fame comes with a significant price. Marcello’s life begins to fall apart and becomes a series of empty, meaningless social interactions. He is always chasing the next big, exciting thing.


We see this when he goes from event to event, and it never seems like he is happy. We also see him go from person to person, jumping around trying to find a special connection that will solve all his issues and make him feel fulfilled. Marcello mostly spends his time attending parties, clubs, and events. All of this takes a toll on his mental and emotional health, leaving him feeling helpless and unfulfilled. Another character in the film is similarly struggling.


One of Marcello’s lovers, Sylvia, is a famous actress who experiences the price of fame in a slightly different way. She is like Marilyn Monroe in the way she is looked at. Sylvia is always in the media and seems unable to escape the persistent attention from the public eye. Her personal life is always under criticism, and she likely feels like she must hide most of her true feelings and desires to maintain the way people view her. She ends up trying to find peace in substances, which leads to a tragic end for her as well.


Also, Maddalena, another lover of Marcello, faces some of the same issues as the others. She is a beautiful woman who also seeks attention and fame. Maddalena seems willing to be photographed in various ways and is happy to attend parties where she is objectified in order to attract attention. We see her pursuit of fame damage her reputation and lead to her feeling empty and unfulfilled. By the end of the film, it is evident that all of the characters who are pursuing the fame and glamour of Rome are becoming more and more lost and miserable.


In some ways, it seems like these characters are living in their own world, detached from reality. We see how the pursuit of fame can lead to a loss of oneself, as exemplified by most of the characters. Marcello desired to be part of the high class in Rome, yet in his pursuit, we see him lose lovers, remain unhappy, and ultimately waste a significant amount of time chasing hedonistic pursuits and immediate pleasure.



 

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However, Fellini ultimately demonstrates that being hedonistic is counter-productive. We learn from the downfall of these characters that chasing pleasure, fame, and wealth alone do not bring happiness and fulfillment. “La Dolce Vita” translates to “The sweet/good life,” yet when we watch the film, it seems as though everyone who appears happy is ultimately suffering deep inside. This is a common message in today’s world as well. I have heard in my own life that chasing pleasure and fame is a waste of time since it is generally better to follow your passion and let fame and pleasure come as a result. It is also important to remember that things worth having take time to acquire. If things came easy, they would not be as desired.


By this, I mean that all the people in Rome who were handed their status and wealth will not feel fulfilled since they did not have to work for it. Instead, they will need to find other ways and things to accomplish to feel fulfilled. Fame and money are not the only paths to happiness. There are many other goals that people can strive for that are much more important in life.By this, I mean that all the people in Rome who were handed their status and wealth will not feel fulfilled since they did not have to work for it. Instead, they will need to find other ways and things to accomplish to feel fulfilled. Fame and money are not the only paths to happiness.


Modern celebrity culture shares many similarities with what was portrayed in the film. People are still very obsessed with the lifestyles of the rich and famous. There is even more journalism and paparazzi due to the advancement of social media. Sylvia would be astonished with how much personal information is constantly being spread on social media. She would have had an awful hard time keeping her image intact if she was around during social media times. We see celebrities today struggle with feeling empty and they often turn to drugs and things of that nature.


One recent example is after the passing of celebrity artist Juice WRLD, other artists such as Justin Bieber and Eminem came out and were vocal about their own drug use and both stated how fame was too much that they wanted to block it all out. Each of them showing that fame and wealth do not bring fulfillment and happiness.


It is easy to be distracted and see famous people smiling and laughing in rich places seemingly being immensely happy, but we do not always get to see behind closed doors and understand that they are putting on a show similarly to how Sylivia tried to protect her image. The general population needs to be aware of what truly makes a person happy and chase fulfillment rather than materialistic things or validation from others.


La Dolce Vita does a masterful job at showing the glamor of having wealth and relationships with beautiful women. However, it also shows that sweetness comes with contrasts. That having morals and being self-aware are hugely important to one’s success. If any of the characters were able to be self-aware enough and take a step back from the headspace they were in, they may have been able to save themselves, but it seems as though they got stuck in the fast life of Rome which I imagine to be what modern-day Hollywood seems to be.


La Dolce Vita powerfully showcases diverse themes that require much thought to fully unpack them. The overall message that came through for me was this: Stay true to your morals, and chase fulfillment over pleasure.




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