8 1/2 as a Postmodernist Film

In class, the question was raised whether or not 8 ½ (1963) is considered a postmodernist film. Given what a wide category postmodernism is as a school of thought, placing the entire film under the umbrella of postmodernism seems dangerous and potentially misleading. However, there were certainly elements of postmodernism in the film that, I would argue, were the driving forces of the film as a whole.

When discussing postmodernism on Monday, both in terms of the chapter in UFT and the Jameson piece, the conversation centered on whether or not films produced today can be completely original and whether or not they can point to a specific truth. Metanarratives, as we discussed in class, point to specific rules that govern the world and inform the decision-making in society. Modernists see metanarratives as influential to their work; such truths not only can be obtained but also can adequately be translated to screen. However, as UFT explained, “postmodernists are dubious of such concrete ideas” (UFT 121).

I believe that much of the existential crisis that Guido faced in 8 ½ drew on this tension between the existence and nonexistence of metanarratives. As Guido stated towards the beginning of the film, he sought to make a film that offered a solution to a problem, that offered a universal truth, that created a metanarrative; through film, Guido believed he could make sense of the absurd world. However, as the film progresses and Guido delays making any definite choices on casting or even script structure, it becomes clear that he is unable to articulate any metanarrative. At the screen test, a producer calls Guido’s script vague and superficial; this is clearly the exact opposite of what Guido is trying to attain. Thus, by showing Guido’s struggle, and ultimate failure, to make a film that showcases any metanarrative, 8 ½ points to the hopelessness at understanding the world in terms of a universal truth. Thus, the central narrative (for lack of a better word) of 8 ½ is postmodernist.

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