In a scene of visual sophistication, the opening sequence suggests a man in need of isolation. The sight of a traffic jam, where cars line up with no spaces between them and that contain people without emotion, precedes a fantasy where he is flying up in the clouds.
His name is Guido (Marcello Mastroianni) a renowned film director who is in the process of making a movie. He’s a socialite with pleasing manners and who shows all the kindness he can afford. Then it grows evident that he is struggling with the pressures of the movie industry; the constant requests from producers and actors. While he steadies his nerves, he lapses into deep thought. An inward conflict becomes apparent.
Surrounding him is a show business depicted as a madhouse of glamour and creativity. Some shots are of parties against ornate fantastic sets. The conversations are frequent, casual, and frivolous while Guido divides his attention from one character to the next.
He labors in finding inspiration for his movie and when he finally comes up with a story, he must weigh the subject matter against his virtues of the church. An illiberal religious upbringing has formed his morals. He is compelled to ask permission from the clergy and it’s visualized in a striking dreamy sequence of men in white robes.
To create a film that conveys honesty becomes Guido’s desire. His disloyalty to his wife, Luisa (Anouk Aimée), motivates his idea for a movie and has him consumed by guilt. He has a mistress named Carla (Sandra Milo) and is also infatuated with a star named Claudia (Claudia Cardinale). An impactful dream shows a shared home among unctuous harems while his wife cheerfully approves. His Conscience is tormenting. Thoughts cannot leave him alone. A deeper understanding for love becomes a desire. Must he accept the meaningless and confusion around him? 8 ½, directed and co-written by Italian director Federico Fellini and written by Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli, and Brunello Rondi, is a profound artistic expression of emotion and meaning.