Daumier: “On first reading it’s evident that the film lacks a problematic, or a philosophical premise, making the film a series of gratuitous episodes, perhaps amusing for their ambiguous realism. One wonders what the authors are trying to say.”
Immediately after Guido takes his first dose of healing water from the spring, his fellow screenwriter, Daumier, starts critiquing Guido’s script of the film. In his characteristically patronizing tone, Daumier dismisses Guido’s work as meaningless. The pedantic delivery and exaggerated intellectual language of the speech are a clue not to take Daumier too seriously. He is a caricature of a revered film critic who thinks enormously of himself—the sort of scholarly character that Fellini, a high-school dropout, knew well from his years of working within Italian neorealist circles. Daumier’s criticism, however, is not complete nonsense. Though exaggerated, Daumier’s objection to the film’s lack of clear purpose would be a typical critical response to a film as radically subjective as 8½.
It was a brilliant gesture for Fellini to create a lifelike film critic in his movie who offers criticism of the very film in which he appears. By accurately anticipating what the real-life critics would say, Fellini kept them from saying it themselves, and as a result, negative reaction to the film was limited. Though Fellini’s trick was successful, it does betray his hostility to intellectual types and perhaps his insecurity in their presence. He wickedly makes fun of Mezzabotta’s fiancée Gloria, who is a philosophy student, by making her wear ghoulish makeup and limp about cooing ridiculously abstract comments. When the American reporter asks Guido a difficult question about the connection between Catholicism and Marxism, he becomes frustrated, ostensibly because they are in an inappropriate setting for serious conversation, but also because he isn’t sure how to answer. Fellini’s treatment of intellectual characters in the film may be unfair, but the comic result is delightful.