Numerous scenes in La Dolce Vita stand out for their intensity–from Sylvia (Anita Ekberg) traipsing around in a silent Trevi Fountain at dawn to Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni) throwing feathers on a drunk, pathetic woman at a party. But there is something about Marcello’s furied, fervent speech to his girlfriend, Emma (Yvonne Furneaux), toward the end of the movie that remains seared in one’s mind, especially in the current epoch, in which, quite frankly, men are more skittish than ever when it comes to facing the shackles of monogamy.
In their final standoff before Marcello goes off the deep end of debauchery, Emma screams, “You only care about women. You think that’s love.” Marcello sits in his car as she hurls insult after insult at him. But by now he’s so used to it that nothing she says can faze him. Even when she presses, “What are you going to do with your life? Who could love you like I do?” It is at this point that Marcello unleashes his emotions, or rather, lack thereof, with no holds barred. In addition to bluntly stating, “I can’t spend my life loving you,” Marcello also responds to Emma’s question, “What are you afraid of?”, by stating:
Marcello succinctly captures what most men are feeling when posed with the threat of having to “settle down” with one woman. And yet, no one before or since has said it so well or so candidly. Whether women want to admit it or not, trying to box a man in with ultimatums and pressures–no matter how “subtly”–is the surest way to drive him to insanity and infidelity. It is, indeed, a form of brutalization for anyone of the male gender.
“Of you. Of your selfishness, of the miserable bleakness of your ideals. Don’t you see you offer me the life of a spineless worm? You can only talk of cooking and bed. A man who accepts to live like this is a finished man. He’s nothing but a worm! I don’t believe in your aggressive, sticky maternal love! I don’t want it, I have no use for it! This isn’t love, it’s brutalization!”
As Fellini so accurately depicts in the film, the cruelty of relationships lies in the fact that the male and female needs are in direct opposition to one another, with the man wanting freedom and sexual exploration and the woman wanting consistency and monogamy. Even though we’re in the twenty-first century and these ideals are alleged to have changed, very little has altered at all. If anything, the twenty-first century is finding the gripes of Marcello augmented tenfold when it comes to the concept of domesticity.