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Zampano is the embodiment of brutality in Fellini’s film. Until the very end the strong man represents the animalistic nature of man. And, we see him lord his strength over Gelsomina throughout their journey on the road physically, mentally and emotionally. He slaps her in the town plaza after she’s run away and rapes her on their first night together. Zampano then proceeds to sleep with other women, never minding that he is committing the act in plain sight of Gelsomina’s innocence. This brutalizes her both emotionally and mentally as she has no true understanding of love outside her experience with Zampano. We also see the strong man never answer any of Gelsomina’s questions about her sister and later about marriage. In fact, every question Gelsomina asks him he neglects to answer in any meaningful way, if at all. The result of this brutality is the isolation and depleted self-worth one can create in someone, as well as co-dependence as the abuser becomes necessary for the abused to feel validated. Finally, Zampano’s physical brutality turns to murder when he kills The Fool for humiliating him at the circus. We finally see the consequences of Zampano’s life of violence hold the greatest of consequence.
Throughout the film Fellini shows characters that witness the abuse of Zampano upon Gelsomina and other people. Sometimes they speak up, but they don't speak out nor do they do anything directly to stop Zampano's wrath. After Gelsomina leaves Zampano we see her in a plaza. Zampano rides in and throws her in his caravan after slapping her in front of the men that she's been drinking with. The men say nothing as Zampano threatens violence upon them to, and we see no one confronts him for fear of being hurt themselves. Their fear of injury to themselves is greater than their fear of a woman being brutalized by a violent man. Later we see that one of the sisters at the convent knows what is happening between Gelsomina and Zampano. She asks if the young girl wants to stay with them, but she doesn't confront the man, nor demand that Gelsomina escape his grasp. This is a razor's edge situation, but thematically it brings up the morality of loving someone in danger. Must we be polite and not get too involved, or is it necessary to intercede? Fellini rouses this moral dilemma during this scene. We also see Zampano during the beginning of the film teaching Gelsomina how to play the drum by whipping her with a stick as a woman with her children stand by. The woman says nothing, not even to get her children to stop watching the brutality. Instead, they stand there watching. The same woman even sends Gelsomina back to Zampano after he has left her in the street all night in order to sleep with a prostitute. The theme of the witness in this film is about the morality of our actions when we see someone is in trouble, and our willingness to sacrifice our own personal security to help them. Even if they decide not to take the help, it is imperative that we attempt our best to help them.
La Stradais Italian for "The Road." In this film, The Road represents the journey of life. It begins at the sea, with a young girl having the opportunity to see the world and have a life outside the poverty of her home, and ends at the sea with a man who has brutalized the world and finally finds his humanity beneath his violent and selfish nature. Fellini shows us that the attainment of a dream requires hardship, and there are many conflicts and dangers that will challenge our ability to continue on and find the joy we believe life has to offer for the fulfillment of this dream. Fellini makes it clear that the road of life, if we go down the wrong path can lead to a living hell. He represents this after Zampano has killed The Fool by having the season change to winter on Zampano and Gelsomina, as hell is a place where no new life can grow. Finally, Fellini believes the journey of man in this film is not just a literal one, but primarily figurative. The journey of life is the reclamation of one's self in order to become human, and not simply an animal. And, this is able to happen when you choose to go on the journey.
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