A Person’s Desire to Fit Into Society’s Standards in “The Conformist” By Bernardo Bertolucci

The Conformist – an individual who conforms with the social values of the society in order to be accepted by those around him. Bernardo Bertolucci’s classic film The Conformist illustrates a prime example of the protagonist, Marcello, conforming with the standards, rules and laws set by society. It is, in fact, true that an individual’s denial to accept themselves for whom they really are to fit into society’s standards of ‘normalcy’ can lead to self-destruction and have a tragic effect on the individual in an existential manner.

This is indicated through the deaths of Professor Quadri and Anna and the discovery of Lino being alive. The existential of conformity in the movie can be studied through Marcello’s unwillingness to retain responsibility of his actions, the worthless murder of Quadri, and Marcello’s battle to accept his homosexuality.

When Marcello meets with Quadri we find out that Marcello, likewise Quadri, was an anti-Fascist before Quadri left Italy.

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With the passage of the meeting, we discover that Marcello indeed did become a Fascist when Quadri left Italy. Marcello denies accepting responsibility for choosing to side with the Fascists, who at the time were considered “normal” and according to society’s standard. Quadri explains to Marcello that a true Fascist would not merely become a Fascist solely based on the actions of another is again a confirmation of the fact. When Quadri explicitly states “A true Fascist would not talk like that”, the audience can notice that Quadri recognizes who Marcello truly is on the inside.

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However, Marcello continues withholding acting as his true self because it is not what the society accepts. Not acknowledging his own actions or doing, portrays Marcello’s conforming ways that accompanies the true existential tragedy. Marcello can determine what he wants, however, what he wants is to be according to society standards. While pursuing this, he discovers he has to act on tasks that he otherwise would be uninclined to do, such as, getting involved with the murder of Quadri. It is clear that Marcello is different from those he wants to conform to since his motive is to be on the winning side. This motive of Marcello is best pictured through the reference to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. “The headlight of a motorcycle which pierces the darkness suggests the illuminating power of anti-Fascist truth to dispel the shadows produced by the imagery of dictatorship”. The first time in the film where we witness a contrast between darkness and light is at the beginning of the film which represents Fascism and anti-fascism. The contrast presents itself once again during the assassination scene when the bleak outlines of the assassinators emerge from the trees, breaking through the bright, peaceful setting, in order to perform the murder of Quadri. The audience can see that “Marcello choses the Platonic shadows rather than the light”, when Marcello denies saving Anna. As Anna approaches his car for help and he does nothing about it, shows that he has in fact given up his own responsibility and wish. When the film advances 5 years ahead, the audience can see Marcello’s daughter, Martha, and unlike her parents she has golden hair and sky-blue eyes, looking more like Anna then her own parents. While she is playing dress up, she happens to wear the fox fur that Anna had given Giulia in Paris. Martha will serve as a constant reminder to Marcello about his period of Fascist conformity just like his experiences as a child haunt him in present day. Marcello’s lack of responsibility, initiative to follow his own desires and making firm decisions without thinking about the society goes to show the true tragedy that exists.

The tragedy surrounded by Marcello’s conformist nature is further portrayed through the meaningless murder of Professor Quadri. The Chauffer, Lino had molested Marcello when he was an adolescent boy and in an attempt to escape, Marcello shoots him, convinced that he executed him. It is true that “Marcello’s first sexual experience involves perversion and murder, which makes him feel abnormal by default”. Because of the fact he felt abnormal and opposed through this experience, Marcello tries to convince himself that this experience was “normal” because Lino possessed feminine features, like long hair. Marcello feels the need to make up for this experience since it sets him apart from others so much and because he comes from a wealthy family. It seems as if “he worries that someone is watching him and measuring his worth as a human being” and maintains a “desire to rid himself of the watchful gaze.”. Marcello justifies the murder of Quadri by connecting it to the murder of Lino and saying it is to make up for that murder. Marcello confesses that “blood washes blood.” Social conformity is flawlessly captured when the priest acquits Marcello of being involved with the murder of Quadri before it even takes place because he also believes it will make up for Marcello’s past. In order to prove to the priest that Marcello is ‘normal’, Marcello continuously talks about all the women he has been sexually involved with after his experience with Lino. The film’s fatal flaw is revealed when Lino is found alive on the same day as the fall of Mussolini, this makes Marcello’s hand in the Quadri murder and him conforming to Fascism worthless. The use of flashbacks in the film, highlight Marcello’s change from Fascism to anti-Fascism. Realizing that Lino is indeed still alive, Marcello never committed the murder for which Quadri’s murder was supposed to make up for, consequently, making his murder meaningless. Throughout the film, the audience can see the betrayal of Marcello in addition to the murder of Quadri. Although Marcello wasn’t the one to actually murder Quadri, his connection with the Fascist group of men leaves him just as responsible. There are many instances of when Bertolucci uses myth and translates it into the film, for example, Quadri getting betrayed by Marcello, his most outstanding student, is identical to Brutus betraying Julius Cesar. This far into the film, it is clear that Marcello values conformity much more than loyalty which is also proven when he is disloyal towards Giulia by sleeping with Anna. In addition to being Quadri’s best student, Marcello looked up to Quadri as a real father-like figure, suggesting Anna as a mother-like figure. For this reason, Marcello sleeping with Anna pictures the Oedipus complex, since Marcello kills his father and sleep with his mother. After coming to the realization that the murder and betrayal of Quadri was worthless, Marcello again worries about how he is seen by the society and deliberates about his true values.

Lastly, Marcello’s lack of acceptance of his own sexuality represent yet another example that portrays Marcello’s need to conform with what is accepted by society. When the maid walks in on Marcello and Giulia making love, Marcello pulls away, knowing premarital sex is not accepted by society. The black (Fascist) and white (anti-Fascist) pattern on Giulia’s dress and parlor represents Marcello’s clashing desire for sex. Not wanting to make love to her remains a way for Marcello to conform to the standards set by the Fascist society. Later on, Marcello finally sleeps with Giulia on the train to Paris, since that is considered normal for a couple to do on their honeymoon. Giulia is everything that Marcello neglects, although the two are married, white at the same time “is the image of consciousness that he hopes to attain”. Giulia is never disloyal to Marcello throughout the film and she even rejects Anna’s sexual move towards her. Giulia’s likability and acceptance in society is what Marcello desires however is unable to achieve. Giulia has always been genuine towards Marcello and continuously has faith in him by never asking about his business. She is consistently by his side regardless of his disloyalty and involvement with the anti-Fascist movement. Giulia is happy with “an average life filled with simple purpose”, which is contradictory of what Marcello is used to, considering he comes from a wealth family. Marcello’s annoyance against Giulia is shown when he denies to dance with her and instead of taking part in what everyone around him is doing, he decides not to participate and isolates himself from the crowd. Another point to take into consideration is that as Giulia and Anna dance together with everyone surrounding them, they are still isolated from everyone around them. This represents Anna’s desire to be different from everyone, to go to extremes in order to stand out; representing her nonconformist nature. Marcello is seen walking around the Coliseum within the neighborhood of a male prostitute – when the film fast-forwards into the fall of Mussolini. The fact that the fire outside the Coliseum is placed to the left of Marcello face, indicates that the viewers are not sure as to what Marcello will do, which signifies Marcello’s struggles about his own sexuality. Marcello starts considering his homosexual desires with the fall of Fascism.

To conclude, it is evident through many examples and events in the film that putting society needs ahead of oneself can lead to tragic consequences. This is best explained through Marcello’s failure to admit responsibility of his own actions, the worthless murder of Quadri, and Marcello not being able to come to a conclusion with his own sexuality. The film teaches a great life lesson that not being true to yourself in order to get accepted by society can cause more harm to the individual than it would have if the individual had just been themselves. Wanting to be accepted by the society, Marcello murder’s his father figure, betrays Giulia by having an affair with Anna and by not coming to terms with his own sexuality and lets his past effect his future. The greatest tragedy of all remains the fact that Marcello scarifies his own free will which is a consequence of the film ending with an image of a troubled man rethinking his own identity.

Updated: Feb 21, 2024
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A Person’s Desire to Fit Into Society’s Standards in “The Conformist” By Bernardo Bertolucci. (2024, Feb 21). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/a-person-s-desire-to-fit-into-society-s-standards-in-the-conformist-by-bernardo-bertolucci-essay

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