Ingmar Bergman 1918–
Swedish director, and screenwriter.
Bergman's symbolic dramas deal with internal conflicts and metaphysical crises of human nature. Using a heavily symbolic style, he seeks to discover the mysteries of the universe, pondering matters as various as communication with God and the psychological makeup of women.
Bergman's strict Lutheran upbringing significantly influenced his works. He became fascinated with the external trappings of religion and the beliefs behind the rituals. This is intrinsic to Bergman's work, as is his belief that God is often silent.
At the University of Stockholm Bergman directed several student theatre productions, including some of his own works which already bore signs of his strong religious feelings. His early work for Svenskfilmindustri included editing and scriptwriting. He began his career as a director with Crisis, for which he also wrote the script. Several films brought Bergman popular acclaim in Sweden before he achieved international fame with Smiles of a Summer Night. Summer Interlude and The Naked Night, in particular, foreshadow his artistic skill. Though they differ greatly in content, one savagely bitter, the other poignantly romantic, his structural concepts remain the same.
Smiles of a Summer Night shows Bergman's ability to create comedy and effectively portray the age-old theme of the many faces of love. His next film, The Seventh Seal, functioned on a theological level. Conveying a contemporary attitude of religious despair, this medieval allegory attempted to resolve some of Bergman's philosophical crises. It is the story of a lonely man's search for God and life's meaning.
Wild Strawberries, often referred to as Bergman's most serene work as well as one of his most successful, explores man's need for love. Isak Borg, the protagonist, is successful commercially, yet a failure emotionally. Like many characters in Bergman films, he is involved in a journey; one that will dramatically change his life. In this film, Bergman claims the route to salvation is through love and communication with others. It is Bergman's most positive view of salvation.
Bergman's trilogy, composed of Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light, and The Silence, deals with the personal experience of God in one's life. Human beings need both God and love, yet are unable to accept either. In all three films, the characters are pitifully incapable of reaching others. The trilogy commences optimistically and ends in the futile statement of The Silence: God is indeed silent. After the trilogy, Bergman turned to more personal and interpersonal studies, weaving through the intricacies of the female psyche. Persona, the best known of these works, studies the obsessive intimacy of two women and the two consciousnesses that merge as their façades fall away. Bergman's interest in the close-up is particularly effective in this film, fusing together two faces to become one. The films to follow are almost exclusively studies of women. Hour of the Wolf and Shame are considered, with Persona, to comprise a second trilogy dealing with artistic frustration and the artist's failure to deal with reality.
While Bergman's talent is undeniable, several critics have objected to his solemn, trauma-laden films, complaining that characters are unable to act normally. They contend that his fascination with myth and ritual isolates the psychology of his characters. However, most critics agree that as depictions of the search for meaning in life, his films are unequaled. Vernon Young perhaps summarizes general reaction to the magnitude of Bergman's work when he says, "While Bergman appears, at present view, to be characterized, intemperately, by excluding themes that give to all his late films a clothing of monotony—God's silence, man's degradation, love's catastrophe—he is, in fact, when the whole body of his work is passed in review, incredibly various within the limits of his gospel." (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 81-84.)
There is certainly naivete in [the allegory used in The Seventh Seal], but there is some naivete in every fable. It is the naivete proper to the great periods of art—here the Middle Ages, whose flavor Bergman has captured without any adulterating pedantry and thanks to his incomparable skill in transposing into cinematic terms the motifs that furnish him with the iconography on which he draws his inspiration. The figures and the forms he presents are never flat but seem the fruit of an original creation. His art is so frank, so new that we forget it for the problem it embodies. Rarely has the cinema been able to aim so high and realize so fully its ambitions. (p. 135)
Eric Rohmer, "Avec le septième sceau Ingmar Bergman nous offre son Faust" (reprinted by permission of the author), in Arts, April 23-29, 1958 (translated by Kristine Hughie and Birgitta Steene and reprinted as "With 'The Seventh Seal' Ingmar Bergman Offers Us His Faust," in Focus on "The Seventh Seal," edited by Birgitta Steene, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1972, pp. 134-35).
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Bergman's essential theme, as expressed in his films, is man's search for knowledge in a hostile universe. The ultimate answer is that there is no answer, but the quest itself provides its own justification. Man must pursue the search alone, since he is as incapable of understanding other men as he is of understanding himself. Society can only handicap man in life's quest for knowledge. Hell is on earth, and life is the process of experiencing it. Maturity comes only from acceptance of these conditions, and from grasping the few comforts that life has to offer. These comforts are in sex, an act of temporary communication which results in procreation as a final justification for existence; in art, which distills the products of man's intellect and emotion into another intangible form of communication and self-expression; and in the imagination, not in any conventional religious form, but as a kind of fatalistic mysticism which offers at least the possibility of an ultimate meaning to the search. None of these comforts provides more than a temporary assuagement of the inevitable solitude of existence, but they are all that life can offer, and as such, they will suffice.
This great theme is evident in all of Bergman's works, from the youthful dramas of adolescent revolt, through a series of brilliant sophisticated comedies, to the mature philosophical films of his most recent period. (p. 3)
Torment [directed by...
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While Bergman is the darling of the sophisticates, he is nonetheless a cinematic artist of unusual accomplishment, whose works demand a proportionately serious consideration….
The peculiar dualism of Swedish art—what might be called the "noon wine" syndrome—attains in Bergman's films its fullest significance as subjective visual rhetoric. You see in them a characteristic imagery which, with its cold radiance and crystalline gloom, seems continually to convey a perilous balance between the light-dark extremities of human emotion….
He has in fact created a theater of the film, in which landscape itself seems possessed of the power of dramatic suggestion, in which a surgically precise selectivity rules out all ungovernable elements in the course of a film's action. Bergman no longer takes his cameras into the street; the street is horribly empty, the wild fields deserted, the woods ominously still. They are prescient stages for dramas that deal, not in incidentals, but in ultimates. In that sense, all his most personal films are allegories, deeply Swedish in inspiration. (p. 647)
Bergman, although a great tease, is not the oracular prophet some critics have made him out to be. Most of his films are flawed by irresolution as to form and evasiveness as to central meaning. No other filmmaker, with the possible exception of John Ford, is so erratic. But unlike Ford, Bergman is neither an innocent...
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William S. Pechter
[Ansiktet or The Magician] is the film in which Bergman has been able to expose all of his most dominant themes, and the multiplicity of their presence gives the film its complex, yet curiously uncomplicated texture, its finished, definitive character. In Ansiktet, the dialectical clangor of faith and reason, which rings through such a film as The Seventh Seal and echos resonantly throughout his other work, combines harmoniously with Bergman's preoccupation with the artist and his audience. Vogler, the mesmerist, looks both like a charlatan and a Christ, and this resemblance seems to be at the heart of what Bergman is saying: that the most salient cause of the artist's inevitable failing of his audience is the latter's impossible demand that the artist be also savior, magician and messiah, ingenious imposter and immutable face. It is not a role which the artist desires, but one to which he nevertheless seems inescapably to aspire; and though Vogler may suffer some awful, mute agony at his stigmata, he seems ineluctably to adopt the postures—vainly attempting to be healer instead of entertainer, dumbly mothering the dying actor—of the redeemer. He is doomed to fail in this imposture, and fail, furthermore, as artist in the attempt, in attempting to transcend the natural limits of art. (p. 94)
It is not until Vogler is stripped of his disguises, lost to his defenses and wholly abased in his person, that he...
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Cecil B. de Mille gave the public "Religion and Sex"; Ingmar Bergman has now simply come up with a more esoteric formula, the Supernatural and Sex, decked out with Symbols. The Symbol Blatant and the Symbol Enigmatic provide the two major leavenings to all Bergman's soggy plots. (p. 54)
[It is] very difficult to see that Bergman … is covering new realms of reality by constantly resorting to all the old morbid mediaeval metaphors which formed the staple fare of silent German movies of the 'twenties. It is equally hard to see anything very "illuminating" in Bergman monotonously repeating that all knowledge and learning are instruments of the Devil. The only villains in any of his films are always men of science and intellect. Even if his unfortunate intellectual characters do nothing particularly evil, he still makes it clear by their presentation that just their very simple existence is the greatest Evil of all…. [In] The Seventh Seal Bergman goes so far as to present his most intellectual character in the guise of Death himself. As a thriller-addict after a few specialised clues can easily spot the murderer, so a Bergman-addict need only hear that a character has made a woman pregnant and refused to visit her in the hospital, to spot this man as the egghead.
All Bergman's endless philosophical meanderings always boil down to the same simple moral. Only half-wits and virgins can ever escape disaster…. The...
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[In Bergman's finest work,] there has been a dramatic structure established out of the various elements contained in the films, the minutely observed physical detail generally counterbalancing the more abstract and often rhetorical nature of the central theme.
In Through a Glass Darkly, however, all this has changed. As in So Close to Life, Bergman has here decided to deny himself all but the most austere imagery, as he has restricted himself to four characters and has taken pains to observe the unity of time. But paradoxically, if this is aesthetically his most austere film, it is thematically his most self-indulgent; for in this barren island world that Bergman has created, there is nothing to offset what one wants to call the abnormality of the film. Here all the characters are distressed and inward-turning, and all but the myopic Martin speak in terms of God. (p. 38)
Yet, as its title and opening epigraph imply, the film is supposedly about Christian love. Supposedly, because in Through a Glass Darkly love is less experienced than talked about. In the various characters in Wild Strawberries (indeed, within the evolution of the central character himself), we could see and thus respond to some of the many possibilities of love from selfish eros to Christian agape, so that at the end of the film there was really no need of any speech at all between old Borg and...
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Like all Ingmar Bergman's films, Through A Glass Darkly is an intensely personal work. Yet none of his previous films have been so profoundly Scandinavian in their composition or outlook on life. The isolation, the hostile duologues, the psychological malady are all reminiscent of Ibsen and Strindberg. (p. 47)
What distinguishes the film as a whole is its power and atmosphere. These are hackneyed words in the critic's vocabulary, but in Through A Glass Darkly, the dark forces of schizophrenia lie menacing behind all the simple scenes and conversations….
I am puzzled by those who call this film depressing. On the contrary it is among the most mature of Bergman's works and ends on a note of conviction. But the characters can only reach this final state of calmness if they have endured the most intense experiences and scrutiny. If one is prepared to enter Bergman's world, to accept his sudden variations of mood, and to accept in their context his conclusions, one will find this film a sombre but stimulating work of art. (p. 48)
Peter Cowie, "'Through a Glass Darkly'" (© copyright Peter Cowie 1963; reprinted with permission), in Films and Filming, Vol. 9, No. 4, January, 1963, pp. 47-8.
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John Russell Taylor
Fängelse [Prison] … is a highly significant work in many ways…. [It] has all the marks of a key work in his career, wildly bundling together any number of themes which are to recur later and, it seems, just had to find expression at this time in some form. Moreover, it is the first of Bergman's films which demonstrates any real desire (or possibly, since we know little of the circumstances in which the early films were made, any real freedom) to experiment with the medium, to use it positively as a means of expression in itself, rather than merely recording with competence but no special aptitude. In Fängelse already Bergman is reaching out towards the highly personal style of his later work, integrating the rather faded studio romanticism (derived, apparently, from an enthusiastic study of the works of Carné) which marked his earliest films and the rather hesitant touches of neo-realism in Hamnstad [Port of Call] into a newer, more complex and, in the first instance, more theatrical style of direction. In Fängelse, indeed, the theatrical origin of much in the later films which one would not instantly think of as theatrical, especially where the direction of actors is concerned, is still clearly visible. And in general the main interest of the film now is a by-product of its crudities and awkwardness: it is situated at the vital juncture in Bergman's career when he has found his feet and struck out on his own, but not...
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As an artist in film [Bergman] interprets and transfers his private dreams and imaginings to the celluloid. As an artist he is firmly anchored in a Swedish and European tradition in which Strindberg, Kafka, and Proust were pioneers. And still he has succeeded in convincing, not only a cultured, intellectual world, but also masses of people who perhaps know nothing of the spiritual background of his work. (p. 5)
It is my conviction that B has succeeded in transforming his private perception into a general one, understandable to other people. This is his strength as an artist. It does not … become a question of seeking the truth about his private personality, but rather, as much as possible, of hiding it and not talking about it…. This is why Ingmar Bergman in this book is designated by the letter B. The person behind the work is a fictitious figure who undoubtedly resembles the private person B. Such resemblances do not interest me. (p. 6)
I find that we are today on our way toward something new, which breaks radically with most in the film's past. We are on the way toward a film art where the personality of the individual artist puts its stamp on the work. The film has learned to write. It is now learning to create form and to compose poetically. In this renewal, B is in the foremost ranks. (p. 7)
B and the other directors who may be regarded as the vanguard of...
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[There are writers] whose works seem to lend themselves to a thematic interpretation; writers who appear as "hedgehogs" in the literary world, i.e., relate everything to a single central vision, fitting into it, consciously or unconsciously, all experiences and objects…. In contemporary Swedish literature we could include in this category Pär Lagerkvist, and, in terms of his major films, Ingmar Bergman, both of whom display in their work a monistic concern with modern man as a metaphysical seeker and whose fictional characters emerge as skeptical pilgrims journeying through a world in which remnants of religiosity fail to appease their questioning minds. Like Pär Lagerkvist, Ingmar Bergman might be said to have assumed the rôle of a modern Bunyan whose unitary inner vision of existential man could run the risk of being called merely epigonic, were it not for the fact that we realize how deeply personal that vision is. (p. 59)
In the four major films that form the nucleus of this essay [The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, Through A Glass Darkly, and Winter Light] Bergman depicts as his protagonist a man dwelling in a self-contained world, cut off from life around him. Such detachment is not completely self-willed; yet, it becomes a curse for the man and condemns him as a human being. To be cut off from mankind is to be cut off from love, i.e., from God, is in fact to become like Satan. To dramatize what amounts to...
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The easiest way out of dealing with an embarassing white elephant like Bergman's Now About These Women … is to follow everybody else in sweeping it away under the carpet as a laborious attempt at farce. To do so, however, is to ignore a haunting aftertaste of quiet melancholy which lingers long after the film is gone. It also happens to be enchanting to look at and frequently extremely funny—so much so that it commands a second visit; and this time one penetrates the outer defences to discover why it appears to be limping so heavily. (p. 146)
Bergman takes amiably malicious revenge on his critics…. These humiliations, shot with the full barrage of silent comedy techniques to the jazzy accompaniment of "Yes, We Have No Bananas" on the soundtrack, are often deliriously and unexpectedly funny…. Yet, even though they make up the bulk of the film, these sequences are merely interludes—they are the dashes in a Morse Code message, meaningless without the dots.
If all that one sees is the dashes, then one is in precisely the same boat as Cornelius, who never actually sees Felix, but remains trapped by the grotesque surface of life in the chateau….
What Bergman is saying, of course, is that art (Felix) must be experienced rather than sought for, explained or understood; and under the surface of the film lies a complex disquisition on the nature of the cruel, deceptive, egotistical,...
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[The difficulty in understanding Persona is] that Bergman withholds the kind of clear signals for sorting out fantasies from reality offered, for example, by Buñuel in Belle de Jour. Buñuel puts in the clues; he wants the viewer to be able to decipher his film. The insufficiency of the clues Bergman has planted must be taken to indicate that he intends the film to remain partly encoded. The viewer can only move toward, but never achieve, certainty about the action…. One prime bit of evidence for this thesis is a sequence occurring soon after the two women arrive at the seaside. It's the sequence in which, after we have seen Elizabeth enter Alma's room and stand beside her and stroke her hair, we see Alma, pale, troubled, asking Elizabeth the next morning, "Did you come to my room last night?" and Elizabeth, slightly quizzical, anxious, shaking her head no. Now there seems no reason to doubt Elizabeth's answer. The viewer isn't given any evidence of a malevolent plan on Elizabeth's part to undermine Alma's confidence in her own sanity; nor any evidence for doubting Elizabeth's memory or sanity in the ordinary sense. But if that is the case, two important points have been established early in the film. One is that Alma is hallucinating—and, presumably, will continue doing so. The other is that hallucinations or visions will appear on the screen with the same rhythms, the same look of objective reality as something "real." (pp. 129-30)...
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Shortly after I saw Ingmar Bergman's Persona for the first time, I discovered the writings of R. D. Laing. Laing is a Scottish psychiatrist, blazingly humane, who is trying to understand (among other things) how madness becomes the sanity of the mad. A passage from his book The Divided Self might serve as epigraph for Persona:
The unrealness of perceptions and the falsity and meaninglessness of all activity are the necessary consequences of perception and activity being in the command of a false self—a system partially dissociated from the "true" self….
Bergman's film begins with an actress, young and successful, who has suffered these consequences. All activity has become false and meaningless to her. (pp. 13-14)
After the titles, the film slashes ahead with the swiftness that comes not from speed but from a superb power of distillation. Everything is lean, yet everything is rich. This we expect from Bergman. What might not have been expected, and what is highly gratifying, is that he has found an answer in art to what lately has been troubling his art.
In his last three serious films—Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light, and The Silence—Bergman has used increasingly parsimonious means for increasingly subjective exploration…. These films were masterfully made, but they seemed introspectively remote...
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Ingmar Bergman likes to speak of himself as a magician. The film maker, he notes, bases his art on the use of a machine that exploits a weakness in human vision in order to impart the illusion—not the reality—of motion and therefore of life. (p. 175)
I have never been able to definitely decide whether Bergman is, indeed, a consummate magician or merely a mountebank. I change my mind from film to film and even from sequence to sequence in the same film. He is a journalist—not quite a philosopher—of the guilty soul, and the necessity to probe the unconscious states of his characters leads him to a heavily symbolic, sometimes expressionistic, style in which he has created (a) some of the most memorable screen images of our time and (b) some of the most annoyingly obscure and/or pretentious images of the same period…. [The] hold he has on me—and, I suspect, on almost everyone else—is based on his attempt, and ours, to resolve the basic tension between the artist and the trickster which exists in his personality and in his work.
It is no wonder that Bergman, so aware that his art—perhaps all art—is based at least partly on trumpery, should be obsessed with the tragedy of the artist figure who suddenly, mysteriously loses the power to cast his magic spells. Persona, released a year ago, and his latest film, Hour of the Wolf, both deal with this theme and are, in fact, twins more...
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RICHARD CORLISS and JONATHAN HOOPS
Hour of the Wolf is a story film, with a beginning, a middle, and an end (though, as Godard said in another context, "not necessarily in that order"); it displays specific literary references, as opposed to Persona's general filmic ones; and it confronts the stylistic innovations of certain nouvelle vague directors in a way more consistent with what we recognize as good old Bergman. (p. 36)
[Rare] in a Bergman film is the reliance on "outside sources." In Hour of the Wolf, the model is Mozart's The Magic Flute and, though a specific reference to it during the party seems at first superfluous, we later realize that it is doubly relevant: because the film is a retelling of the Magic Flute story, and because, whereas the dramas from Through a Glass Darkly to Persona were "chamber" films … Hour of the Wolf is frankly operatic. The settings are expansive rather than constrictive; there are many characters, and each is given a verbal aria; the treatment, like most libretti, is melodramatic in the extreme. (p. 38)
As Bergman has reminded us, we spend half our movie-watching time in the dark. A film is made in fragments and edited to form something cohesive. Only in the last decade have many film-makers abandoned the pretension of wholeness; the nouvelle vague directors popularized this idea. And only in his last two films has Bergman attempted to relate...
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[The opening scene of The Seventh Seal] is not merely a piece of cinematic exposition; it is a thematic prelude: in the image of the gliding bird seen against a sky which is "a dome of lead," Bergman telescopes the knight's hopeless search for God, who remains distant and silent. (p. 92)
Although the knight's quest is medieval, his skeptic and anxious temper is modern. To help justify such an anachronism Bergman claims that the medieval world depicted in The Seventh Seal is basically a historical metaphor for our own world threatened by atomic destruction: "In my film the Crusader returns from the Crusades as the soldier returns from the war today. In the Middle Ages, men lived in terror of the plague. Today they live in fear of the atomic bomb. The Seventh Seal is an allegory with a theme that is quite simple: man, his eternal search for God, with death as his only certainty."
Bergman's use of the term "allegory" should be taken in a general rather than medieval sense, being a story in which the spiritual content is set forth in a concrete action and with characters whose movements are realistic but whose basic function is that of abstract symbols. (p. 93)
Philosophically, The Seventh Seal departs from medieval allegory in two respects: the metaphysical uncertainty that characterizes Bergman's film has little in common with the a priori assumption of an orderly...
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[In] the disbalances of Hour of the Wolf, Bergman was paying some of the immense psychological price that must be exacted for working so near the line between sanity and madness; of all directors, he is the most personally brave in the sense of being willing to work with dangerous psychic material—to dredge, as he himself once said, down into the primitive levels of infancy when we are all frighteningly psychotic.
Shame returns nearer the surface again; it is safer, less daring…. There are no "ideas" in Shame. Except perhaps for the last shot, the film would make sense without its sound track. Indeed, much of what the characters say does not really make much sense anyway. Bergman has long abandoned the role of the Great Dubber, who used to put into his characters' mouths important thoughts about God, life, and the loneliness of man in an inscrutable universe. His characters now nag fiercely at each other…. (p. 33)
Shame is in fact quite remarkable among war films, and takes its place among a tiny honorable handful that may be considered genuinely antiwar. The usual "antiwar" film gains its laurels by including a certain amount of obviously senseless gore and destruction. It may even allege conscious or unconscious villainy on the part of war-makers, like Kubrick's Paths of Glory. But the battle scenes prove to have a purposeful choreographic grace and power lacking in the rest...
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Prison is a turgid, tedious film finally invalidated by the tendency to inflate a personal neurosis into a Vision of Life. Its explicit thesis is that life on earth is already Hell, that the devil rules. But all one could deduce from the evidence it presents is that some people are very nasty and some others very ineffectual. (p. 29)
The chief contribution [Port of Call] makes is the extension of Bergman's antipathy to parental figures to include the social authorities, presented with consistent hostility.
The limitations of these early films are crippling. It appears to have been impossible for Bergman at this stage to conceive of an acceptable maturity. One can see signs of a tentative awareness of the need to come to some sort of terms with adult life, in the ending of Port of Call…. (p. 30)
Summer Interlude is the earliest in which one feels in the presence of a great artist, not merely a gifted, or precocious, or ambitious one. The film shows an achieved mastery both in the overall line, the inner movement, and in the minutiae of mise-en-scène in which that movement finds local expression….
The importance of Summer Interlude in relation to Bergman's early films is immediately evident: it both continues and develops the characteristic preoccupation with youth and the vulnerability of innocence. But here the transition from innocent...
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Three persistent and intensifying impressions assail me as I contemplate the consistent whole that is the film series [consisting of seven films: The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, The Magician, Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light, The Silence, and Persona].
1. An initial absence gradually evolves into a disturbing and terrifying presence. There gradually emerges that conviction that theists all too often flippantly cast aside in mistaken reverence or dubious pusillanimity: the ultimate religious experience—which is the only truly religious experience—is supremely personal on both sides: man is reacting not to a mathematical formula but to a living God, and because this living God is communicating not with a sensitized passive photographic plate but rather with the endless restlessness that is a human person, the dialogue must have the gaps and terrors incident upon all personal communication. (p. 12)
2. Indeed the dynamic of these seven films begins with man and ends with God. I see that dynamic sweeping aside restrictive humanism and geometricizing transcendentalism alike. Love is its Alpha and Omega; but what a purifying furnace must not that love traverse between the beginning and the consummation! The trenchant thrust of human longing for certitude and peace and hope for pain is its powering drive; tortuously and deviously that thrust reveals itself as questing, probing,...
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With The Passion of Anna the art of Ingmar Bergman reaches its pinnacle. Though it is one of his rare color films, it is in every important way his most austere and elliptical work, a thing of silences and enigmas that nevertheless makes very clear the tragic vision of life that possesses its author.
Gone at last are all traces of the baroque symbolism that marked—and often marred—his early work. Gone, too, is the yearning for evidence of the presence of God in the world. Bergman has, I think, accepted His death and, indeed, seems to find that event no longer worthy of comment. His absence is now simply one of the terms of our existence….
[The island to which Bergman has retreated for four consecutive films is], of course, a psychological landscape as well as a physical one, and Bergman has gone there in the same spirit that his people have gone to that stark, spare place—out of revulsion at the meaningless cruelty of the world. There is no escape from it here, as The Passion of Anna makes abundantly clear, but it is at least somewhat reduced—to something like a manageable non-institutional human scale. Or so they permit themselves to hope. (p. 314)
We do not care [if the architect follows Anna or not at the end]. It is not important. Any action will, we know, turn out to be without resolving meaning. It will end only in the passage of more time. It is, in its quiet way, a...
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To a great extent Bergman's films from the fifties—The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, The Magician, Smiles of a Summer Night, The Virgin Spring—… start from the written text, from a dialogue meant to convey both thematic meaning and emotional tension. When Professor Borg in Wild Strawberries looks into the microscope in one of the dream sequences and sees nothing but his own eye, we are told this. (p. 24)
In the fifties, then, Bergman seems to be building up his sequences around a series of verbal episodes or encounters. But at the same time, he appears to be quite aware of his own shortcomings as a writer, and he tries to compensate for this by juxtaposing or reinforcing verbalized sequences with scenes of visual exaggeration. The results are often carefully planned contrasts of shots, executed in spooky darkness or suffused with romantic light; surroundings and weather are used as Stimmungsmalerei, as visualizations of a mood…. Such externalizations of feelings of peacefulness or terror, where the landscape serves as the artist's tool, might be called a form of film Gothicism. It is often coupled with a certain remoteness in Bergman to his characters, and has thus laid the foundation of the most common charge leveled against him: his lack of human warmth….
Most of Bergman's films fall back on a prototypal literary form: that of a journey or quest…. If we compare the...
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The latent power of The Seventh Seal stems from an everpresent fear in man's mind; a fear of the unknown. That twentieth-century man lives in the shadow of nuclear catastrophe is not fundamental to the film; but it allows one to share the bewilderment of the knight and his companions. It is this search for knowledge that illuminates all Bergman's mature films. It imposes a pattern on life, which becomes a journey through time and space. The transience of human existence does not depress Bergman so much as the pitiful groping of man to comprehend the world around him.
The Seventh Seal, like Wild Strawberries, The Face, and The Virgin Spring, ends on a note of optimism, with the Holy Family leading their wagon along the sunlit shore. And to a certain extent the book of Revelation, where the title of the film originates, is for all its violent imagery, a song of consolation…. The opening of the seals provides an interval for man to consider his significance on earth. He must realize that he cannot overcome his fear or improve the world unless he chooses the most difficult path. Thus the knight plays chess with Death, risking his entire being for the hope of committing one worthy act before the Apocalypse. Bergman shows that he loses his right to choice of action if he falls under the influence of the church. (p. 101)
Jöns and the other characters in The Seventh Seal present the...
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It must never be overlooked that Bergman is as persistent a showman as he is a moralist. He is of the theatre, and while I should not want to declare that the one talent is all comic and the other—a preoccupation rather than a talent?—is altogether morose, I would suggest that there is a conflict between the two tendencies, between his desire to entertain and his instinct to preach, and that his masterpieces arise when the tendencies are virtually inseparable, when neither dominates the other, as in The Naked Night, The Magician, and The Virgin Spring. (p. 123)
One of the most fascinating problems of Bergman's development is his perennial return to the schematic disciplines of a primitive or classical mode, even as he is struggling to comply not only with the more fluid, less categorical, more musical medium of film, but also with the relativistic demands of the modern temper. Sommarlek was alternately pure movie, subjective, scenic, and time-compounding, and rudimentary classical theatre complete with symbolic attendants and exemplary characters such as crabbed age, hopeful youth, faithful companion, and the Manager as Chorus. Waiting Women was a breakaway experiment, not radical but indicative, like Thirst, a playing with contrary moods, a test of cinematic control—space, confined or illimitable; time, protracted or foreshortened. But framing it all was a convention, provided by the...
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Living in the same world with Ingmar Bergman is like living in one of those cities which has a perpetual view of majestic snow-capped mountain peaks. Nobody spends his entire day looking at mountains; people go about their daily business for weeks or months on end without ever looking up. But the mountains don't care whether anyone admires them or not—the mountains are THERE, and whether this person or that likes mountains, or doesn't like mountains, or is indifferent to mountains doesn't add to, or detract from, their majesty in any way.
In much the same way, Bergman is THERE. Whether we play his films or don't play his films, whether we see his films or don't see his films, whether we like his films or don't like his films, doesn't matter in the slightest, except to us. We can spend our entire lives in the shadow of a mountain without ever seeing it, until perhaps someone grabs us by the arm and says: "Look! Look at the mountain bathed in the light of the setting sun!" and we experience a few moments of inner radiance before we turn back to the diurnal routines of our existence. But it is in these brief moments of spiritual exaltation that we find, if we are lucky, the real meaning of life—some momentary flash of insight into what the hell it—IT—is all about. (pp. 27-8)
Who in the world today has given us moments like this more than Bergman?… In every one of his works, every one of his characters is made...
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For me, the lesson that Bergman gives us hinges on three points: liberation of dialogue, a radical cleansing of image, and absolute primacy granted to the human face.
Liberation of dialogue. The text of a film is not a piece of literature, but simply honest speech, things said and things not said, confessions and confidences. We could have learned this lesson from Jean Renoir but, strangely, it has been more clearly revealed through a language that is foreign to us and cinematographically pure. And that since Illicit Interlude, the film of our holidays, of our twenty years, of our first loves.
Cleansing of image. There are filmmakers who allow chance in their images, the sun, passers-by or bicycles (Rossellini, Lelouch, Huston), and there are those who strive to control every square centimetre of the screen (Eisenstein, Lang, Hitchcock). Bergman began like the first group and then switched allegiances; in his recent films you come across not one passer-by, your attention is not once drawn by a useless object in the decor, nor by a bird in the garden. There is nothing on the white canvas but that which Bergman (anti-pictorial like all real filmmakers) has wanted to put there.
As for the human face, no one has come as near to it as Bergman. In his recent films, there are only mouths that speak, ears that listen, eyes that express curiosity, hunger or panic….
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Bergman is not a playful dreamer, as we already know from nightmarish films like The Silence, which seems to take place in a trance. He apparently thinks in images and links them together to make a film. Sometimes we may feel that we intuit the eroticism or the fears that lie behind the overwhelming moments in a Bergman movie, but he makes no effort to clarify. In a considerable portion of his work, the imagery derives its power from unconscious or not fully understood associations; that's why, when he is asked to explain a scene, he may reply, "It's just my poetry." Bergman doesn't always find ways to integrate this intense poetry with his themes. Even when he attempts to solve the problem by using the theme of a mental breakdown or a spiritual or artistic crisis, his intensity of feeling may explode the story elements, leaving the audience moved but bewildered. (p. 89)
Like Bergman, his countryman Strindberg lacked a sovereign sense of reality, and he experimented with a technique that would allow him to abandon the forms that he, too, kept exploding. In his author's note to the Expressionist A Dream Play …, Strindberg wrote:
The author has sought to reproduce the disconnected but apparently logical form of a dream. Anything can happen; everything is possible and probable. Time and space do not exist; on a slight groundwork of reality, imagination spins and weaves new patterns made...
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Bergman employs [women] as spokeswomen to express his personal world-view—a world-view basically defined by the traumatic absence and silence of God, who has coldly abandoned us all to a cruel world. His women characters sometimes serve Bergman to express his agony over our ultimate inability to derive meaning from life except in rare moments of sensual ecstasy, soon contaminated by disgust over the bodily processes in which all experience is rooted. Yet if women occasionally are Bergman's vehicle for locating meaning, it is much more frequently male characters who pursue the ethical issues in his films which are not peculiar to either sex.
What is striking about Bergman's treatment of women is thus not the philosophical role they are called upon to play in his films. It is, rather, his treatment of their characters. Bergman offers a much different explanation for the inability of his female, as opposed to his male, characters to find purpose in a universe without direction…. Bergman is far harder on his woman than on his men. They are depicted as if on a lower notch of the evolutionary scale. Although the philosophical quest for an authentic mode of existence can hardly be limited by female as opposed to male hormones, Bergman insists that because of their physiology, women are trapped in dry and empty lives within which they wither as the lines begin to appear on their faces.
If the Knight in The Seventh...
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More than any other film artist, Bergman's work is rooted in the past. His early films grew out of the culture that surrounded them and they were invariably concerned with traditional themes. [Prison, Thirst, and To Joy], all released in 1949, were each in its own way a kind of allegory, a journey through defeat and despair towards some kind of hopefulness at the end. (p. 135)
[In] his early work, one was struck especially by Bergman's imagery, by a recurring pattern of images that seemed to have for him a special force. It would be simplistic, however, to attribute to these recurring images a fixed symbolic significance. While it is true that in his early films Bergman was fond of mirrors, of human hands, certainly of wild strawberries, of the sun and the endless stretch of long summer days, and that dolls, bears, and cannons appear in several of his films, these images by no means always acquire the force and stature of symbols. To generalize about their 'meaning', as some of the French critics have done, is to a large extent to destroy the delicacy of implication that they acquire in his most successful films. At their simplest, Bergman's images are employed to enforce or clarify a given mood or feeling, or sometimes to suggest an idea that in the film is left unsaid. (pp. 139-40)
On the surface, especially when compared with his later and frequently more opaque productions, [Summer Interlude]...
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Scenes from a Marriage is emotional dynamite. That may not be surprising for an Ingmar Bergman movie, but in some important ways this film moves in a new direction. It reaches new depths of psychological realism, and at the same time is actually hopeful…. Scenes from a Marriage made me feel more hopeful about the human condition—more willing to accept the contradictions in the desires and actions of myself and others, and more willing to believe in the possibilities of growth and change, particularly for women. (p. 48)
Unlike the interior locations in The Ritual and Cries and Whispers, [the environments in the film] are ordinary and realistic rather than theatrical or symbolic. Yet the rooms inhabited by Marianne and Johan express a great deal about their marriage. Despite the warmth of the earth colors and wood panelling that gloss its surface, their house is dominated by a routine symmetry in the arrangement of chairs, couches, lamps, tables, and flower pots, which is very restrictive. (p. 49)
As in earlier films, Bergman relies heavily on the facial close-up to explore the feelings of his characters, but this technique is handled less self-consciously than usual. Characteristically, a scene starts with a symmetrical medium two-shot. As the conversation becomes more intense and the characters begin to drop their social masks, the camera moves in for a close-up of the individual. The...
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Julian C. Rice
Bergman defines his principal theme as a concern with the "wholeness inside every human being." This "wholeness" is the basis upon which relationships with other human beings are formed. The fragmenting of wholeness within the self is inextricably bound up with the fragmenting of interpersonal relationships…. Cries and Whispers mirrors this desire to heal fragmentation between the self and others, and between separated elements in the individual psyche. (pp. 147-48)
Agnes's character is perhaps "incomplete" by literary standards, but here, we know as much about Agnes as is necessary to our understanding of the film's totality—she is dying, and she is, in an important thematic sense, a child.
She is also, in another sense, an artist who works in painting and literature, but primarily in the latter, through her "diary." Agnes is a type recognizable from Bergman's earlier films, the alienated artist, in this case separated from the other characters by her artistic sensitivity and the immediacy of her mortality. It is her feeling of alienation that impels Agnes to write. Her writing, like all artistic endeavor, is the dying child's protest against physical death and the psychological death of infancy, as well as a contradictory effort to accept death and dissolve the confining walls of the isolating ego.
This contradiction arises from the essentially split nature of the psyche. The conscious...
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Ingmar Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage is not the great film maker's best film, and may not even be the best film of the year. But it is almost certainly one of the most important films ever made, if by importance we understand the possibility of art's influencing people in a positive way—a slight, elusive possibility, perhaps even an impossible one. But one that we must believe in if we are not to give up on art or humanity, either of which strikes me as giving up on life….
Scenes from a Marriage is for our time what Everyman was for the Middle Ages. In its simple way, that medieval morality play embodied all the eschatological knowledge the average person needed to live and die by; in a quite similar, though less simple, way, Bergman's film sums up for us all there is to know about love, sex, marriage, divorce—the life of a man and woman together and apart. In that sense, it is perhaps closer in its capaciousness to the great medieval synthesizer, Thomas Aquinas, and can be viewed as a summa psychologica and summa erotica and, most of all, a summa matrimonii. Alongside the great literary tracts on love by writers like Stendhal, Kierkegaard, Ortega y Gasset, we must now place this cinematic treatise on married love—indeed, on basic man-woman relations—by the giant of Swedish and world film making. (p. 12)
Let me deal first with an objection to the film one hears...
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Rev. Robert E. Lauder
Ingmar Bergman continues to replay brilliantly the same themes. While critics debate various interpretations of his vision, Bergman keeps surpassing his previous accomplishments. His latest opus, a dazzling film production of Mozart's The Magic Flute, is a bit different from his usual offering—but just a bit. (p. 55)
What is different of course is the warm, joyous presence of Mozart, which Bergman honors with warm, joyous cinematic images. However, The Magic Flute replays many favorite Bergman themes.
All of Bergman's films deal with the meaning of human love in the face of death. Bergman has confessed that when he feels particularly sad he takes courage in the simple love between a man and woman. The simple theme of The Magic Flute, that perfect love triumphs, was the theme of Bergman's The Seventh Seal…. Though in most of his films Bergman's characters rarely encounter each other in love, it is clear that, for the Swedish director, if truth is to be found it will only be found by lovers….
It is particular fitting that in The Magic Flute music leads the lovers to salvation. Art finally wins….
Believing that film like music should portray psychic states, Bergman has throughout his career powerfully presented the cries and whispers of the suffering human soul. What makes The Magic Flute different from other Bergman films is that,...
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Robert E. Lauder
Ingmar Bergman's most personal work and one of his most profound and provocative efforts, Face to Face is probably also the Swedish artist's greatest film. A striking synthesis of his previous work and rich in images and themes, the movie will stimulate analyses reiterating familiar interpretations of Bergman's vision. We can expect Face to Face to be discussed in terms of the director's view of women, as an artistic exercise through which Bergman practices self-therapy, as a phenomenology of heterosexual relations and communications, and as a commentary on the silence of God. Though each of these approaches can shed light on Bergman's artistic aims (and each has been helpful with a particular film in the past), none is sufficiently radical to address Bergman's philosophical questions or to encounter his latest work "face to face"—that is, at the profound level at which it was conceived and created….
Of the four interpretive approaches mentioned earlier, Bergman's vision of women will probably receive the most attention…. Bergman's primary preoccupation is, however, with humanity rather than specifically with masculinity or feminity. Though some critics may find in Bergman's work a persistent hostility toward women, the truth of the matter is that the filmmaker is involved in a love-hate relationship with women and with men—and indeed with himself.
Bergman's love-hate relationship with...
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Diane M. Borden
For Bergman, the human face is a register, a kind of antenna that signals and communicates the life of the consciousness. That "life" is a constant existenial search for self, for wholeness and integrity amidst ever present elements of fragmentation and isolation. Throughout the films, characters seek an identity through the "other" in such intimate relationships as patient and nurse, sister and sister, husband and wife. Ego often finds its alter ego in this other. At the core of this convoluted psychology is the key concept of "passion" with both its erotic and religious connotations. For Bergman, the struggle between the flesh and the spirit, between the hidden and known aspects of the psyche, between the self and other, forms the essential crisis, hence passion, of being itself. This baroque psychology, with all its elaborate overlays of nuance and ambivalence, finds its perfect cinematic expression in the facial close-up. (p. 43)
Perhaps in Persona, more than in any other film, the genius of Bergman's facial icon seems most pronounced…. [Perhaps] the supreme art of facial iconography comes to fruition in the veiled double-door sequence from this film. Surely it must be one of the most numinous in all of film art…. Here, Bergman creates facial iconography at its most breathtaking; the aesthetic and psychological dimensions seem perfectly and radiantly realized. Human faces are sculpted into an aesthetic order—and...
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[What] Bergman does in this very special and provoking film [Cries and Whispers] is to subject to ruthless scrutiny his own extravagant identification with various feminine characters. By coldly exposing them, by forcing them to have at one another and to acquiesce in the process of their own relentless humiliation, Bergman calls into question his own boundless attraction to them. (p. 136)
It is obvious to most of us that a film is more than a series of verbal structures or pictorial images, that it is as well a relation it establishes with viewers; similarly, a body of work, a whole collection of films by a single artist, is more than specific attitudes or ideas taken up in one or more of them. When we think of Bergman we must think necessarily of intonation, the timbre and range of the voice which persists through the changing focus and altogether unstable manipulation of ideas. In Bergman, after all, as with many great artists, vision is not a matter of firm positions or standing or falling on particular ideas. There is a vision, of course, and it has to do with the putting of various questions in a way that suggests they are literally matters of life and death. Not the answers to those questions but the voice that articulates and insists upon their pre-eminence is what constitutes the signature. Just as it is foolish to draw permanent conclusions about Bergman's convictions on the basis of a single film when there are dozens...
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It makes sense that [Serpent's Egg] takes up the theme by showing a society in wild confusion and dread, where lives are shattered by the arbitrary malice of unknown controllers…. The undercurrents stemming from the era of The Silence and Persona can be charted through all Bergman's later work, forming a familiar geography for the voyages of all his 'island' characters. One looks the more keenly for them in Serpent's Egg in view of its origins, despite the new international production environment it represented for Bergman. Here he is, under the banner of De Laurentiis, no less. And as it turns out, the links with a Swedish past are the very reasons why the film doesn't function quite as smoothly as it should, why it leaps too readily into a generalised warning from a specific malaise.
The title is unexplained until the film is nearly ended. Preparing to take a cyanide capsule, Bergman's analyst remarks: 'Anyone who makes the slightest effort can see what's waiting there in the future. It's like a serpent's egg: through the thin membranes you can clearly make out the already perfect reptile.' Spoken in pre-Nazi Germany, the assertion seems unarguable, even startlingly perceptive, assuming we have understood it properly (a complex symbol, the serpent); but if Bergman intends there to be a direct parallel with today something more is called for than the intermingling of Cabaret, The Damned and Mr....
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You must first accept that Ingmar Bergman's characters are involved, not just in moments of crisis, but in lives of the deepest crisis and pain, or the crushing burdens of his plots will simply seem absurd. The two women in Autumn Sonata …, are what we may now see as archetypal Bergman protagonists….
Some of Bergman's recent films on the theme of how much damage human beings in close contact, through blood and marriage, can do to each other in the name of love, have seemed unfairly grim: challenges to the spectator to suffer as much as to enjoy, and to pay for his increased understanding by a thorough harrowing. In form, they have often seemed, too, no different from a rather intense course of treatment from a mercifully free psychoanalyst. Autumn Sonata escapes this criticism chiefly by doing more to enact the relationship as well as talk about it…. (p. 492)
Bergman's ability to turn peaceful domestic tableaux into glimpses of the mouth of hell is what distinguishes him at his uncomfortable best, and this is one of those occasions.
There are minor quibbles. So powerful and rich are [the] early enactments of the family history that the later scenes, during which both the women speak (however brilliantly) long monologues about their lives as child and mother, seem anti-climactic. The sheer bewildering pace of revelation slows to the clinical entrail-inspection of the patient on the...
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The close-up is Ingmar Bergman's stock in trade. No other filmmaker has so relentlessly dwelt on the human face in the attempt to lay bare the soul behind it. His new film, Autumn Sonata, is once again pledged to the nuances and intensities of the aggrandized countenance.
Wasn't the close-up, it may be asked, the invention and the glory of the silent film? In an eloquent passage in his Theory of the Film, Bela Balazs wrote about the "spiritual dimension" into which silent films would probe with their big close-ups of human faces, the "silent soliloquy" or "mute dialogue" that could be enacted through the sustained enlargement of facial expression…. [In] Bergman the close-up is less a matter of a shared language than of his personal utterance…. [The] face is not a substitute for the voice but an intensification, or a qualification, of it; and, when the actor is not speaking, the soliloquy of the countenance is now truly a silent one….
Ingmar Bergman seems to me fundamentally a latter-day expressionist. I have in mind not only his frequent borrowing (in such films as The Naked Night, The Magician, Hour of the Wolf, Face to Face) from the devices of cinematic expressionism that were developed in Weimar Germany, or even the greater spiritual debt he owes to his compatriot Strindberg, the originator of dramatic expressionism. Bergman's close-ups are as much as expressionistic device as the...
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Ronald S. Librach
The largest metaphor in The Serpent's Egg is the metaphor of the narrative film itself as a dream—the complete inversion of two levels of "reality." The film opens, for example, with a shot of people's expressionless faces, as they move in slow motion, like the figures in the boat in the dream at the end of The Shame; the shot is intercut with the opening credits. The film ends with explicit suddenness, accompanied by the metallic sound of a shutter gate dropping; the screen cuts sharply to black, and there are no closing credits. Throughout the film, there is also a vapor drifting up from the ground, whether it be the cold mist that rises perpetually from the cobblestones or the cigarette smoke which lingers in every cabaret and every bedroom. The narrator identifies this vapor as fear: "Fear," he says, "rises like vapor from the asphalt; it can be sensed like a pungent smell. Everyone bears it with him like a nerve poison—a slow-working poison that is felt only as a quicker or slower pulse or a spasm of nausea." Fear becomes the film's principal theme, the vaporous "slow-working poison" its principal image…. (p. 96)
The Serpent's Egg seems to wince occasionally on account of incipient politicalism, which is not, as his critics frequently remind us, Bergman's strongest intellectual suit. If Bergman means to say simply that we must think of the Nazi years as a "nightmare," Hitler a demon hatched from "the...
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