Ingmar Bergman Essay - Critical Essays

Bergman, Ingmar

Introduction

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.)

Eric Rohmer

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).

Eugene Archer

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 Alf Sjöberg with the screenplay by Bergman], one of the great Swedish films, achieves an intensity which Bergman's own films, less absolute in their conceptions, have never attained, but its theme contains the essence of Bergman's subsequent philosophy…. Although the conclusion of Torment is enigmatic, suggesting both hope and futility, the youthful protagonist has actually experienced the worst that will ever happen to him, since he will never again be able to respond as intensely as at the age of 17. Torment is one of the rare films to achieve catharsis, an effect which Bergman never attempted again….

[Bergman's early films] continue the examination of youthful revolt against society which Bergman began in Torment, with the pessimistic conclusion that man can only hope for salvation in retreat, as a social outcast. The realistic seaport drama, Hamnstad (Seaport),… suggests for the first time that the young lovers, whose need for each other survives their inability to communicate, may find the strength to combat life on its own terms. Bergman's youthful pessimism is climaxed by Fangelse (Prison), which depicts modern life as a total hell from which there can be no salvation because man has lost the ability to believe in God. This powerful expressionistic work, influenced by Pirandello and strongly foreshadowing The Seventh Seal, is set in a motion-picture studio, and presents life's odyssey as a passage through an artificial corridor populated by inanimate mannequins, in an expression of one of Bergman's favorite conceptions, the relative reality of artistic illusion. (p. 6)

Sommarlick (Summerplay, 1950) is one of Bergman's most personal films, and, for connoisseurs of the director's work, it remains the most satisfying of his early achievements. Summerplay introduces a new maturity into Bergman's philosophy and technique. The long flashback to an idyllic summer romance is overshadowed with mystical symbols foreboding disaster, for, in Bergman's philosophy, in the absence of interior knowledge and with only death as a certainty, superstitious omens are fully as valid as scientific facts….

Bergman's early films, strange, exceedingly personal, and deeply provacative, sometimes deriving from the Protestant environment of his own childhood,...

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Arlene Croce

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...

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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...

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Caroline Blackwood

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...

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Peter Harcourt

[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...

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Peter Cowie

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...

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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,...

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JöRn Donner

JÖRN DONNER

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...

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Birgitta Steene

[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...

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Tom Milne

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...

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Susan Sontag

[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...

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Stanley Kauffmann

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...

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Richard Schickel

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...

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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...

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Birgitta Steene

[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...

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Ernest Callenbach

[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....

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Robin Wood

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...

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Arthur Gibson

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...

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Richard Schickel

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...

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Birgitta Steene

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...

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Peter Cowie

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...

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Vernon Young

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...

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Art Carduner

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...

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Francois Truffaut

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,...

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Pauline Kael

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...

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Joan Mellen

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...

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Peter Harcourt

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...

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Marsha Kinder

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...

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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...

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John Simon

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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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Robert Boyers

[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...

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Philip Strick

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...

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Gavin Millar

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...

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Gilberto Perez

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...

(The entire section is 881 words.)

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...

(The entire section is 1346 words.)