Ingmar Bergman

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Art Carduner

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 822

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 up of flesh and blood—only Shakespeare and Dickens have produced a larger and more varied progeny. (pp. 28-9)

Bergman is not, and never will be instinct with the masses; he lacks the common touch, surely a flaw, perhaps a fatal flaw, in his art. Bergman has turned his back on his audience, and the older he gets the more remote he becomes from them…. More and more, Bergman not only makes no effort to engage his audience, but deliberately repels them. Why? (p. 30)

[It] is not enough to say he rejects his audience, because this is certainly obvious enough to his audience. The question is, how does he reject his audience? What is the machinery that he uses, since we must assume that he can do anything he wants to do? One easy answer is 'obscurity'. Unfortunately, this tells us nothing. (pp. 30-1)

[There] is a kind of obscurity in many of Bergman's films that can't be read. He seems unable, or unwilling, to integrate his symbology. He has a tremendously fertile imagination for creating visual symbols, but he seems to lack the kind of cerebration that carries them through to their logical conclusions. For example, in The Seventh Seal he uses a chess game, a great visual symbol, to represent life. In the hands of Bunuel, each piece would represent an archetypal social class, and the relations among them, as individuals and as classes, would be explored with all the infinite nuances of the game itself. But to Bergman, it is just another game, and the only question is winning or not winning. (p. 31)

Hollywood provides something that Bergman doesn't—something that I consider an absolutely essential ingredient in a work or art, and that is a sense of resolution. As human beings, we need resolution, because that's the way our minds work. In respect of our mortality, all things seem to have a beginning and an end. To qualify as art, they must have a fitting end….

Bergman refuses to resolve many of his films. People die, but...

(This entire section contains 822 words.)

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their souls don't come to rest, so to speak, as they do inHamlet, for example, or in Ikiru. Smiles of a Summer Night is certainly resolved with wonderful grace and charm, and without strain or compromise. In The Seventh Seal, the resolution is emotionally and intellectually satisfying, and in Wild Strawberries we surely can accept that the old man has made his peace with the world. However, most of his films just trail off into space, without giving us any bearings about which way is up….

Another aspect of Bergman that affects me negatively is his almost total lack of concern with the work-a-day world and any psychic or material deprivations arising therefrom…. [Nobody] has any fun in Bergman's films, not even in bed. It's a cold, bleak, joyless world, often an island or some barren coast, where mortification of the flesh is exceeded only by mortification of the spirit.

For my own part, I am not sure that this kind of devil-wrestling needs to be quite as grim as Bergman would have us believe…. If we are headed for hell in a handbasket anyway, why not go with a bottle of fine wine and a plump whore? (p. 32)

Art Carduner, "'Nobody Has Any Fun in Bergman's Films'," in Film Society Review, Vol. 7, No. 5, January, 1972, pp. 27-32.


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