Caroline Blackwood

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 645

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)

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[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 moronic son in Smiles of a Summer Night is impotent with his serving-girl (symbol of Harlotry) and potent only with purity. Bergman naturally favours his uncommon sexual pattern and grants him, what in Bergmanesque terms is the very highest human reward, an unawakened wife….

Bergman's immense current popularity is really a phenomenon in itself. His rabid anti-intellectualism is presumably partially responsible. His message that the fool is wiser than anyone, has an obvious general appeal. He has also, however, a cunning, strategic grasp of currently fashionable trends. He therefore appeases supposedly more sophisticated audiences by serving them up a quasi-modern potpourri of Strindberg, Kafka, and Jung. (p. 55)

Behind all Bergman's stuffy Protestant morality, and behind all his Swedish Modern with his easy reference to Freud, one really senses only all the horrendous mystical superstition of an ancient Scandinavian Goth. One feels all the old Nordic deities (ugliest and gloomiest of the world's divinities) still lurking in the black and insular background of his haunted forests and skies. The god Nor, shaped like an eagle and compulsively nibbling on human carcases, is there flapping the wings which cause winds to moan and desolate tempests to blow through the woods of The Seventh Seal….

At the turn of the century the Swedish novelist Söderberg wrote that he believed in only two ultimates, the desire of the flesh and the eternal loneliness of the soul. Ingmar Bergman cannot accept the desire of the flesh as an ultimate; he is, however, obssessed with the loneliness of the soul and his only memorable sequences are always on this theme. The loneliness he presents is not that of Umberto D, a man left without friends in a cruel and heartless society, but the self-imposed loneliness of people incapable of either feeling or communicating emotion. (p. 56)

Bergman is never frightened of overstressing his points. Sometimes his repetitiousness has had a certain hypnotic appeal. In Virgin Spring it is disastrous. He takes an eternity to merely establish that his Virgin is good…. [The virgin's transformation into a sacred spring after her death] is Bergman's message. She was indestructible after all. In her new watery form we have her with us forever.

Bergman started his career as a director of theatre for children; and now can only be called the leading director of children's films for adults. (pp. 56-7)

Caroline Blackwood, "The Mystique of Ingmar Bergman," in Encounter (© 1961 by Encounter Ltd.), Vol. 16, No. 4, April, 1961, pp. 54-7.

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