Ernest Callenbach

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 537

[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.

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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 of the movie (or indeed in most movies). War may be hell, but it sure does give the camera something to photograph! More subtly, war films almost universally provide an artificial and reassuring orientation to what is happening, both through dramatic devices and dialogue and through the elementary tactics of coherent screen movement (especially having one army move to the right and the other to the left). Whatever the script may say, battles on film thus are given visual sense. But Shame's war scenes, like the documentary Vietnam footage in The Anderson Platoon, but closer up, never make visual sense. If we found ourselves magically transported, like Keaton's little projectionist, suddenly catapulted into Shame, we wouldn't have the faintest idea what to do: which way to run, where to hide. We would be, in other words, in exactly the position of a Vietnamese peasant upon whose village the B-52s, too high for the eye to see, are raining bombs in a carefully computerized random pattern.

Naturally enough, this aspect of the film is enormously depressing, and doubtless it largely accounts for the film not proving popular…. (pp. 33-4)

[The] power the ending should have had is somehow diffused. The boat is adrift, its people apparently doomed to starvation. When all possibilities of action in the outside world have been blocked or made senseless, human beings turn inward; they curl and die. The wife can only recount her dreams. This reaction of humanity to the utterly monstrous, the unbearable, is perhaps what Kurtz in Heart of Darkness calls "the horror." To Bergman it is the shame of modern man. (p. 34)

Ernest Callenbach, "Reviews: 'Shame'," in Film Quarterly (copyright 1969 by The Regents of the University of California; reprinted by permission of the University of California Press), Vol. XXIII, No. 1, Fall, 1969, pp. 32-4.

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