The Terrible Truth
Tristania: Requiem

Bergman: The Silence and Through A Glass Darkly

Last night I watched The Silence for the second time. The first time was somewhere between five and ten years ago, and I thought I had discussed it here at least briefly, but if I did I can't find the post now. At any rate, what I remember thinking is that I didn't like at as well as the other two of the three films which Bergman (I think) and others (definitely) have referred to as his "faith trilogy." Well, I changed my mind. This is a wonderful work. It's so good that I don't even know where to start talking about it. The faces, the silences, the spaces, the mystery.... 

I thought the first time around that it was marred, if not spoiled, by its very explicit sexuality--pretty tame by today's standards, R-rated at worst, but powerful because of the artistry involved. I still think a couple of those scenes could have been toned down, but none of that comes anywhere near spoiling the whole, much less detracting from the faint but sublime joy of the closing gesture. I had thought of it as the most despairing, the most Godless, of the faith trilogy, and perhaps it is, but the tiny ray of hope, the two hearts that reach out to each other through a few simple words on a piece of paper, is only made brighter by the surrounding darkness.

Then tonight I watched Through A Glass Darkly (yes, I own these on DVD). It, too, I had seen only once, and is even better than I remembered. It, too, takes us through a very dark place, but the light at the end is not faint at all. Bergman only thought he was an atheist.

When I watch a Bergman movie I have the feeling that I'm in a world where absolutely every detail is significant and beautiful, beautiful in a Hopkins sort of way, if not in any conventional way--simply by being itself so richly. Sometimes I think these works should be credited to Bergman-Nykvist--Sven Nykvist being the cinematographer on most of Bergman's greatest work.

I really miss my friend Robert tonight, because as far as I'm aware he's the only one of my personal acquaintances who loves Bergman the way I do. Ordinarily I would have gotten out of my chair at the end of each of these movies and fired off an email to him, just to remind him of how great they are. If anyone else here loves these two films, I'd be interested in discussing them with you. I haven't mentioned the third, Winter Light, because I love it most of the three and know it so well that I don't feel the immediate need to see it again. 





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"Bergman only thought he was an atheist."

Profound statement.

I need to watch more Bergman. Of the handful I've seen The Virgin Spring is my favorite so far. A fellow I work with is a big Bergman fan, but he tends to like the darker films (he likes darker films than I do in general, actually).

Winter Light is wonderful. It's the only one of the trilogy that I have seen, and I wonder why. I don't know why it never struck me before how apposite that title is to the film. When I think back over the film, the whole thing seems to be bathed in that light.

Maclin, you have definitely written about those two films before.


I sure thought I had. Can you say where? I couldn't find it. I'll give you a word of caution about the other two: they both have some fairly disturbing elements. I do think Winter Light stands out among the three.

The Virgin Spring is a great one, though I sure wish von Sydow had not worn that moustache-less beard, which always makes a man look weird to me. His "I do not know any other way to live" at the end is just magnificent.

No I can't find it either, but I remember it.

Then again the diocesan parish database just disappeared from my computer, so who know?


Winter Light is one of the ones I've seen -- also Virgin Spring, The Seventh Seal, and Wild Strawberries.

It's been awhile since I watched WL and I don't remember much about it.

You should watch it again.

The Bergman discussion is, coincidentally, very apropos to Graham Greene. More later.


Is there something in one of these movies about self-abuse with razors?

I ask because I was talking to a friend one day about Bergman movies and she mentioned the one she had watched . . .


I have seen The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, and Virgin Spring; all of which I would like to re-watch, along with the others Mac mentions. Max von Sydow is really great! He apparently has a part in the new Star Wars movie for those interested in that sort of thing.

I'm surprised he's still able to act, or for that matter is still alive. But then he always looked older than his years, at least to me.

Janet, that sounds like a scene from Cries and Whispers. The disturbing things I'm talking about in these two are more psychological.

Okay. Thanks.


When I think of The Silence, what has remained with me are the mysterious tank roaming the streets and the dwarves wandering the hotel halls. I remember puzzling over them with friends when I was young, thinking they had some very deep meaning. But I've since read that Bergman drew heavily on dreams in creating his films, so maybe they're simply haphazard elements from those dreams. Which raises the question, for me, of just how connected to a logical line of thought anything is in his films.

I think we should go on the assumption that there is not necessarily a logical line of thought. I read something just within the past couple of days, in connection with these two movies, in which he said people shouldn't assume that there is an abstract statement being made. I think he mentioned dreams, too. There's a very strong tendency for people to say "ok, the dwarves symbolize X, and the tanks symbolize Y", and so on. I think that's a mistake. Those two things, for instance, may not have an abstract meaning, but they are an emotionally important part of the picture. The Silence disk comes with a commentary by a Bergman scholar, Peter Cowie, who notes of the dwarves that they appear to be saner than the two sisters, especially Ester, who watches them go by in the hallway. She's looking at them, and they're looking at her, and she's the physically normal one, but they're ok, just coming back from a night's work, and she's falling apart.

And the tanks--they don't have to "mean" anything beyond their presence, which creates an atmosphere of menace.

About atmosphere and Bergman -- I found this in the Guardian's obituary on Sven Nykvist fascinating, in that it shows such dedication to detail:

"When Ingmar and I made Winter Light, which takes place in a church on a winter day in Sweden, we decided we should not see any shadow in it at all because there would be no logical shadow in that setting. We sat for weeks in a church in north Sweden, looking at the light during the three hours between 11 and two o'clock. We saw that it changed a lot, and it helped him in writing the script because he always writes the moods. I asked the production designer to build a ceiling in the church so I wouldn't have any possibility of putting up lights or backlighting. I had to start with bounced light and then after that I think I made every picture with bounced light. I really feel ill when I see a direct light coming into faces with its big nose shadow."
The full piece is here.

That is fascinating--just the excerpt, I mean--I have to wait till tomorrow to read the whole thing. Thanks.

It accounts for what I said earlier about the name of th film being so apt.


I'm saying this here because I don't want to interrupt the conversation in the GG thread and this is about a movie.

I'm a bit torn now because I've been getting ready to write a few movie posts. I'm wondering if I ought to save them, but I think not. There will be more to watch next year.


I've got TAGD scheduled for the weekend. Along with Keaton's 'The General.'

Now there's an interesting double feature.

Good pairing, really. Each one may help you appreciate the other. I did a blog post about The General here one time, quite a while back now. I called it "Dances With Trains."

I watched 'Through a Glass Darkly' over the weekend and found it quite powerful and moving. 'Winter Light' is next. I saw it some years ago, but don't remember much.

Keaton's 'The General' was excellent.

I love The General. It is so funny! When the guy throws the sword !!!

Yeah, it's hilarious. Before 'The General' I'd only ever seen a few of his short films; 'Cops' is my favorite -- it's brilliant.

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