Ingmar Bergman: Through A Glass Darkly

Stendhal said that “a novel is a mirror carried along a roadway”; it reflects not only the passing scene but the one carrying the mirror. The same is true of films. Ingmar Bergman’s films may be about the validity of art, as in Hour of the Wolf, or the scourge of war, as in Shame; but they are more a reflection of himself. His early life was deeply influenced by his fear of and isolation from his father, a Swedish pastor; by the making of a cinematograph and the new world that this opened up for him; by the writings of Strindberg and Kafka; and, in his late teens, by his loss of Christian faith, of, soon after, his first love, and then of a close friend.

A little later Bergman flirted with what he calls “a sort of refined existentialism.” Although he reacted against the conventions of bourgeois society, he did not jettison moral categories. He finds no inconsistency between this attitude and “my basic view of things,” which is “not to have any basic view of things.” He is committed to existentialism in part because he sees Christianity as being “deeply branded by a very virulent humiliation motif.” For Bergman, the idea of God is that of “something destructive and fantastically dangerous, something filled with risk for the human being and bringing out in him dark, destructive forces instead of the opposite” (Bergman on Bergman, Seeker and Warburg, 1973).

Before directing films, Bergman spent many years in the theater. He has maintained what is essentially a film repertory company, one that is renowned for consistently superb acting and deeply imaginative and supple direction. Perhaps it was Smiles of a Summer Night that established him as a European rather than a Swedish director, a position ...

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