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Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander (1982) is one of his finest works. Fanny and Alexander runs 312 minutes—more than five hours. Bergman cut it down to a 188-minute version for theatrical release. The full version was shown as a miniseries on Swedish television but was also released in theaters, making it one of the longest theatrical films in history.

Fanny and Alexander was Bergman’s most popular film. It was also highly praised by critics, winning four Academy awards, including Best Foreign Language Film, and three Guldbagge Awards from the Swedish Film Institute, including Best Film.

Bergmann originally intended Fanny and Alexander to be his cinematic swan song, thus he made it a summation of his life and work. The story is semi-autobiographical and reprises many of the themes explored in his other films. The end is a life-affirming benediction, a triumph over darkness.

Fanny and Alexander feels like an adaptation of one of those sprawling nineteenth-century novels that you’ve never read, but it was entirely Bergman’s work. The film is set in Uppsala, Sweden in 1907–1909. It depicts haute bourgeois life at the very peak of European civilization before the explosion of the Great War.

This is the story of the fabulously wealthy Ekdahl family, headed by the widowed grandmother Helena, a former actress. Helena speaks about how she loved to act, but her greatest happiness was playing the role of a mother, a role she continues to play as she looks out for her three grown sons, their wives, and a growing brood of grandchildren. The Ekdahls are a very close family. They live in vast and sumptuous apartments occupying two floors of the same building, as well as sharing a Swedish country house and a retreat in Provence.

The film begins and ends with lavish celebrations—a Christmas and a christening—that illustrate the customs, manners, and fashions of the time as well as the Ekdahls’ unconventional ethos. These sequences are visually dazzling, captured in blazing color. It is pure decorator porn from a director usually associated with austere settings captured in stark black and white.

The prologue and first act take place on the day before Christmas and Christmas morning of 1907. First, the family attends (and some of them act in) a Christmas pageant at a theater they own. Then there is Christmas dinner—which in Sweden takes place on Christmas Eve—followed the next morning by the family setting off in horse-drawn sleighs for an early Christmas service at the cathedral.

The Christmas sequence introduces most of the major characters and a host of minor ones, all beautifully realized. Helena presides benignly over the festivities but fears the passage of time is carrying her from her beautiful life into the “dirty life” of decrepitude and death.

Helena has three sons. The eldest, Oscar, is a sickly, quiet, and introverted actor and the manager of the family theater who is married to the tall and radiant blonde, Emilie, also an actress, who is the mother of their two children, Fanny and Alexander Carl, the middle son, is a professor. He is a mediocrity and a depressive. He’s also a tactless boor, drunkard, and gambler in an unhappy and childless marriage with a German woman, Lydia, whom he abuses. The youngest son, Gustav Adolf, is an ebullient restauranter married to Alma, the mother of his three children who good-naturedly encourages him in his extra-marital affairs.

Alexander is a wide-eyed boy of ten with a vivid imagination. Although he might not be imagining things when he sees ghosts. Fanny is his shy and quiet eight-year-old sister. Maj is their nursemaid and the object of Gustav Adolf’s current adulterous designs. Isak Jacobi, a Jewish antique dealer and moneylender, is an old family friend and former lover of Helena.

The Ekdahls are all highly intelligent and sensitive. With the exception of Carl, they have exquisite manners and tastes. But although they are pillars of the community and uphold most of the social forms, they are also quite unconventional.

When Gustav Adolf puts on a Christmas reception for the cast and crew of the family theater, he tells the waiters in his restaurant to not display the slightest snobbery. When the family sits down to Christmas dinner, they eat in the kitchen sharing a huge table with the family servants—which makes some of the older servants uncomfortable. These gestures are attempts at aristocratic magnanimity, which seeks to lessen the pains of social hierarchy to those on the lower rungs.

Then there is the matter of extra-marital affairs. Helena, Emilie, and Gustav Adolf are all philanderers, all apparently with the knowledge and the approval—or at least the acquiescence—of their spouses. Helena, Emilie, and Oscar are all theater people, so perhaps such bohemian morals come with the territory. It is, however, rather unrealistic to suggest that the Ekdahls never get burned while playing with the heart’s fire. Helena is also something of a feminist, dismissing Strindberg as “that nasty misogynist.”

Finally, the close friendship with Isak Jacobi strikes me as unconventional for the time. He is literally at every family function. Yes, they live close to one another. Yes, Isak and the Ekdahls are both in business. Isak’s nephew Aron is even in the theater business as a puppet maker. But would this really be enough to overcome the religious and social divides?

The first version of the script—which is very different from the final film—may throw some light on the connection, for Helena Ekdahl’s maiden name is given as Mandelbaum, a very Jewish name. This throws light on an odd conversation at the very beginning of the movie, when Helena’s maid Ester remarks on how odd it is that they have celebrated 43 Christmases together. Of course it would be odd if Helena had been born a Jew.

Ester, too, is a very Jewish name, but Ester worked as a Christian missionary in China, and, in the first version of the script is said to have warned Alexander that Isak kidnaps gentile children and drinks their blood.

However, if Bergman’s original intent was to make Helena Jewish, it seems unfulfilled, since there’s nothing particularly Jewish about how Helena is portrayed by the acclaimed Swedish actress Gunn Wållgren.

If any single word describes the Ekdahls, it is “pagan.” Although their Christmas celebrations are bookended by a nativity pageant and a church service, everything between is pure pagan revelry and carousing, without a wink of sleep.

Although the Ekdahls are fully aware of the dark and tragic dimensions of life, they flee those terrors by building up the ramparts of what both Oscar and Gustav Adolf call the “little world,” the hermetic microcosm, one of the first touches of the esoteric and paranormal that appear throughout film.

When Oscar makes a speech in the theater, he uses “little world” to refer to the theater. When Gustav Adolf uses the phrase at the end of the movie, the meaning is more expansive. The “little world” is the artificial world of beauty and culture that the Ekdahls inhabit with such zest. It is the human realm of meaning that we build to protect ourselves from the chaos and terrors of nature. The theater is thus a microcosm of the microcosm.

On this reading, the theater is not just a symbol and site for fakery, loose morals, and cultural decadence. On a deeper level, the theater is a symbol of the creation of culture in the first place.

The Ekdahls do not lack a feeling for the holy, but when Emilie describes her conception of God, it is a force that lies beyond good and evil and manifests itself in an infinite array of masks. Thus the world-whole in all of its manifestations, good and evil, is sacred. This is an essentially pagan conception of divinity.

The central drama of Fanny and Alexander springs from the clash of Christianity and paganism.

In the second act, which takes place in February of 1908, Oscar Ekdahl dies suddenly of a stroke. The whole sequence is deeply touching. A year later, Emilie announces that she is to marry Edvard Vergérus, the bishop of Uppsala.

The bishop’s house is starkly different from the Ekdahls’. It is grim and austere, with white walls. The bishop’s mother and sister are drab and neurotic. His aunt is a fat, vacant invalid played by a female impersonator. The servants are grotesques. Everyone is dressed in grays, blacks, and whites. Bergman is a master of this aesthetic.

Emilie feels unmoored since the death of Oscar, and she is attracted to the bishop (who isn’t bad-looking) and thinks that maybe his austere and purposeful life will provide her the stability she is longing for.

Fanny and Alexander take an instant dislike to the bishop. They were right. As soon as he has the family within his four walls, he reveals himself to be controlling, sadistic, and loathsomely smug. He’s an evil stepfather straight from a fairy tale.

The marriage becomes a hell. Emilie wants out but is trapped. She is pregnant, so she will always be tied to Edvard. Moreover, if she abandons him, the law would allow him to keep Fanny and Alexander.

Emilie appeals to Helena, who sets a plan in motion. At this point, the film veers into the bizarre. The bishop is hard up for money and has offered to sell an antique chest to Isak, who had declined. Isak, however, has a change of heart when he realizes that he can use the chest to smuggle out Fanny and Alexander. Isak’s visit is played very strangely. He’s obviously up to something. The bishop and his sister are both suspicious and rude. But, somehow, he manages to get the children into the chest and close the deal with the bishop.

Then the bishop suddenly explodes in anger, strikes Isak, calls him a “filthy hook-nosed swine,” and accuses him of trying to steal the children. Bizarrely, the bishop does not look in the chest but runs upstairs to the children’s bedroom. Isak, whom the bishop had thrown to the floor, looks to the sky and cries out. A light illuminates him from above. When the bishop enters the nursery, he sees the children apparently unconscious on the floor. Isak faints, then awakens and has the chest carried away by his workmen. When he opens it in his shop, Fanny and Alexander emerge. The only possible explanation is supernatural. Isak has somehow projected the illusion of the children into their nursery. At this point, Alexander’s encounters with ghosts no longer seem like figments of his imagination.

Once the children are out of the bishop’s clutches, Gustav Adolf and Carl sit down to negotiate a divorce for Emilie. It is an utterly hilarious scene, and Carl somewhat redeems himself with his cool-headed shrewdness, in stark contrast to Gustav Adolf’s typhonic tirades. The bishop, however, dresses up his vengeful priggishness in the garb of spirituality and high principle, so negotiations break down.

Meanwhile, Fanny and Alexander stay in Isak’s shop, an Escher-like labyrinth impossibly cluttered with exotic treasures. There Alexander meets Isak’s nephews Aron and Ismael.

Soon after their arrival, Isak reads a story to Fanny and Alexander. He says that it is written in Hebrew, and it will take some work to translate. But once the story begins, his eyes no longer look at the page at all, suggesting that he is simply making it up.

In the parable, a young man wanders a crowded and dusty road though a parched wilderness under a blazing sun. Nobody knows where they are going, but they are in a terrible hurry to get there. Suddenly the young man is in a verdant forest. Cool waters flow at his feet. But he is blind to it all and is soon swept back into the mob.

The youth asks an old man about the source of the water. He replies that it flows from a mountain whose top is hidden in clouds. This is supposed to bring to mind Sinai, from which Moses descended with the divine law. But the cloud is not caused by God. Its cause is entirely natural. Indeed, it is entirely human. It is created by the fears and prayers of men addressed to God or to the void. The fears and prayers become rain, which feed rivers that flow from the mountain.

But most men cannot slake their thirst from the mountain’s waters because they will not break from the pointless rat race on the road. At this point, Alexander envisions Christian pilgrims, penitents, and flagellants. The message is that religion springs from man, not God, but men are denied its solace, which can only be found in the solitude of nature, because they are caught up in the frantic rat race of organized religion.

This is not the sort of parable a believing Jew would tell.

Aron makes puppets, including an enormous and terrifying representation of the Hebrew God, something no believing Jew would do either. Aron says he is an atheist, because as a trained magician and puppet master, he has no need of supernatural explanations. He sees how things work. From his side, everything is rational. The magic lies only in the credulity of the audience.

He explains that uncle Isak, however, believes that there are multiple levels of reality, swarming with supernatural beings, and that all of reality, even the seemingly inanimate and profane, is infused with soul and divinity. This is essentially the same pagan outlook professed by Emilie.

Isak’s view of the world seems to be more correct than Aron’s, for when Aron uses some sort of puppeteer’s trick to turn the head of a mummy toward him, as if by sympathetic magic, the bishop’s bedridden, imbecilic aunt turns her vomit encrusted face toward the oil lamp by her bedside.

Ismael has a stratospherically high IQ, reads constantly, and remembers everything. But he is locked in his room because he is somehow dangerous. When Aron and Alexander bring him his breakfast, he asks Alexander to stay. Ismael is a sexually ambiguous figure. He is actually played by an actress.

Just as Ismael’s appearance straddles both sexes, his mind straddles two worlds. He claims that the barriers between souls are porous and he can cross them at will. He has the power to read people’s thoughts and to project his own thoughts into other people’s heads, which he demonstrates with Alexander.

Ismail reads Alexander’s desire to kill the bishop. Embracing Alexander and beginning to undress and caress him, Ismael describes the bishop and his dreams. Then the bishop’s aunt overturns her oil lamp. Then, engulfed in flames, she rushes into the bishop’s room, where she throws himself on him. Both die in agony. Problem solved.

The movie ends at the christening party for two baby girls. Emilie has given birth to Aurora. The father is the late bishop. Maj has given birth Helena-Viktoria. The father is Gustav Adolf. Both children are being welcomed into the Ekdahl clan’s dazzling little world, which is starting to look like a free-love commune of rich bohemians.

In the epilogue, Alexander, back in his grandmother’s apartment, is knocked to the floor by the ghost of the bishop, who tells him that he will never leave Alexander alone. Alexander then picks himself up, goes to his grandmother, and falls asleep in her lap while she reads from Strindberg’s A Dream Play, which provides the metaphysical explanation for what has happened: “Everything can happen. Everything is possible and probable. Time and space do not exist. On a flimsy framework of reality, the imagination spins, weaving new patterns.”

Strindberg’s assertion that time and space are not real—particularly for the spirit—can explain the possibility of viewing and changing things across gulfs of space and time. The idea that space and time are not ultimately real, but merely guises by which non-spatiotemporal realities show themselves to us, comes from Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg’s Arcana Coelestia. Immanuel Kant read the Arcana Coelestia after investigating stories of Swedenborg’s psychic powers and recognized that Swedenborg’s concept of space and time could help explain psychic phenomena. Later, Kant incorporated the “ideality of space and time” into his Critique of Pure Reason.

The dramatic conflict in Fanny and Alexander is between pagans and Christians. The pagans win when they ally themselves with the Jews. The Jews in question, however, are not believers in the God of the Bible, who is the Christian God as well. Instead, Isak and Ismael believe in the same pantheistic paganism as Emilie. This metaphysics makes possible Isak’s and Ismael’s magical interventions.

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Bergman’s treatment of the Jews in Fanny and Alexander is interesting in light of his biography. The young Ingmar Bergman was an ardent National Socialist. The war and the Holocaust changed his thinking. It is tempting to read Fanny and Alexander as a Swedish pagan and former National Socialist’s attempt to envision a rapprochement with the Jews in the form of an alliance against Christianity.

But it doesn’t work out that neatly. For one thing, one has to ask if Isak’s homosexual and pedophilic attentions toward Alexander are part of Bergman’s vision of utopia or a lingering trace of his darker, youthful views of Jews.

Despite the unsettling elements in the last act, Fanny and Alexander is a deeply moving and life-affirming film. It will captivate you as a period drama, draw you in deeper with its complex studies of character, leave you awe-struck as the old gods awaken—with the help of two Jewish Lokis—to shatter the gothic cathedrals, then deposit you back in the flower garlanded little world of the Ekdahls for another pagan revelry.

 
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  1. “The pagans win when they ally themselves with the Jews. The Jews in question, however, are not believers in the God of the Bible, who is the Christian God as well. Instead, Isak and Ismael believe in the same pantheistic paganism as Emilie. This metaphysics makes possible Isak’s and Ismael’s magical interventions.”

    Indeed, Bergman’s notion here coincides with Evola’s. He writes in Revolt:

    “We should never forget though that if Christianity developed from the ancient Jewish tradition, [“believers in the God of the Bible”] orthodox Judaism developed in an independent fashion through the Talmud and the Kabbalah, which represents an initiatory tradition that was always missing in Christianity. This is how, later on, true esoterism developed in the West, that is, outside Christianity and with the help of non-Christian currents such as the Jewish Kabbalah, Hermeticism, or movements of a remote Nordic origin.”

    This is interestingly different than the usual “Christian anti-Semitism,” which argues that Biblical Judaism is OK, but after the fall of Jerusalem and the rise and ultimate victory of Christianity, a new form of Judaism arose, Rabbinic Judaism, based on “the Talmud and the Kabbalah”, which are portrayed as either a deliberate scam to fleece the goyim, or a Satanic attack on Christianity; either way, these are “no longer the real Jews.” See, for example, Michael A Hoffman II.

    Rather than being Satanic, Evola views the Kabbalistic interpretations of the Bible as products of “the same pantheistic paganism” that he considers as the Primordial Tradition (i.e., Hermeticism), like the “movements of remote Nordic origin” that correspond, perhaps, to Bergman’s paganism. Of course, in another sense, this is indeed “Satanic” or, as some would prefer, Promethean.

    Consistent with this, far from being a common anti-Semite, Evola freely acknowledged two Jews, Carlo Michelstaedter and Otto Weininger, as his earliest major influences.

  2. Anon[132] • Disclaimer says:

    There is none of the many pictures Bergman directed where a few potshots at Christians/Christianity aren’t taken.
    You could say it was his favourite hobby. This picture is no exception, actually, as it was a swan song picture, the hobby was practised with higher commitment than ever.

    Bergman couldn’t achieve peace even in his old years, and the systemic need for targets of meanness in his pictures places him neatly apart from the greatest of the art.

  3. Great review. I saw this some time ago . . I”m not sure what it means, but I liked it. The clash between Christianity and the pagan gods reminds me of the film “Cabesa de Vaca”, based on the journal of Alvar Nunez Cabesa de Vaca, a Spanish explorer who’s expedition was shipwrecked off the coast of Florida in 1529.

    https://mubi.com/films/cabeza-de-vaca

    The film describes his capture by natives, apprenticeship to a shaman, and the homeric journey of the few surviving members of his expedition from Florida to Mexico – a little known masterpiece. I found some sites that stream it for free if you are willing to sign up for a free membership.

    • Replies: @Agathoklis
  4. AntiDem says:

    Oh, great – yet another movie in which selfless, heroic Jews save the world from evil, sadistic, hypocritical Christians. And five hours of it, no less!

    Hard fuckin’ pass, bro.

    • Agree: Verymuchalive
  5. Graham says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful and deep review. I watched the film on DVD some years ago and this has stimulated me to try to find it and watch it again. I also love the use of language. I speak Swedish (although my listening comprehension is not good enough to watch without Swedish subtitles, especially since my hearing got worse) and I like the clear diction and intelligent script.

    • Replies: @Ganderson
  6. @gar manar nar

    Thank you. I never knew about this film. Cabazea de Vaca and his adventures are fascinating. I wonder how they depict the Greek, Theodoros Griego in the movie.

  7. Hey Trevor, sorry if I’m being annoying, but when is the promised review of “Twin Peaks: The Return” coming out?

  8. FANNY AND ALEXANDER is clearly an impressive work, but maybe Too Impressive. It’s never a good thing when an artist celebrates himself or attempts to sum up his career with a grand finale, an all-too-self-conscious magnum opus. It can pan out on occasion. Akira Kurosawa made RAN in this vein, and despite its problems, it works because it was done with broad brushstrokes. It has ‘epic’ written all over it from beginning to end. In contrast, a work like FANNY AND ALEXANDER depends on details and intimacy(and is very good with those), but both are overshadowed by an almost shameless celebratory and ceremonious mood of the entire film. (In WILD STRAWBERRIES, the old man treks to a ceremony in his honor. In FANNY AND ALEXANDER, Bergman, not quite so old, bestows the honor unto himself.) It’s like one of those Lifetime Award Ceremonies, one in which Bergman both fulsomely toasts and half-roasts himself.
    So, the private elements are rendered into public display, and the genuine article of the work is compromised. It’s like whispers through a megaphone. Also, Ingmar Bergman, around 65(official retiring age) at the time of production, wasn’t yet wise and mature enough to reflect on his life with sufficient honesty and integrity. That would come later with three films about his parents — THE BEST INTENTIONS, SUNDAY’S CHILDREN, and PRIVATE CONFESSIONS — and perhaps FAITHLESS, in which he reveals himself to have been a worse monster than his father. His father, for all his Christian charity and selflessness in career, was a bitter and vindictive man of insecurities and resentment. And the son, Ingmar, despite his creativity, freedom, and worldliness, was no less controlling, possessive, and touchy as his father. FAITHLESS is more damning of Bergman than the three films of his parents are of the father, but it is marred by excessive self-condemnation that reeks of pride of guilt: “I admit I’m a scoundrel, so gimme credit for saying as much.”

    Perhaps, Bergman had Fellini’s 8 1/2 in mind when working on FANNY AND ALEXANDER. Fellini’s film, along with SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN, is the gold standard of film about film-making. Even though FANNY AND ALEXANDER isn’t about film-making per se, it is a celebration of creativity and imagination, the dreams and muses that eventually led Bergman to a career in cinema as the fulfilment of the magic lantern of his childhood.
    Also, the film is about the world of theater, and at least in Sweden Bergman was as renowned as a man of the Theater as of Film. (According to Jonathan Rosenbaum, far less enamored of Bergman-as-filmmaker, theater was his real forte. Or one could argue Bergman’s films tend to be more photographic than cinematic, especially when compared with the works of Carl Dreyer and Andrei Tarkovsky who had a deeper understanding of cinematic time and space.) Still, 8 1/2 was made when Fellini was at his peak, and though sadly, what followed was a steady decline. 8 1/2 was meant to signal a summing up of and a break with the Old Fellini in favor of a New Fellini unmoored from earlier restraints. As it turned out, it was no way to make cinema. Creativity feeds on freedom but also needs form and structure. One wonders if Fellini’s precipitous decline following 8 1/2 owed to artistic bankruptcy or adoption of a foolish conceit, from which 8 1/2 was spared because it struggled toward than surrendered to its temptations. Fellini, self-indulgent by nature, needed a leash to rein him in.

    Unlike Fellini in 1963 who seemed poised to remake cinema, the Bergman who made FANNY AND ALEXANDER was way past his prime. And indeed, the film offers nothing new and merely magnifies what he’d done earlier(though the aesthetics of CRIES AND WHISPERS somewhat anticipated this). And the result is undoubtedly very impressive, the effect being unlike the final part of BABETTE’S FEAST when steady moralism makes way for sensualism for a day. It’s been a common theme in the history of spirituality, philosophy, and the arts. It’s like the old colleague in HOUSE OF GAMES noting the Freudian Slip of ‘pressure’ for ‘pleasure’.

    In a way, FANNY AND ALEXANDER was a return to form but also something more. Beginning with THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY but especially with WINTER LIGHT and THE SILENCE, Bergman moved in a new direction. The previous works were situated somewhere between conventional narrative and early modernism, as if cinema was finally catching up with aesthetic and theoretical trends of the late 19th century and early part of the 20th century. So, even though Bergman’s cinema, like that of Fellini and Kurosawa, seemed fresh and new for the young medium, it wasn’t quite by the standards of the the modernist movement or the current avant-garde, though Bunuel was an exception of sorts. (It’s like the gaunt intellectual in 8 1/2 says cinema is 50 yrs behind the other arts.) WILD STRAWBERRIES’ use of symbolism was powerful, but that sort of thing had been done to death in painting. Fellini’s LA STRADA, though relatively new for cinema, was old hat by standards of drama or literature.
    However, by the late 50s and early 60s, a new modernism emerged in cinema, mainly from post-Neo-Realist Roberto Rossellini, the French New Wave and its peers(especially Alain Resnais and Chris Marker), and especially Michelangelo Antonioni. If men like Kurosawa, Fellini, and Bergman were adapting pre-existing modes and expressions of drama, novels, and painting for cinema, Jean-Luc Godard with BREATHLESS, Resnais with HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR, Antonioni with L’AVVENTURA, Teshigahara with WOMAN IN THE DUNES, and perhaps Francois Truffaut with JULES AND JIM were making works that were not only contemporaneous with the latest modernism but could be conceived only in cinematic terms. This posed a new challenge for established artists like Fellini and Bergman. No wonder Fellini felt such pressure while making 8 1/2. Likewise, Bergman felt compelled to move beyond catching up to modernism in the other arts. He got colder, more cerebral, more austere. The warmth, sentimentality, humor, and ‘human’ qualities of SUMMER WITH MONIKA, SUMMER INTERLUDE, WILD STRAWBERRIES, SEVENTH SEAL, SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT, DREAMS, LESSON IN LOVE, and even SAWDUST AND TINSEL were gone. A bit lingered into THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY but were frozen out by the time WINTER LIGHT and THE SILENCE rolled around. Even though Bergman had loyal admirers, he felt left behind by the new sensibility.

    [MORE]

    If the Art Film in the 40s and 50s was mainly playing catch-up to modernism in the other arts, by the 60s it was attempting to be on par or even ahead of the other arts. As compelling as Bergman’s new films(beginning with THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY) were, there was an element of strain to compensate for the insecurity and anxiety. After all, the three films couldn’t match up to L’AVVENTURA or MURIEL. Or Godard’s ALPHAVILLE. Or the works of the chameleon-like Luis Bunuel, a natural born modernist for whom oddity came naturally.
    But then, Bergman, after a bout of illness that led to hallucinations(and what he deemed to be near-death experience), sprung forth PERSONA(like Athena from Zeus’s head), one of the greatest works of cinema and one that put him right smack in the middle of the avant garde. Despite its stark difference from the circus-like 8 1/2, it has a similar theme: interrelation of mental block and spiritual vacuum. At any rate, PERSONA was such a resounding success(at least in the art house circuit) that Bergman fell into the same trap that Fellini did with 8 1/2. If Fellini lost his way in ever more garish displays of phantasmagoria, Bergman became ever more isolated until there was little left but the neurosis(though with CRIES AND WHISPERS, as Fellini did with AMARCORD, he did try to recapture certain elements of classicism; same holds true of AUTUMN SONATA, a softer work about mother and daughter). Success of 8 1/2 led Fellini to ever more extravagant self-indulgence, whereas the success of PERSONA led Bergman to more self-denial — ‘spiritually’, one went more ‘Catholic’ whereas the other went more ‘Lutheran’ despite their secular outlooks — , but they had in common the desperate attempt to recapture the miracle that led to their greatest works; the problem is a miracle cannot be consciously recreated.
    But then, so many of the great directors who defined Cinema-as-Art were lost in the wilderness through the 1970s. Though there were exceptions, the French New Wave directors, Antonioni, the great Japanese masters, and other big names seemed to be, at best, treading water or totally washed up. Part of the reason was age. Artists grow old and run out of ideas, and cinema is especially an exhausting medium that taxes one’s energy and nerves like nothing else. Another reason was the Film Generation that defined the 60s became working age adults and lost their enthusiasm. Also, modernism in cinema petered out, as it had earlier in the other arts. Though various national cinemas were branded ‘new wave’, nothing could generate the kind of excitement that BREATHLESS and LA DOLCE VITA once did. The exception was THE LAST TANGO IN PARIS but largely for its frontier in sexual content.
    The biggest names in cinema of the 1970s were Americans who, despite their relative youth, were less experimental pioneers than talented professionals who incorporated Art Film elements into popular genres: William Friedkin revitalized the crime and horror genres with THE FRENCH CONNECTION and THE EXORCIST. Coppola revamped the gangster movie with THE GODFATHER. Polanski added a new touch to Film Noir with CHINATOWN. Sam Peckinpah unleashed the New Western with THE WILD BUNCH. Arguably, the only truly personal artists of ‘New Hollywood’ were Scorsese with MEAN STREETS & TAXI DRIVER and John Cassavetes with HUSBANDS, among others, but the appeal of Scorsese’s films owed to genre expectations. MEAN STREETS could be enjoyed as amateur-hour Marx-Brothers gangster film, and TAXI DRIVER could be seen as an artier version of DEATH WISH or DIRTY HARRY. (Some would argue that John Hinckley got the Wrong Idea from the film, but, on some level, he got the right idea though most people are loathed to admit it. While Paul Schrader and Martin Scorsese were not exactly endorsing Travis Bickle as a hero, there was too much of Schrader and Scorsese that understood and even identified with Bickle for the film to claim itself as a rational study of a psychopathic personality. For many viewers, there was an unmistakable sense of ‘there but for the grace of God go I’.)
    If certain renowned directors were past their prime in the 1970s, others were undone by the changes in film production, especially with rising costs and dwindling investment. As for the French, the idiotic May 68 Event dealt a devastating blow on the finances of film-making, and its ideological ramifications were even worse. Many in the French film community vowed to join the radical cause and, as a result, either couldn’t find financial backing or churned out obtuse propaganda like Godard for much of the decade. (It was a proto-‘woke’ moment for French Culture.) For a time, many French film-makers derided cinema-as-art was too ‘bourgeois’, therefore tainted with lack of ‘commitment’ in favor of conventionality or the privilege of esoterica. Film festivals were shut down, and film journals ran little but politics.
    Of course, the Grand Narrative would have us believe that Personal Filmmaking died with the advent of JAWS and STAR WARS, but it’s at best a half-truth. Even if Spielberg and Lucas had never arrived on the scene, Cinema as a Modernist Enterprise had run its course by the mid 70s, and what followed was the inexorable rise of Youth Pop Culture. Indeed, it was a worldwide problem. Take Sweden. In the 1970s, the nation was virtually paralyzed because everyone ran home to watch Bergman’s SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE, a 5 1/2 hr television miniseries. Now, one might have surmised that a people so serious and sophisticated would have ended up differently from dumb, vulgar, and trashy Americans, but the cultural trajectory of Sweden has been no different from those of the US and Japan: dumb and dumber. Besides, if anything degraded Western Sensibility, it had less to do with blockbuster movies than white pop music that further vulgarized the lewdest elements of black music(but then, we aren’t supposed to cast any negative aspersions on black influence) and the rise of pornification of mainstream culture.

    Then, after the fallouts and crises of the 70s that bore the brunt of the social and cultural upheavals of the 60s, it wasn’t surprising that a key theme of the 80s was a kind of restoration. No wonder Reagan, Thatcher, and Kohl dominated the decade. And Kurosawa’s KAGEMUSHA & RAN were hailed as a master’s return to form, along with Bergman’s FANNY AND ALEXANDER. Later, the once radical Bertolucci made the respectable THE LAST EMPEROR, and Nagisa Oshima, the enfant terrible of Japanese cinema made MERRY CHRISTMAS MR. LAWRENCE, more tempered and classical in style than his earlier anarchic works. And praise was heaped on Francois Truffaut for THE LAST METRO — significant given the bitter row between radical Godard and bourgeois Truffaut in the 70s. It was a middling work but a reassuring one after so many years of cultural chaos and uncertainty. Oddly enough, the great New Hollywood American directors who made their reputations in the 70s failed to make their mark through much of the 80s. Coppola, Scorsese(but for RAGING BULL to start the decade), Altman, DePalma, Hal Ashby, Friedkin and etc. all seemed to be floundering. (TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. is Friedkin’s greatest work but was mostly neglected by audiences. And SCARFACE grew in stature over the years.) Indeed, some of the most memorable works of the decade were either swan songs or late resurgence by directors who’d made their names in the 60s or earlier. Other than Kurosawa, Bergman, Oshima, and Bertolucci, there was Imamura with BALLAD OF NARAYAMA, Ichikawa with MAKIOKA SISTERS, Leone with ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, Bresson with L’ARGENT, Jan Troell with THE FLIGHT OF THE EAGLE, David Lean with PASSAGE TO INDIA, Malle with ATLANTIC CITY, Tarkovsky with THE SACRIFICE, Szabo with MEPHISTO, and of course, Kubrick with THE SHINING and FULL METAL JACKET.

    FANNY AND ALEXANDER has some of the warmth, zest, and humor of several Bergman films of the 1950s. People forget that SEVENTH SEAL is one third comedy, one third fantasy, and only one-third tragedy. And LESSON IN LOVE and DREAMS could have been made for Hollywood. Though WILD STRAWBERRIES has dark moments, it is also full of sentiment and sunshine. FANNY AND ALEXANDER reconnects with those emotions, which Bergman had increasingly cast aside beginning in the 60s.
    But then, the sheer scale of the work makes it unlike anything he’d done before. Even his film on the major subject of war, SHAME, was modest in scope and narrow in focus/concentration both in terms of movement and meaning. In contrast, FAA is expansive and all-embracing. It feels at times like Bergman’s THE LEOPARD or THE GODFATHER.(or SOUND OF MUSIC). And despite its length, it is his audience-friendly work since WILD STRAWBERRIES, also a film about family, generations, dream vs reality, and hope. In a way, FAA’s length allows for a more human story in the manner of a saga. The earlier shorter works, mostly ranging from 80-90 minutes, had little room for character development and tended to favor psychological states or concentrate on specific themes; they didn’t so much let us get to know a character or two than provide an angle on them for the purpose of positing a theorem. FAA allows the characters to grow and develop, and the result is rounded than angular. Even those who know nothing of Bergman can delve into the story and share in the emotions. I first saw it in the dorm lobby in college with someone from a small town(who knew nothing of Art Film). It began late at 11:30 pm and ran long into the night, but the attention of those in the lobby never flagged. (In contrast, most will find 80 min of WINTER LIGHT or HOUR OF THE WOLF tough going.) Though FAA isn’t a genre movie, it’s not without certain ‘tropes’ associated with genres, especially horror, also true of CRIES AND WHISPERS, released a year before THE EXORCIST. Bergman admired Hitchcock as a technician(while disdaining him as an ‘artist’), and FAA is full of tricks associated with the suspense genre. It can also be approached as a “children’s movie” even if not meant for children. The overall sensibility could be said to be gothic, or Swedish Gothic. Of course, ‘gothic’ has two meanings, one associated with Middle Ages Christian aesthetics and the other associated with pagan barbarism. With the Renaissance revival of Classical Greco-Roman aesthetics, the Christian aesthetics of the Middle Ages was wrongly disparaged as the ugly imagination of Germanic Barbarism.
    The gothic legacy perhaps had the greatest influence on Western Horror, and it shows in FAA. Gothicism is as much a state of mind or way of seeing things as well as a particular aesthetic. So, we can speak of an American Gothic. There’s even Jewish Gothic in FAA, a forbidding world of shadows and grotesquerie, though sometimes this dark magic has elements of ‘magic realism’, more a Latin thing.
    Against the gothicism of the dark-souled Bishop and quasi-kabbalistic Jews, there is the warm and embracing radiance of the Ekdahl clan. (It seems the Jews have elements of both the Bishop’s family and the Ekdahl family. On some level, they are just as dark and twisted as the former, though more knowing and less repressed about their strangeness and perversity — it’s as if Jews3 internalized exile/torment for so long that it’s become second-nature to them —, but on another level, they seem to embrace life as a kind of freak show at a circus. They are like the Nibelungen at home in the underworld. They are rich, but their wealth as pawnbrokers is founded on collecting the belongings of others, usually gentiles. They are alien Jews surrounded by alien gentile properties. They own the Other.) Alexander yearns for the light and warmth of the Ekdahls than be trapped in the Bishop’s gothic hellhole, and yet, there are gothic elements in the world of the Ekdahls as well, a kind of Family Gothic. Alexander’s father, despite his prestige and privilege, is a rather depressed morbid figure, a walking dead(who also looks like Hitler, recalling Donald Sutherland’s role in THE DAY OF THE LOCUST). Though his body works in theater, his soul seems halfway in the netherworld even before his sudden collapse and death. Despite outward festivities of the season, there is much bitterness and agonizing behind the scenes. The young housemaid is sexually exploited, much like many a goyess were exploited by Jewish bourgeois perverts; indeed, Gustav looks somewhat Semitic. She is slapped in the face before being presented with a gift by his corpulent wife. In some ways, she has it worse than the brown maid in ROMA. And even when Alexander is with the Ekdahls, he sees ghosts like the kid in SIXTH SENSE. His grandmother sees them too. Of course, they may not be ghosts but merely Bergman’s way of saying we are always in the company of those who haunt us, be they living or dead.

    The story is semi-autobiographical and reprises many of the themes explored in his other films.

    It strikes me as just barely semi-autobiographical, unlike Truffaut’s 400 BLOWS, a more candid work about the pangs of youth. In real life, Bergman was the son of a minister, but in the film the religious patriarch is the usurper. What was Bergman saying? That he never regarded his real father as his spiritual father? Bergman’s imagination is as fanciful and delusional as Alexander’s. One might say it is more fanta- than semi-biographical. It is less a fictionalized account of his childhood than a fantasy of how his childhood should have been. It’s like ‘Betty’ is the shoulda-coulda-woulda fantasy of Diane Selwyn in MULHOLLAND DR. According to the logic of FAA, Bergman’s real childhood was like a nightmare in Pottersville, from which he dreamed of escaping to his true Bedford Falls of the Ekdahls, an ‘Athenian’ family open to freedom and creativity, one of cakes and ale than bread and water. (The young Bergman wished he’d spent more time with the extended family on his mother’s side than be stuck in the nuclear family headed by his spartan father. Unfortunately for Bergman, the nuclear option wasn’t merely the result of modernity but his father’s bitter estrangement from relatives on all sides. And even within the nuclear household, he was often emotionally exiled from his wife and children.) Thus, Bergman’s fantasy childhood has him not as the son of a devout patriarch but the wunderkind of the infinitely patient/tolerant/forgiving Oscar, a man surrounded by loving family members. (And yet, Oscar is presented as weak and ineffectual. Alexander comes to hate the bishop, but he never respected his own father. Is Oscar’s weakened state a suggestion that the fantasy is too good to be true? Or was Bergman saying that the bishop, miserable as he is, has the power to pose a challenge to Bergman that Oscar never could. Authority, even bad authority, is necessary, even if only to rebel against, especially for someone like Alexander who, without challenges, is prone to becoming lost in his childish fantasy worlds. And it is through the trial by fire with the bishop that Alexander learns incrementally to put away childish things. Indeed, this goes for Adolf Hitler’s childhood as well; like Bergman, his relation with his father was stormy to put it mildly. Would he have developed such force of will if not for his father’s disdainful ridiculing of his dreams? Because of his father’s contempt, Hitler felt even more compelled to justify his self-image as an artist. In our time, so many Western males are pampered by proggy women and wussy-cuck dads, and just look at the result. Too many men remained stuck in childish fantasies of video-games and superhero movies. If Bergman grew up today, he might have an ass-tattoo and be into rap music and making garbage like GIRL WITH DRAGON TATTOO.)
    By the way, how did Oscar become so prominent in theater? He seems too passive and resigned, lacking in will and authority, to run such an operation. Are we to believe his position owes to his family’s riches and connections than real talent, and this self-doubt has been eating away at him? His beautiful wife likely married him for his money and position as he’s so lacking in charisma and masculinity.
    Anyway, what does all of this imply? That Bergman regarded his actual childhood as an unnatural imprisonment at the hands of a man whom he never regarded as his true father and that his fantasy was his ‘true’ childhood? Ironically, the mentality is not unlike that of the unfortunate child in THE BEST INTENTIONS who idealizes the Bergman Household and wants to be a part of it than with his own sullen and impoverished relatives. The child even tries to kill baby Bergman as coming between himself and the Bergmans as his hopeful adoptive parents. So, as hellish as living under Father Bergman was for little Ingmar, it was a vision of heaven for some wretched kid born to miserable circumstances. It’s all relative, I guess.

    Gustav Adolf is an ebullient restauranter married to Alma, the mother of his three children who good-naturedly encourages him in his extra-marital affairs.

    I can’t stand the guy. He’s like Gerard Depardieu’s role in DANTON(and I suppose the Bishop is like the humorless and austere Robespierre). Gustav is a man of high spirits but also gluttonous appetites. He looks gross, and his habits are nauseating. And his porcine wife is hardly better. Gustav porks the young maid and hardly takes care of her and the bastard child. The wife tolerates extra-marital affairs because she’s well-taken care of. Besides, she looks upon the young maid as a mere servant, hardly more than property. So, why shouldn’t her husband use her for his sexual foibles? The girl exists to be used and abused. It’s all very gross and self-indulgent. If Gustav comes across a positive figure in the film, it is only because others are even worse.

    Alexander is a wide-eyed boy of ten with a vivid imagination.

    He’s a little prick, spoiled brat, and no-good punk. He is why the bishop doesn’t come across as entirely vile. Alexander could have used some spanking from his real pa while alive. Now, one can argue that Alexander isn’t meant to be some ideal kid. He is meant to be seen as selfish and egotistical, i.e. Bergman was admitting he was a self-centered child who wanted everything his way. When Alexander’s father is dying, Alexander reacts with petulance; incredibly, he’s less mature than his younger sister. Instead of thinking of his father and others, he only thinks of himself and how the death may affect him; he wants to be the focus of attention. He doesn’t so much see the death as a family tragedy as his father letting him down.
    But despite Alexander being presented as a no-good prick(who even mutters obscenities at his father’s funeral), we are supposed to sympathize for him and even adore him as a kid with the ‘sixth sense’ of imagination — portrait of an artist as a young kid. But he strikes me as hardly better than Ferris Bueller, and indeed the Alexander vs the Bishop conflict is about on the level of Ferris vs the Principal in John Hughes movie. We are made to root for Ferris, but if we really think about, he is a lying manipulative little brat while the principal is only doing his job. So, why does Ferris get away with everything? Indeed, his little sister(Jennifer Grey) wonders why too. Of course, to make us root for Ferris, the principal has to be made utterly ludicrous and grotesque in character and personality, and the same trick is played in FAA. As Alexander is a jerk(in a family full of jerks and pricks), the only way to make him(and them) more sympathetic is by creating the bogeyman of bishop and his sadistic gothic crew. They are presented as so vile that even the demented Jews in the film come across as somewhat favorable(though I can’t stand anyone in the film).

    Despite its nuances and complexities, FAA serves up arch-villains as foil to humanize everyone else. It’s a rather cheap trick. After all, it’s one thing to present the religious household as dark and disturbed but quite another as caricatures and gargoyles. It’s so extreme that we are sometimes not sure if we’re seeing the actual family or Alexander’s fervid vision of them.
    Because the bishop is such an A–HOLE(!!), we can’t help but to sympathize with Alexander and the Ekdahls more than they deserve. There seems to be NOTHING within the bishop’s household that resembles anything human. (Even the bully-teacher in HEAVEN HELP US wasn’t that bad.) They seem to be devil incarnate in pious clothing. For all of Bergman’s mastery and sophistication, the bishop and his family amount to a cartoon, much like loathsome Fanucci in THE GODFATHER PART 2. Fanucci is so awful that Vito, Clemenza, and Sal, though criminals themselves, come across as relatively good, even noble. (Hannah Arendt wrote of the Banality of Evil, but Mario Puzo mastered the art of the Nobility of Evil as the Corleones ennoble evil as necessary deeds of ‘business’ in a corrupt world.)
    Now, the bishop is a difficult man, it’s true. If anything, his piety has blinded him to his own failings. (Ironically, the bishop’s moralism and the film’s aren’t that much apart, at least in kind. The bishop doesn’t claim to know everything, and he surely knows that he himself is a sinner in the eyes of God. But because he is more penitent than the average person and especially the Ekdahls, he feels himself to be so much better than them. He is no angel, but he is an angel COMPARED to them. This feeds his pride and vanity. But, the film’s moralism is much the same. True, Alexander and the Ekdahls are far from perfect. They are capable of betrayal and loutish behavior. BUT, they are not as bad as the bishop and his family, therefore they are so wonderful and worthy of celebration.) Now, what really sent the bishop over the edge? Alexander spun a ghastly tale about the man’s deceased wife and children. And it’s about the nastiest shi* one could possibly imagine. Of course, the man is going to be extremely upset. Of course, he’s going to whup Alexander’s butt. But then, had his butt been paddled on occasion by the Ekdahls, Alexander might not have become such a spoiled brat. On the other hand, with a wild-eyed child like Alexander it’s hard to distinguish creativity and mendacity. Did Alexander spin a nasty tale with willful disregard for the truth, or did his fertile imagination just get carried away with interesting scenarios? (The tale is pretty good Edgar-Allan-Poe-like stuff.) Or, was it both?
    Bergman once said of Fellini that lying came naturally to him, and it was intrinsic to what he was. But as an artist known for clarity and concentration, Bergman attained the reputation as the penetrating prober of truth, especially beginning in the 60s when some of his works seemed downright clinical; Andrew Sarris complained there was too much ‘undigested clinical material’. But FAA suggests child Bergman’s creative spark began with a near pathological inability/refusal to discern fact from fantasy. Perhaps feeling he was born to the wrong father/family, he developed a knack of making stuff up, something he both indulged and resisted as an artist.

    Apparently, he wanted a family environment like the Ekdahls’ but ended up as the son of a severe humorless minister who reprimanded him over ‘trifles’. The vilification of the bishop seems less anti-Christian or anti-religious than anti-father-of-Ingmar. It come across as a cruel and vicious revenge on his father, Bergman’s way of airing dirty laundry masquerading as serious art/drama. But then, perhaps, he had to get the vindictive venom out of his system before he could more fairly assess and contemplate the lives of his parents, which is what makes THE BEST INTENTIONS, SUNDAY’S CHILDREN, and PRIVATE CONFESSIONS such invaluable works. Directed by others, there is less ‘auteur’ flourish to distract us from the raw human story. (If Bergman has any value to the Dissident Right, it’s his endeavor of remembrance and reflection on his roots. Because, after all, despite his fame and renown as film-maker, theater director, and writer, he was the product of his parents by blood and culture. However far his creativity and ideas removed him from his roots, at the end of the day was the fact that half his genetic material from his father and the other half from the mother. Modern individualism tells us to define ourselves based on freedom and choice[that for most people amounts to little more than imitating pop culture and regurgitating official dogma], but people are not created by ideas or idols but by real people, their parents, and therefore to know oneself one must know one’s origins, whether one likes it or not, something the mulatto woman realizes at the end of IMITATION OF LIFE. For much of life, Bergman was busying defining his own conception of self, but once his star had faded and he had nothing more to prove, he reflected deeply on his origins; and as an old man, he wondered of his parents as young people. Many adopted people seek out the truth about their biological parents, but Bergman, like so many of his generation, did everything to tear himself free from his family to follow his own bliss/muse. But in the final part of his career, squaring himself with his origins became the most important labor and, in a way, led to his richest works; and the direction by others allowed for a certain detached objectivity that Bergman found impossible to muster. Who says memory has value only as the glow of nostalgia? A tragic sense of life means facing up to all the darkness in the past, personal and tribal, as part of the trauma of history. It’s hard to think of another film artist who reflected so deeply on his parents’ life. Perhaps, Bergman’s belated sympathy for Jews owes something to Holocaust Memory. Jews have deep memory of trauma. Though his problems of youth cannot be compared to something as horrific as Shoah, a sensitive and self-centered person can believe his personal tragedy is THE tragedy. A dull person can go through hell and come through relatively unscathed whereas an intensely sensitive person can go through far less and feel scarred for life. It’s like the loss of ‘mommy’ is for David in A.I.: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE the greatest horror that he can conceive of. Thus, Bergman may have felt as a kind of ‘holocaust survivor’ himself because of his ‘survival’ of the monster-father. At the same time, he realized the absurdity of the claim, and he appreciated the Holocaust as a rude reminder that his own troubles were NOTHING compared to the real horrors of the world. This is reflected in PERSONA where Liv Ullmann’s character feels as the greatest victim in the world but is also paralyzed with guilt and disgust at her pathological self-absorption.) The characterization of the bishop is like a wooden stake through the heart of his father as a Dracula. But maybe Bergman had to slay the ‘vampire’ aspect of his father to later dig up the flawed man. Also, given his personal failures and betrayals, the only way he could forgive himself was by trying to understand his father. Given that father and son went separate ways in culture and lifestyle but ended up equally as louts suggests they had more in common than either was willing to admit; you can reject your father’s god but not the devil in the genetic detail.
    But before Bergman could confront his father as man, he had to slay him as a dragon in the form of the monstrous bishop. Indeed, the sickest and grossest member of bishop’s family, the bedridden aunt, seems to sense. The diseased woman(played by a male fatso) one day decides to knock down the oil lamp, set herself on fire, and burn the bishop with her. It’s like the ending of THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN where the monster finally realizes the perversity of the whole mad enterprise and destroys the mad scientist along with himself. Or it’s like Jon Voight’s character in THE RUNAWAY TRAIN who destroys himself along with the arch-figure of authority. Arch-chaos and arch-order colliding into oblivion as two opposing principles of reality. In FAA, the bishop represents total order & structure while the fat bedridden aunt represents all that is messy and chaotic. It’s as if one exists in the total denial and repression of the other, i.e. extreme order rests on the denial of the chaos as integral part of reality. The sick aunt is part of the family but hidden away in some dark corner of the house, indeed as if she doesn’t even exist. Yet, she finally ends it all by setting herself on fire and killing the brother along with her. One could say it was all an unfortunate accident, and a bit of ambiguity hangs over what really happened. (The scene also recalls the footage of the burning monk in PERSONA.)

    The characterizations in FANNY AND ALEXANDER certainly make for compelling and colorful drama. However, THE BEST INTENTIONS, SUNDAY’S CHILDREN, and PRIVATE CONFESSIONS are more nuanced, subtle, and multi-layered in their conveyance of life; this quality makes them more painful and less enjoyable yet ultimately more rewarding. Life as etched in the three films are made up entirely of countless mini-scrapes, whereas the mini-strokes in FAA follow the pre-arranged sketches that more-or-less turned the various characters into broad archetypes. The three films rise to the level of genuine art. FAA is full of artistry and not without moments of depth, but it panders to middlebrow tastes and, as such, is closer to THE GODFATHER and DOCTOR ZHIVAGO. It’s a great piece of myth-making than art about truth.
    Now, middlebrow pandering on that level isn’t such a bad thing and stands high above most popular entertainment, but still, FAA is a bit to eager to please. For example, the bishop is immediately recognizable as the arch-villain, the sort of character we LOVE TO HATE. And the troubles with him are all too cleverly structured toward a happy ending of sorts, with speechifying that that is too heavy on the cream and sugar. FAA is a great work of cinema but as middlebrow fare. It’s Bergman’s Buffet than real cuisine. But then, why not? Bergman earned the right to go out with a bang, a crowd-pleaser of sorts with just enough art & artistry to qualify as a ‘masterpiece’. And it encapsulated the remarkable span of his career, everything from TORMENT to THE MAGIC FLUTE.

    As for the Jews, there’s just enough truth in the film to present them as something other than wise and noble. They are certainly not exactly likable. But set against the bishop’s family, they do come off rather well(but then everyone would, apart from Charles Manson), especially as they helped save Fanny and Alexander from the clutches of the bishop. (In Europe, it became fashionable for people to brag about how their family saved some Jews from the Nazis. The Jews in FAA can brag about how they saved the kids from the bishop’s Drabocaust. Btw, I don’t think magic was used to save the kids. The Jewish family are puppet-masters, and they placed lifelike puppets in the room to fool the bishop that the kids were asleep.) Jews are a problematic people, and what ‘ennobles’ them in the current West has less to do with their behavior(which are now beyond gross and vile) but their hogging the spotlight as the main enemy of the biggest evil of them: Nazism, Antisemitism, and ‘Racism'(with ‘homophobia’ stirred into the pot as well). So, it doesn’t matter if Jews are currently crazy and vile. As long as their role in the world is framed against the ‘nazis’, they are redeemed as heroes and saviors(and as victims who need to be saved by good goyim; according to SCHINDLER’S LIST, the Jew exists to save the goy’s soul, and the goy exists to save the Jew’s body; Schindler, soul-saved by Gandhi-as-Jew, risks everything to save Jewish bodies, LOL). Indeed, this is how Jews get away with so much garbage in the West. They divert people’s attention from Jewish bad behavior by pulling the alarm about ‘Nazis’ and ‘racists’!! Bogeyman of Nazism always washes away Jewish sins. Likewise, the Jews in FAA can’t be too bad since they are allied against the villainous Christazis and saved Fanny & Alexander to boot from fuhrer bishop.

    But then, consider the scuzzy tattooed character and other freaks in GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Why are such hideous creatures redeemed and ennobled? Because they fight the ‘nazis’. This has become like a worn-out trope in Scandinavian cinema. Goodness is less a matter of one’s personal virtue than one’s opposition to the Evil. It’s the core conceit of Antifa. Its members can be total louts, tards, and bums, but no matter; they are redeemed solely because they do battle with ‘nazis’. Take the Swedish movie EVIL where some troubled kid is to prone to violence because of abuse at the hands of his step-father. But at a new school, he’s determined to turn a new leaf and become the good guy. He allies with some shlubby Jewish-Mediterranean-looking kid and beats up the Aryan-looking toughies; finally, he decides to beat up his bullying step-father. So, the source of evil is Aryan Authoritarianism, and the only solution is to ally with the Semites and beat up the ‘nazis’. EVIL is a terrifically well-made but rather bogus if you think about it. And then, there’s the wretched vampire movie LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. In it, a kid is bullied by classmates and befriends a Jewishy-looking vampire girl. The vampires are real killers, alright, but it’s as if they’d been reduced to such straits by an uncaring society that marginalizes the outsiders. The boy and the vampire girl strike up a friendship, and in the end, the girl becomes like Anne-Frankenstein and kills all the bullies. Again, it’s about the alliance of the alienated and conscientious Aryan with the Jewish elements against the ‘nazi bullies’.

    The easiest way to ‘ennoble’ a character is to set them against people who are worse. Consider the politics after 9/11. The Taliban was supposedly so evil that the so-called ‘Northern Alliance’ became the ‘good guys’ even though the US admitted they’re a bunch of bandits, drug-runners, and cutthroats. And what with Russia-Russia-Russia, Iran, and ‘white supremacism’ as the Evil Irredeemable Other, the Globalists don’t have to be any good to justify themselves. As long as they are fighting the Worse Evil, they are automatically the ‘good guys’. Contra the evil bishop, even the miserable brother Carl comes off favorably. (“I suck, but you suck more.” Ironically, the bishop’s family is used like how Jews were by Anti-Semites, for whom, as long as the Jews were deemed worse, they were justified. Likewise, the crazy Jews in FAA must be ‘good’ because they are reviled by the evil bishop, who is ‘antisemitic’ to boot; it’s like what Pauline Kael said of the evil butler in THE SHINING: he’s not just demonic but a ‘racist’ who used the n-word.) This is the most tawdry aspect of FAA. Against the bishop and his villainous crew, it’s so easy to be ‘good’; it’s like compared to Elephant Man, everyone is normal and handsome. It’s like Grimm Brothers fairy tale for adults. For all the mastery, it all comes down to manipulation. It recalls one of Bergman’s most simpleminded ideas, that of Bibi Andersson playing two characters, the modern one having two boyfriends, one an atheist and another a believer. Utterly schematic in a film all to schematic already.

    Now, what’s with the androgyny business? Kurosawa himself cast some transvestite named ‘Peter’ in RAN. In FAA, there are TWO cases of gender-bender stuff. The daemonic Ismael and the gross aunt in the bishop’s house. Apparently, the female principle is somehow better than the male principle. Ismael is male but seems to possess a female soul, whereas the sickly aunt is female but seems saddled with male animality. Ismael, as I recall, was a funny kind of Jew, if considered a Jew at all. He wasn’t the child of Abraham and Sara but Abraham and some servant woman, and supposedly, his progeny eventually became the Arabs and other such tribes set against the Jews. So, Ismael in FAA seems both Jew and non-Jew, both insider and outsider. As Jews are outsiders, he is an outsider among outsiders. His own family keeps him locked up.
    In a way, his situation is somewhat like Alexander’s in the Bishop’s house: Imprisonment. So, there’s a mutual understanding between them. Just as Ismael is a Jew apart from other Jews, Alexander is a goy apart from other goyim. He is different, special. He sees what others don’t see, delusional or not.
    And yet, there are also differences. Even though Ismael is held captive in his family’s house, he has the greater will, rather like that of Dr. Mabuse. His brothers treat him with fear and deference. Like Hannibal Lecter, he is the master even behind bars. In this, Alexander falls short. He can be creative and imaginative, but it’s mere make-believe and child play compared to what Ismael is capable of. It’s like the smartest goy kid in AU REVOIR LES ENFANTS meets his match in the smarter Jewish kid. Ismael is to Alexander what Merlin is to Arthur. For all his talents, Alexander, like Bergman the artist, works on the conscious and cerebral level, whereas Ismael, like Carl Dreyer and Andrei Tarkovsky, can tap into the dream world in waking state. Bergman could look through the window of the dream world but didn’t possess the key. Thus, Alexander and Bergman are limited. Alexander’s only chance of freedom, for all his flights of fancy, is to physically break out of the bishop. In contrast, Ismael is, in some ways, the freest person in the Jewish House despite his captivity. It’s a case of ‘Have Soul, Will Travel’ with him. It’s like the Aryan has vision and imagination, but the Jew has the depth and penetration. Jung and Freud. Or Hesse and Kafka. In Cronenberg’s Existenz, the goyim move about but in the Jew’s dream.

    Or perhaps, Bergman toyed with gender-bender stuff in FAA because the storytelling is like creative trans-genderism. Perhaps, this makes homos more fit for art in some ways. Having both male and female principles, they can more easily empathize with both outlooks, like someone who can write with both right and left hands. (On the other hand, homos tend to be more narcissistic and egotistical, therefore more self-absorbed and less concerned with the feelings of others. They have female vanity and male aggression.) Despite his close association with Max von Sydow, Bergman has been more a director of women than men. And in his later career, Liv Ullmann became the centerpiece in his films. Whenever a male artist invents and creates a female character, he has to think and feel female, and vice versa. Bergman said the idea of PERSONA arose in a state of delirium in a hospital. Perhaps, having devoted so much creative energy toward creating female characters, a kind of male/female soul convergence took part in his soul. It seems a part of him melded with Liv Ullmann who later directed PRIVATE CONFESSIONS and FAITHLESS.
    In SAWDUST AND TINSEL, the final scene has the clown recalling a dream in which he entered his wife’s womb, reverted to a fetus, and then disappeared into peaceful sleep: Man as a hard being reunited with the Woman as soft being. Indeed, there’s a feminine aspect to the appeal of Christianity. Son of God shuns manly things and appeals to the ‘maternal’ side of mankind. Judaism, in its conception of the One God, emphasized patriarchal male power at the expense of matriarchal female power that existed in paganism. And yet, what is repressed seeks an out, and this could explain why homosexual politics became especially prominent among Jews despite their religion having been the most anti-homo in the ancient world. There’s this sense in Darren Aronofsky’s MOTHER! where the female goddess principle feels neglected and ignored by the male god principle that hogs all the spotlight. And in FAITHLESS, which unfolds like a ghost story, the female character haunts ‘Bergman’ and is associated with the Ocean, much like the search for the Blue Fairy and ‘Mother’ in A.I.: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE. Indeed, the most beloved figure in FAA is the grandmother who is warm, inviting, and forgiving, whereas the most hated figure is, of course, the bishop, in all his coldness, sternness, and inflexibility. Perhaps, Ismael embodies the conflict between the male principle and female principle, one that he has the power to overcome and somewhat harmonize though never to full satisfaction. In contrast, the fatso aunt is defeated by conflict, and the only way out is to be consumed by fire as there’s no hope to reach the spring, the source of water.

    Helena is also something of a feminist, dismissing Strindberg as “that nasty misogynist.”

    But then, Strindberg took pride in his misogyny. He was so into woman-bashing that even social conservatives were taken aback by his tirades and diatribes. Bergman, given the centrality of women in his films, would seem the anti-misogynist, but FAITHLESS suggests his talk guaranteed no walk.

    The first version of the script—which is very different from the final film—may throw some light on the connection, for Helena Ekdahl’s maiden name is given as Mandelbaum, a very Jewish name. This throws light on an odd conversation at the very beginning of the movie, when Helena’s maid Ester remarks on how odd it is that they have celebrated 43 Christmases together. Of course it would be odd if Helena had been born a Jew.

    Or maybe she was half-Jewish, i.e. a child of Jewish father and Christian mother. And, maybe the 43 yrs of Christmas celebration seem odd to the maid because the family are non-believers, a modern people. Or, maybe what seems odd is not so much that they’ve celebrated Christmas for so long but that they did it TOGETHER. It could be there were many bitter tensions between their younger selves that they overcame to maintain their roles as master and servant. Given that Gustav uses the young maid as a sexual plaything, who knows what happened among Helena, the maid, and the men of the household long ago when they were young.

    At any rate, the Jewish thing is sometimes puzzling in Bergman’s movies. Supposedly, the male character in SHAME was meant to be Jewish, but how would we know? It’s not like he pulled down his underpants to prove it.

    If any single word describes the Ekdahls, it is “pagan.”

    I would say they are essentially ‘bourgeois-modern’. Connotations associated with paganism — nature-worship, mountain-climbing, hunting, Wagner’s operas, neo-Teutonism, etc. — don’t really apply to the Ekdahls. Indeed, the family in THE DAMNED are closer to paganism, though in a bad way. There is an element of hedonistic satiety and sensualism in the family, but the bourgeoisie liked their liberties and indulgences. And they were careful to keep up appearances and remain respectable. All that money and privilege should provide for some good times, despite the Protestant Work Ethic. A true pagan is more likely to abandon his bourgeois ways.

    the theater is not just a symbol and site for fakery, loose morals, and cultural decadence. On a deeper level, the theater is a symbol of the creation of culture in the first place.

    Theater, like the very concept of art, is a contradiction. In a way, theater reflects life. It’s been said all the world’s a stage, and people play roles and wear masks in their daily affairs. The purpose of theater and the arts is to present the deeper truth but by means of artificiality that often serves as escapism from reality. According to FAA, the child Bergman looked upon life itself as a kind of play, and in a way, the arts are like toys for grownups. Children often have difficulty telling facts from fantasy, the real from the unreal. Why else would they believe in Santa Claus like the kids in A CHRISTMAS STORY? As they become adults, they come to separate the chaff of fantasy from the wheat of reality, but reality is so often unruly or slow or damningly silent. Or, so at odds with one’s aspirations in the real world. And human nature has a craving for fantasy and escapism, and the arts serve as a respectable and ‘serious’ outlet for adults to continue with the childlike fascination with fantasy.

    Theater and Art, at their highest and deepest reaches, are supposed to explore and present truth, but they are constructed of artificiality and most often created by people who have problems with reality; but then, it’s that very neurosis that drives them to explore reality deeper. One might argue that artists create models of truth, works of fiction that nevertheless crystallize the essential conflicts of life, just like a plastic model of DNA molecule isn’t the real thing but provides us with a useful approximation of its basic structure.
    Unlike entertainment, the main function of which is escapism, theater and art claim to examine and reflect truth. And this revelation of truth can be harrowing. And yet, because it is based on make-believe, theater and art always come with an element of safety if not escapism. No one ever caught disease from a play, novel, or film about poverty, no matter how accurate; no one ever got killed by a play, novel, or film about war, no matter truthful it might have been.
    Bergman, a sensitive and neurotic soul, was always troubled by this contradiction between art and life. In PERSONA, an actress one day decided not to speak. She rejected speaking on stage and in life. A similar neurosis marked Bergman’s cinema for the next seven or eight years. There was the problem of art as a sanctuary from life but an instrument for probing into life. Bergman also sought relative isolation on an island even as he became a world-famous artist who supposedly had something to say about the modern condition. There’s a harrowing childbirth scene in BRINK OF LIFE. Of course, it’s fake, mere acting, but Bergman made it seem more real than real. The power of cinema to convey truth. The child is born, but the woman feels no love for it. Her happy expectation of motherhood was undone by the trauma of giving birth. It all seemed to real, and Bergman could take pride as having used art to convey truth. Still, it was all make-believe, an actress faking it. Thus, it was both true and untrue, both showing life as it is and presenting fakery as reality. Bergman’s running theme of pregnancy and childbirth(or abortion) suggests he saw parallels within the anxieties of creativity and creation, especially as the artist’s creation, like that of the mother, takes on a life of its own independent of the intentions of the creator. If Alexander’s father Oscar was too weak to mold his son into a boy-coming-into-manhood, the bishop as step-father is too powerfully insistent on constructing Alexander into an ideal puppet. (In that, there’s a certain justice in the Jews replacing Fanny and Alexander with puppet-doubles.) Just as children are disappointed with the parents they didn’t choose, the parents are disappointed with their children they didn’t really choose either as procreation is like a lottery; one never knows what kind of child is going to pop out of the womb. Most people, parents or children, fall short of the ideal, and even if they do fit the ideal, there remains the anxiety that oneself isn’t good enough for the ideal parents or ideal kids.
    In PRISON(aka DEVIL’S WANTON), there’s guilt about abortion and dead child. In WILD STRAWBERRIES, the husband says he wants no kids because the world is full of misery and he’d make a lousy father anyway. So, it could be that the scene with the babies at the end of FAA was Bergman finding some peace and acceptance of life as-is. Accept it for what it is because no amount of obsessing and philosophizing will change anything. A few yrs after FAA, Woody Allen in HANNAH AND HER SISTERS ended with a similar not of accepting life for what it is.

    It’s understandable why Bergman in his later career settled for the world of theater than film. Theater, like film, has characters and tells stories, but stage is always removed from the real world. All arts thrive on artificiality, but theater far more so than cinema. It’s a world of gesture and utterances. There is indeed a ‘little world’ about theater, something like an inner-circle of family.
    In contrast, because cinema works on the level of realism, its stage melds into the world. Performances in cinema become semblances of lived life. We don’t so much see actors playing roles than characters becoming the roles. There’s a sense of window into reality.
    Thus, cinema cannot be a ‘little world’, and perhaps, Bergman found this aspect of the medium far too taxing on his nerves and energy. THE BEST INTENTIONS, SUNDAY’S CHILDREN, and PRIVATE CONFESSIONS certainly don’t make for easy viewings because their minutia of life is so omnipresent and overwhelming. So, it could be Bergman wrote them but had others to direct them as the experience would have been too much for him, especially as they dealt with matters that scarred him for life. In contrast, FAA is one of Bergman’s most theatrical works, and it seems he rather seemed enjoyed the experience(by the looks of THE MAKING OF FANNY AND ALEXANDER) because he could play tricks than sit down with the truth.

    The central drama of Fanny and Alexander springs from the clash of Christianity and paganism.

    Perhaps not. It could be that the real problem isn’t Christianity per se but a rather stern and severe kind of Lutheranism that took root in Scandinavia(before the Scandis went in the opposite direction and ruined their nation with libertine revelry). In one way, the bishop embodies Christian puritanism, but it could also be seen as icy Nordicism. Who says Christianity has to be that way? Italian Catholicism was warmer, and Fellini’s depiction of Catholicism wasn’t with humor and affection despite the mockery and irreverence. The cold climate and the frozen temperaments of the Nordics made for a severe and stern kind of Christianity, but it was only one kind of Christianity. Indeed, the various celebrations and delights in FAA were commonplace in other Christian nations that weren’t so ‘anal’. Probably, the high paganism of Southern Europe tempered the spiritual zealotry inherent in Christianity. The achievements of the Greeks and Romans were so astounding that Christians ultimately came to an understanding with them, and Catholicism became a fusion of high paganism and Christian piety. In contrast, Northern Europe had low barbaric paganism that came to be regarded as brutish and stupid, unworthy to preserve with the coming of Christianity into those parts. Thus, even though Christianity came later to the North, which was further removed from the birth of the Faith, it was the North that got the more pristine and hardcore version. But then, even when they were pagans, the Northern Barbarians, like the Eskimos and American Indians, were less colorful and jolly in their temperament; they were more gloomy and depressive. So, the combination of a more purist form of Christianity and the Nordic temperament made for a more stern and demanding culture. It also led to more conscientiousness, less corruption, and more of a culture of trust and earnest will to do good.

    The giveaway that Bergman is more critical of a certain personality type than religion per se is that the bishop is reminiscent of the secular doctor in THE MAGICIAN(aka THE FACE). Though irreligious, he resembles the bishop in his cocksure pride of rationality and materiality, not unlike Richard Dawkins, the prig-secularist. Even though the mystery turns out to be a prank of sorts in THE MAGICIAN, we are glad to see the haughty ‘scientist’ get his comeuppance.
    The bishop also resembles the husband in WILD STRAWBERRIES. For all his atheism and modernity, he too is a control freak who can’t tolerate anything that deviates from his sense of order. If the bishop is adamant about raising the children the correct way, the husband doesn’t want any child at all lest things go wrong and upset his equilibrium.
    And there’s the proto-Nazi scientist in THE SERPENT’S EGG. He doesn’t need religion to be mad in his own way, subscribing to a conviction in the iron laws of history and science. Indeed, he thinks he has it all figured out, and there is no other way.

    Soon after their arrival, Isak reads a story to Fanny and Alexander. He says that it is written in Hebrew, and it will take some work to translate. But once the story begins, his eyes no longer look at the page at all, suggesting that he is simply making it up.

    Or maybe he read it before and knows it from heart. Or maybe he’s improvising on a story in the book in his own peculiar way. Spiritually, the Jew is likely to be more seeking because the Messiah has yet to arrive for the Tribe, whereas Christianity provides its flock with a completed religion. Also, Jewishness is about contemplating the contradictions in the Torah and Talmud whereas Christianity claims to have resolved all the contradictions with the coming of Jesus.

    In the parable, a young man wanders a crowded and dusty road… Suddenly the young man is in a verdant forest… But he is blind to it all and is soon swept back into the mob.
    The youth asks an old man about the source of the water. He replies that it flows from a mountain whose top is hidden in clouds… But the cloud is not caused by God. Its cause is entirely natural. Indeed, it is entirely human. It is created by the fears and prayers of men addressed to God or to the void. The fears and prayers become rain, which feed rivers that flow from the mountain.
    But most men cannot slake their thirst from the mountain’s waters because they will not break from the pointless rat race on the road… The message is that religion springs from man, not God, but men are denied its solace, which can only be found in the solitude of nature, because they are caught up in the frantic rat race of organized religion.

    Isak probably noticed something special about Alexander. He’s a willful boy, a born non-conformist. That side of him is promising, but his self-centeredness also blinds and limits him. It’s the World according to Alex. He doesn’t care much about other people’s feelings. At his father’s funeral procession, Alexander mutters obscenities and stands apart from others. So, he has the independence of spirit but a closed heart. And it is through the metaphor of the clouds that Isak tries to impart onto Alexander the need for a fuller understanding of humanity and the heart.

    By the way, how can the clouds be ‘entirely natural’ and ‘entirely human’? If the former, it’s just part of natural phenomena. If the latter, it’s meant as a metaphor(which cannot be natural), the culmination of all the passions and prayers of mankind. The mountain then is metaphor for God. The cloud represents all the human voices, joyous and sad, heard by God. God-as-mountain gathers all the clouded-pangs-of-humanity and transforms them into streams and springs for mankind drink from. So, the truth or salvation is not found via solitude with nature but in unity with the memories, dreams, and aspirations of humanity at large. Bergman made several films about man’s solitude with nature, and the results are invariably grim: loneliness, depression, paranoia, despair, hallucinations, etc. In a way, through the parable, Bergman was possibly critiquing his own egotism and obsessive need for private space. It’s like what one of the characters says to Guido at the end of 8 1/2: “I understand what you mean. You can’t do without us.”

    Also, the nature of organized religion is not like a ‘rat race’. Rat races are fraught with anxiety, but at least they can be exciting, even exhilarating, like among all those competitors in Wall Street and Silicon Valley. There’s always something happening in rat races. In contrast, the people in the parable are part of a numbing procession. They march forward without individuality or direction. They just keep marching onward as if by habit and custom along with everyone else. The parable suggests that religion began with the spirit and inspiration. So much so that the people left their native lands in search for this truth. But they soon forgot about the spark that led to inspiration and the pilgrimage. So, it just became a matter of form, a set of instructions. Thus, it separated people further from the truth, but most remained within the formation because community, even a terribly misguided one, is more comforting that the loneliness of solitude and exile. (After all, even Jesus, after the forty days of fasting and meditation, returned to the community of people, without which His truth couldn’t be realized.) At least with a rat race, there is a sense of ‘my interest’ and ‘my pride’. In contrast, the endless procession on the road bespeaks of a hivemind, no one questioning anything but just keep on moving on.
    Alexander has a certain acuteness of mind attuned to things that most people aren’t privy to. He senses what others cannot, like the kid in THE SHINING is specially gifted. But Alexander has yet to learn to listen to others, open his heart, and develop a larger sense of humanity. It may be that the young man who feels the waters around his feet but fails to grasp its meaning is like Alexander. He is different and can wander off the path and feel the water at his feet, but he still lacks the understanding to appreciate it. Independence alone won’t cut it because, despite its rejection of the mob, it can exist only in opposition to the mob, without which it has nothing to be independent of. So, the higher consciousness is about embracing the community of man but founded upon a truer understanding of history and spirituality. That understanding comes from the parable of the cloud. To know the water, one must know the source of the water. And this source goes beyond individuality and egotism. It’s the summation of all the sorrows, hopes, and visions of mankind. Whether we call it God or some other power, it is a mystery beyond the comprehension of any single person. Man may have created gods or God, but God or spiritual vision isn’t the creation of a single individual in the Ayn-Randian sense but the culmination of all that humanity has imagined, dreamed, and hoped through the ages. As the culmination of so many voice and dreams, He has a power beyond any single man or any single nation, Jew or gentile.
    Ingmar Bergman once spoke of a Medieval Cathedral, how it wasn’t the work of one man but of many, most of them unknown but who did their part in the construction. And Bergman called Tarkovsky the greatest because, far more than Bergman, the Russian had a deeper and wider sense of humanity. In ANDREI RUBLEV, the painter-monk is inspired by all the history, destructive and ‘rejuvenative’, around him. And the giant bell is cast from the work of many people. It hangs in contrast to the flight of the balloon in the the first scene, like the flight of fancy in the opening of 8 1/2, represents the vanity and pride of a single man.
    So, it’s not enough to have the water at one’s own feet. One must know of the cloud, from which the water flows. And this cloud isn’t the work of one man but of countless people whose dreams and prayers were heard by God or some higher power that turned mist into water to flow back to mankind. So, the message is not about solitude and nature but a spiritual unity with all the experiences and aspirations of mankind.
    It is also an extension of what Bergman explored in THE SEVENTH SEAL and VIRGIN SPRING. The returning Crusaders have long forgotten what the adventure was all about, and in the final days, the existential knight seeks answers and attains a glimpse of the truth through all the brutality and beauty around him. One can travel far without seeing anything or remain near yet hear the universe. In VIRGIN SPRING, the flowing water represents something more than nature or solitude with it. It is the expression of God toward a man who underwent the unspeakable in sorrow and vengeance but strives for inner peace and redemption. And THROUGH THE GLASS DARKLY ends with the son learning to communicate with the father and both realizing that the essence of ‘god’ is man’s feeling for one another. And the self-absorbed character in PERSONA is horrified by a burning Vietnamese monk on TV and is later staring at a famous Holocaust photograph of a Jewish child. In Bergman films, there is this tension between the extreme egotism of neurosis & self-absorption and the guilt about not being more concerned about bigger issues about humanity and the world. Still, the message in FAA isn’t about political commitment(which can be just as blinding as any religious crusade), but learning to the listen to the deeper murmurs of the heart, which is what art can be about, a vessel of empathy.

    For one thing, one has to ask if Isak’s homosexual and pedophilic attentions toward Alexander are part of Bergman’s vision of utopia or a lingering trace of his darker, youthful views of Jews.

    I don’t think the main reason for Bergman’s support of National Socialism had to do with Jews. It had to do with the positive side of New Germany. In this, he was not unlike Leni Riefenstahl who was drawn to Hitler as the savior of Germany than out of any particular animus toward Jews(or Slavs for that matter). This was also true of John F. Kennedy who expressed enthusiasm for Hitler as the man of the hour. National Socialism seemed so promising that Bergman and others like him tuned out its darker ramifications.

    Still, the various foibles FAA provides some hints as to why the young Bergman was drawn to National Socialism. Communism, like Christian puritanism, was too drab and dogmatic. Living under communism was like living under the Bishop. As for the bourgeoisie as depicted in FAA, they were too compromised and hypocritical. And traditional Sweden was too stifling for a man of Bergman’s energies. Jews were too alien and different.

    Take the young maid in FAA. She is a nothing and nobody in that system. A mere plaything for the bourgeoisie. Even though the Ekdahls are presented with affection and empathy, they live in their little world with no sense or vision of the larger world. It may not be a doll’s house, but it’s a dolls’ mansion. It is a world of class divisions and lack of larger vision. In contrast, National Socialism came along and sought to bridge capital with labor and then with blood and culture. And via the ideology of volk, there was an understanding and experience of culture beyond the high arts or entertainment. High arts are for the educated elites and their narrow circles. Mass entertainment panders to the lowest common denominator. But the volkish concept of culture meant everything of the nation is part of the culture: Family, community, tradition, customs, remembrance, rituals, and etc. The stuff of life of all Germans. Furthermore, the emphasis on blood meant everyone of the nation is part of the larger family. Thus, even someone like the young maid in FAA under National Socialism would be more than a mere servant, a pet-plaything for the rich. She too would be a valued member of the national family. This was a great idea, and it’s understandable why Bergman, a Nordic, was drawn to it. And it would have succeeded if Hitler didn’t start those damn wars. Sadly, the crimes of the Nazis were so grave that people after WWII decided to throw out the baby with the bathwater and reject everything about the blood and volk. That, of course, is formula for racial and civilizational suicide.

    • Thanks: Happy Tapir
    • Replies: @Dumbo
  9. Dumbo says:
    @Priss Factor

    I wonder how much of Bergman’s portrayal of his “severe, horrible father” is really projection of how he has been as a father. I have not seen Faithless or the other later films based on his autobiographical works, but it is well known that Bergman was, at best, an absent father. In Scenes from a Marriage the children hardly appear and are seem more as a nuisance or an afterthought. In Autumn Sonata the theme is of a famous artistic mother who neglects or mistreats her daughter. And so on.

    P.S. The fact that the Lutheran father is not his biological father in Fanny and Alexander would give credence to the idea that Bergman is either a crypto-Jew or that somehow identifies more with Jews, perhaps through possible Jewish ancestors in his family. It is at least possible.

  10. Top Christmas movies:

    Of course, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE is to Christmas movies what 2001 is to sci-fi.

    Other than that…

    EYES WIDE SHUT, MOTHMAN PROPHECIES, and METROPOLITAN.

  11. Dumbo says:

    [Miles Mathis is a notorious Internet hoaxer and comments linking or referencing him are unlikely to be published.]

    • Agree: Liza
  12. Dumbo says:

    Bergman, if indeed he was raised Lutheran, or even a pro-pagan with a Nazi past, was a strange neurotic pro-Jew nazi and one of the few gentile (?) filmmakers to make so many anti-Christian and pro-Jewish films.

    Witness “The Touch”, one of his worst movies, about a Jew traumatized by the Holocaust who impregnates Liv Ullmann.

    He made a few masterpieces which I still like, particularly in the beginning of his career. But his themes are almost always anti-traditionalist and negativist. If he was making movies today, he would probably make movies about interracial relationships… Who knows… I can’t quote my sources as it seems Mr. Lynch doesn’t like them.

    However, I think Bergman misunderstands Strindberg, as Strindberg was Christian and very much influenced by Swedenborg, among others. He had very different views from Bergman.

  13. Liza says:

    Gee whiz. Another film about degenerates here on Trevor Lynch Movie Reviews. Just because they are white degenerates (who happen to like Christmas) doesn’t make these films worthy of our time. 20 minutes into this garbage, my heart just sank. Yet I’m ashamed to say I sat through the whole thing.

    Trevor, are there any good films about basically decent white people who are struggling this way and that, which you consider worthwhile reviewing? I kind of like The Emigrants and The New Land. Not perfect people by a long shot, I know, but complete angels compared to the “people” in F & A.

    Maybe Mulholland Drive had a moment or two of lucidity and meaning.

  14. @Liza

    Heaven’s Gate is pretty good . .

    • Replies: @Liza
  15. Bergman spoof

    • LOL: gar manar nar
    • Replies: @Mustapha Mond
  16. @Priss Factor

    As soon as I saw the words “Bergman spoof” my mind raced back nearly five decades to the Nuart Theatre in Santa Monica where I saw a hilarious spoof on Bergman called, “The Dove” (De Duva).

    Thanks for bringing back a lot of chuckles and fond memories……..

  17. Another fine review by Mr Lynch. Always a pleasure.

    Am I mistaken, or in the second to last paragraph, is that supposed to be Ismael rather than Isak?

    • Replies: @Trevor Lynch
  18. @Liza

    The way I triage movies, for the record, is this —

    did I watch it with a friend, and did I watch the whole thing to be friendly? Those movies are in their own category, and are more in the line of memories of life than artistic experiences.

    Did I watch it because I chose to watch it, not because someone else wanted to watch it with me?
    Poor Bergman does not do well in that category. In the first instance, artist or not, he was not a very bright little fellow – his philosophy of life was stuck in the mid-teen years, he did not like women much, and as a man, he did not feel any real interest in portraying men at their best, due to the average problems people like him have —- lack of self-confidence, lack of sprezzatura, lack of deep philosophical insight, boredom with their own lot in life. Sad! That is not how artists should view the world!!!!

    That being said, let’s run some numbers —- the way a good chef looks at thousands of vegetables for every dozen vegetables that are chosen for the ratatouille.
    There are about 10 European and American directors with a supposed genius cachet at Bergman’s level, there are about 100 who are often mentioned as great directors, there are about a 1000 more directors who are mentioned as having directed great movies, and there are about 10,000 or so directors who are mentioned, from time to time, in earnest “histories of cinema”.
    Out of that landscape, why should anyone watch a movie by any director that is not one of his or her best? Except for the same reasons we stop into one deli instead of another, or picnic in one park instead of another?

    I don’t really care anymore about the art of movies – I still enjoy movies, but the whole field is such a mess that all you can do is try and be tolerant.

    Of Bergman’s many movies, 90 percent were based on intellectual fraud, the other 10 percent were too, but not as plainly. Same goes for almost every director.

    Here and there, for ten or twenty minutes in one of their best films, they did not betray reality (did not fail to portray reality, if you prefer it that way) and so I guess, if we are super tolerant, we will watch lots of their films in order to appreciate the infrequent moments when the famous directors were actually artists, or close to being artists.

    So the job of a movie critic is to watch thousands of hours of movies and tell us which twenty minutes (every once in a while, more than that) in the best one percent of one percent of movies were worth watching.

    Since there are tens of thousands of movies that are not obviously bad from the get-go, that is a lot to watch, even if one triages correctly and just watches the best of the best (of course, nobody does that. There are the movies we watch out of camaraderie, and the movies we watch out of nostalgia —- and, who among us, even among those of us who watched dozens and dozens of movies last year, really experienced very much of what one experiences when confronted with genuine art at the highest level?)

    For the record, I am a Bergman fan, but I recognize that most of his scenes are false to the truth and show little understanding of human beings, of animals, or of nature. Then again, there is the ending of Wild Strawberries, a few scenes in the Midsummer night movie, and about half of summer with Monica. And here and there you see through a window a quiet horse chomping on hay, exactly the way horses do. So there’s that.

    • Replies: @Liza
  19. Liza says:
    @gar manar nar

    @gar manar: I’ve heard of the film, it was supposedly controversial. Could it be a case of those “immigrants” having the bad luck to be hated because they were a different ethnic group from the ranchers; or if it was just because they were settlers, with the usual conflicts between ranchers and clearers of land (farmers.)

  20. @Mustapha Mond

    Yes, you are correct.

    Could whoever approves this change that mistake?

  21. Ganderson says:
    @Graham

    I use the Swedish subtitles when possible- Netflix generally has that option, Amazon generally does not. Wonder why?

  22. Liza says:
    @anonymous as usual

    For the record, I am a Bergman fan, but I recognize that most of his scenes are false to the truth and show little understanding of human beings, of animals, or of nature.

    So, you are a Bergman fan because of the very few reliably “true” scenes. To each his own.

    Here’s the difference (to me) between Bergman and all other directors who generally get something right, at least occasionally: their rank failures don’t prevent me from wanting to give that same director’s other efforts another chance. With Bergman, I can say that he stinks all-around and I am sorry I ignored my usual “3 strikes and you’re out” rule. I should’ve said “to hell with Bergman” after The Magician and left it at that.

    Poor Alexander in F&A is repulsive. What’s the much-vaunted Bergman trying to do here – another “Bad Seed”? His preacher stepfather was a complete caricature of evil. A senile woman with her noble boyfriend Isak. Gustav. The demented Carl. The Ekdahls are swimming in adultery and everybody’s looking the other way. Aron and Ismael in the antique shop, and on and on – everybody’s creepy. Great Art all about disgusting, unpleasant people and their “special powers” – at least some of them.

    If Bergman was trying to come to terms with what he depicts as his own disturbed family, maybe he should’ve just gone for some counselling instead of producing this swill. Of course he knew what the result would be: his fans falling all over each other trying to tell themselves how wonderful the emperor’s clothes are. If I want to see 3 generations of dissolution, trailer park white trash movies might be a better bet; no phonies there. F&A is so bad that I’m left desperate for the incoherent Twin Peaks.

    Thanks for the new-to-me word “sprezzatura”. Isn’t the Italian language wonderful. 🙂

    • Replies: @anonymous as usual
  23. @Liza

    I do not have as many achievements in this world as I would like, but I have attained a degree of skill at writing, and as such, anyone who reads what I write should take the effort to understand what I say.

    “Bergman fan”, in context, means : “in my opinion not everything he did was worthless.”

    In this world, there are the real artists: beginning with the inspired writers of Scripture, followed by a few very good poets, here and there a painter or two (Andrey Rublyov, Fra Angelico, Raphael), some good architects, most of them unknown (beginning in Roman days, extending to the great flowering of architecture about 700 years – 20 generations, more or less – ago), a few musicians (Mozart, Palestrina, one or two others): when someone who knows what I know is kind enough to say he is a fan of some 20th century sort-of-artist, it does not mean what you thought it meant.

    • Thanks: Liza
  24. Directors like Bergman are hacks who would better serve their artistic talent writing propaganda for a Marxist organization or produce kiosk literature. Some of his philosophical ideas might be interesting if you are a degenerate, but that alone does not make a movie. Many directors seem to completely miss the purpose of this medium. Images and storytelling are central. Does Bergman excell at story telling? No, he’s well below average. Are his images pleasing to the eye? Not really. For the most part they are just props for his scripts.

    At least Scorsese grudgingly realized he had no stomach for the realities of being an artist, if not his lack of talent, so instead developed his considerable qualities for pure entertainment instead.

    • Agree: Liza
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