Themes of Faith, Death, and Divergence of Life in Bergman’s Works
Ingmar Bergman has contributed to the development of revolutionary cinema in Sweden and established the upheaval of the European cinematography in general. The majority of Bergman screenplays were written by the artist himself. Before starting to work on the script, Bergman was thinking about the future work for a few months or years. The earliest works of Bergman were based on his plays or written with other authors. In his later works, he allowed the actors to add improvisation to the films. As a result, the films got innovative ideas. Bergman films deal with a number of problems. Among them, there are issues of religion, faith, morality, loneliness, the attitude toward an artist, conflicts between the reality and the past, and divergence of life. At the same time, the majority of the films have a theme of sexual desire. The theme can be found during the medieval plague in The Seventh Seal, at the everyday life of the upper class family of the 20th century in Fanny and Alexander or modern alienation in The Silence. In addition, the women characters have bigger sexuality than the men ones. In his movies, Bergman was not afraid to demonstrate women’s sexuality. It was determined by the artist’s desire to create films that the audience could not only see and enjoy, but to sense as well. For instance, Bergman commented “I don’t want to make intellectual films. I want audiences to feel, to sense my films. This to me much more important than their understanding them” (Shargel 43).
This fact contributed creation of the unique works of the artist. The latest works of the artist were mixed and lacked a unique central theme. They were mainly characterized as insulate and naive in regard to ideology. Still, Bergman’s works did not lose the art’s significance. Thus, the Bergman’s movies represent a number of new themes in the cinematography of that time, such as the issues of religion and faith, the attitude towards the artist, the expression of sexuality, the increasing of the role of women, and the problems of morality. However, one of the most important themes of Bergman’s works is the existence of the divergence of life, and the conflict between life and death.
Indeed, the majority of Bergman’s films focuses on the argument on the divergent attitude toward life. The films can also be characterized by the existence of a number of forces that influence people’s lives and occurrence of different outcomes of taken decisions. At the same time, Bergman’s works are based on the principle of a dynamic drive. That foresees the writing of the screenplays in the form of journey. Thus, main themes receive their development in several works and can be further developed. In addition, the works get a wider scale of the development in general. At the same time, the establishment of Bergman’s main themes does not take a straight line and cannot be observed within the subsequent works. While some themes have been considered to disappear for a while, they can be traced in the later works. According to Wood and Lippe, “Smiles of a Summer Night (1955) and Wild Strawberries (1957) develop out of A Lesson in Love (1954); between the two earlier films come Journey into Autumn (1955), which has strong links with Sawdust and Tinsel (1953); before Wild Strawberries came The Seventh Seal (1957), which in certain important respects is more clearly connected with The Face (1958) than with either of its immediate neighbors” (4).
The divergence of life can also be traced through the focusing on a particular place or permanent homes of the characters. For example, the heroine of Summer Interlude Marie is described in the theater and summer house. These places help to underline the theme of the relation between the past and the present of Marie. In particular, the part of the woman receives its relive. In Summer with Monika, the heroes stay in their homes for a while, while trying to escape to the island. The metaphor can be interpreted as an attempt to leave the house and to escape from the routine. The characters of The Seventh Seal do not have home and all the time travel from one place to another staying in caravans. The movie represents the changing of life outcomes, based on the balance of forces that prevail in people’s lives. At the end of the film, the Knight finally comes to his home, which is described as an empty and dark castle. Thus, the heroes of Bergman movies often do not have permanent roots and place to stay. All the time they find themselves in the process of moving from one place to another, all the time changing their conditions. This creates the impression of suspension.
Bergman’s discussion of the conflict between life and death can be found in Brink of Life. The plot of the film was developed by Bergman and his friend Ulla Isaksson. The work reveals the drama that takes place in the small hospital’s maternity hall. The film is about three ladies who share their life experience. During the film, they have to make a choice whether to keep their kids or give them for an adoption. The movie deals with one of the most difficult and challenging choices in the life. According to Isaksson, the movie has a clear message about the relationship between life and death. In particular, “there is a secret about life, about birth and death, a secret about why some are called to live, and others are called to die; we can assail Heaven and science with questions – all answers will be half-truths, while life pursues its course, crowing the living with suffering or happiness” (Vermilye 100).
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In the movie Summer Interlude, Bergman underlines the idea that lives in people has different outcomes based on the various balances of forces prevail. One of the heroines of the movie, Marie, struggles with the past and present. While the ballerina recalls in the memory an island summer, she suffers from the present. The past life was filled with happiness. However, she has to come back to reality, which is compared with shadow and sadness. The reality is described with the help of the permanent place where the main heroine stays. The actress stays in the dressing room at the theater. The room is dark and filled with shadows. Similarly, Marie feels the same sadness and bitterness. However, she manages to deal with the conflict between the reality and past. The actress takes a spiritual journey to the past. She enjoys the ideal summer she has spent on the island and frees herself from the bondage of the past. As a result, she is able to start a new future with new determination and motivations. Thus, the movie is filled with the themes, typical for the early works of Bergman. Besides the divergence of life, there is a conflict between being trapped in certain conditions and trying to escape. Therefore, there is a kind of division in life. While the character lives in the real world, all the time she comes back to the past in order to recall the better life. The theme of the life divergence is closely related with the intertwinement of theater and real life. Bergman often does not separate the real life from the theatrical one. As a result, reality becomes permeated by theater.
One of the brightest landmarks of film expression is represented by Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. The movie deals with the problem of the divergence of life. It also represents the argument between life and death, and represents different approaches to the human existence. Despite the fact that the film has many comedic scenes, the main message of the work remains developed through the whole film. The title of the film is taken from the Book of Revelations that addresses the existence of seven seals that secure the book and prevent from the apocalyptic events. Thus, it is associated with the end of the world’s existence. According to the Christian Bible, with the opening of each seal the world faces different devastating events, such as famine, war, death, or natural disasters. In order to underline the message of the film, The Seventh Seals takes place during the medieval period, known for its numerous deaths and horror. Thus, people at that time often considered that the end of the world is close. While the middle of the 20th century can be characterized by the same peculiarities as the medieval times, there were several threats that could establish the end of the human civilization. For example, one of the biggest threats was represented by the possibility of the appliance of nuclear power on the global scale. Thus, the world was at the edge of its destroying. The film tells the story of a knight and his squire, who come back from the Crusades. The Crusades also possess a symbolic meaning. While the purpose of the fights in the Holy Land was to achieve a noble purpose of releasing the Jerusalem from the Muslim conquest, the outcomes of the Crusades were unsuccessful. The armed pilgrimage often pillages the territories they have passed through and murdered many people. Thus, there is a contradiction between the purpose and the outcomes of the Crusades. Similarly, every decision taken by a person can have the same divergence. When the main characters got back home, they discovered that their country suffered from the Black Death. The cinematic techniques also help to underline the main idea of the film. The film was mainly set outdoors. At the same time, the naturalistic settings are often eliminated. The creation of the expressionistic environment was achieved with the appliance of high contrast black and white cinematography. This allows developing the moody atmosphere throughout the whole film.
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The Death got a personified role in the movie. At the same time, the rest of the characters represent different approaches towards life. Thus, there is a possibility to categorize them in accordance with the characters behavior and ideas. The first attitude towards life is represented by the Knight Antonius Block. He can be characterized as the religious idealist. He has just returned from the Crusade and still experiences the influence of the journeys to the Holy Land. However, Bergman does not describe him as a fanatic. He is a religious person, who aspires to understand the nature of the world, the principles of life, and the unknowable God with the help of his intellect. As a result, the character reveals the role of religion in people’s life and the necessity to develop an idealistic approach to it. In one of the scenes, the Knight says “is it so cruelly inconceivable to grasp God with the senses? Why should He hide himself in a mist of half-spoken promises and unseen miracles? What is going to happen to those of us who want to believe but aren’t able to?” (Bergman 145). Thus, the character underlines the necessity of faith in the people’s lives. The faith can help to stand all difficulties that mankind faces throughout the history. At the same time, Antonius Block states that “faith is a torment… it is like loving someone who is out there in the darkness but never appears, no matter how loudly you call” (Bergman 172). As a result, Bergman also underlines that the God often remains silent in people’s life. Sometimes, that happens in evil times and people have to face death alone. Block cannot see the visual evidences of God’s presence in his life, but intuitively he feels his existence. Thus, there is something mystical beyond the people’s lives, which cannot be recognized by the intellectual senses. However, while talking about love and noticing the bliss between Jof and Mia, Block realizes that there are more important things in the life than religion truth. In addition, the Knight believes in the power of human nature. While playing chess with the Death, Block manages to distract the attention of the Death from the traveling artists Jof and Mia.
On the contrary, the knight’s squire Jons has a different attitude toward life. He is more skeptics. Jons does not pay attention to religious dogmas and feelings. He considers them to be unnecessary elements of people’s lives. In addition, he believes that the main purpose of religion is to fool people rather than to educate them or enlighten. Thus, he can be characterized as the rational skeptic, who dismisses the importance of religion. According to Jons position, the life takes place now and has to be laid at a very particular moment. The Squire has a simpler attitude toward death. As a result, Jons treat the Death mainly as a joke and does not take it serious. He believes that everyone has to go through this. The only question is the time. While some people face it now, the others will meet with the Death in the future. That is an inevitable part of humans’ lives. At the same time, according to the squire people do not have to reject the simple happiness of life, such as love. The conflict between the Knight and his Squire symbolize the conflict between different approaches to life. When the heroes met the group of people who are going to burn a witch-girl, both characters have different point of view on the event. Block is curious if the girl has seen the Devil, while Jons blames his master for believing in these explanations, used to justify the terrible act.
The traveling performers Jof and Mia represent the innocent attitude towards life. They are unreflective commoners, who possess the ability to see positive moments in the life and remain good-hearted throughout all the time. Thus, the message of the movie can represent the necessity of God to watch after those people and protect them from the different problems that may occur. Another attitude towards the divergence of life is represented by the position of traveling showman, the smith and his wife, and a thief, who was a seminarian. Those people take care exceptionally of their own businesses. Similarly to Jof and Mia, they also represent the common people. However, they have greedy nature and everything they care about is the possible reward. Thus, they represent selfish materialists with the same attitude towards life. All they want to achieve is a reward.
The village girl symbolized another perception of life. According to the position of the film, the quiet girl represents something that the rest of the characters do not see or do not want to see. Despite representing a minor role, the introducing of the girl in the movie is one of the most remarkable aspects. In general, she encompasses the compassionate mystic. The girl represents the soul of the film. She sees the mystery of this world, which remains unnoticeable for the Knight, his squire, and the rest of the characters. Finally, the Death remains present during the whole movie. The character appears from episode to episode. It is described as a calm and severe figure. However, the Death can be noticed by those characters, who are going to die. As a result, the Death remains visible to the Knight all the time.
In the end, the Knight, his Squire, the girl, Plog and Lisa got to the knight’s castle. All the residents of the castle have moved and only the knight’s wife stayed at the castle. During the breakfast, the knight’s wife, Karin, reads the Book of Revelation about the opening of the seven seals. After that, the Death arrives to take all the characters. Thus, everyone can see the Death. While the Knight tries to reach the God last time in his life, the Squire states that “even so, feel the immense power of this moment, when you can still roll your eyes and wiggle your toes” (Bergman 150). Therefore, Bergman one more time underlines the difference between the approaches to life before the death. While some people ready to accept the death and enjoy the last moments of life, others try to escape from it.
Thus, besides dealing with the argument between life and death, Bergman describes the issue of religious faith. With the appliance of the metaphor and religious themes, Bergman succeeded in demonstrating the contributions and contradictions of life. The movie also has the theme of the relationship between life and death. While death is supposed to represent an inevitable part of everyone’s life, people have developed different attitude towards it. Indeed, people are aware of the death and know that they have to face it one day. At the same time, people try to find something behind the death. For example, during the 19th century, a popular attitude was formed on the basis that death is a phenomenon that can happen only to others. At the same time, people must realize that the death does not represent the end of existence. On the contrary, death highlights the life as rich and beautiful thing that happens to human. Thus, the thought of death can free people from engaging in compromise with social conventions. This freedom represents the true existence of a person. This process can be found in the confronting of the Knight with the Death. For instance, Block all the time tries to distract the Death’s attention by playing a chess game.
Thereby, the works of Ingmar Bergman address a number of issues that have not lost their importance nowadays. Among them, there are the themes of the gaining of life experience, problem of morality, issues of family and marriage, the difference of love, the conflict between death and life, the necessity to get self-knowledge and understand the human nature, youth romance, and the theme of the God and loss of the faith. At the same time, the most impressive theme is the conflict of the divergence of life. Bergman underlines the existing conflict of the reality and imaginary world, past and present. He assumes the existence of the different approaches towards life and analyzes them in his works. Therefore, Bergman demonstrates how different decision taken by his characters result in various outcomes. That fact remains true and contributes the occurrence of the conflicts in people’s lives. The theme of the divergence of life is enforced by the appliance of the technique that does not focus on one place in the movie. This helps to underline that Bergman’s characters do not have a permanent place to stay and roots. The divergence of life is also underlined by the description of the occurrence of different outcomes and the existence of the balance of forces in the people’s lives. Thus, the films of Ingmar Bergman represent not only a profound form of modern art but also a deep philosophic meaning.