Monday, July 30, 2007

Ingmar Bergman, 1918-2007.

A few minutes ago, I learned that Ingmar Bergman died earlier today at the age of 89. On my old blog, I once published a post on Bergman noting the minor role that the great Swedish director played in my vocation story. Though I had seen a few of his films on television while I was growing up, I didn't really start to get into Bergman's work until I was in law school. On frigid winter nights in South Bend, Bergman's films provided a welcome distraction from dry legal texts. The New York Times' obituary of Bergman refers to him as "a poet with a camera," but I think it would be more accurate to call him a marvelously gifted dramatist who also happened to make movies. "The theater is like a faithful wife," Bergman once said, "[and] the film is the great adventure - the costly, exacting mistress."

Despite winning nearly universal acclaim as a great filmmaker, Bergman apparently always felt most at home in the world of the theater. Bergman made films that are 'theatrical' in the best possible sense of the word, enabling a sort of intimacy between actors and audience that is perhaps more typical of the stage than the screen. Many of Bergman's films touched upon the human struggle to believe in the reality of God and to find a sense of ultimate purpose in life. The sensitivity with which Bergman addressed such topics stemmed from his own religious struggles: the son of a Lutheran pastor and the product of a devout upbringing, Bergman moved in adulthood to an anguished if thoughtful agnosticism. Bergman's personal favorite among his films (and mine too, incidentally) 1962's Winter Light, deals explicitly with the theme of the loss (and potential recovery) of faith in studying one afternoon in the life of a rural pastor. If you only see one Bergman film, see Winter Light. I'm quite sure that this recommendation would be disputed by partisans of some of Bergman's more popular works - Autumn Sonata, Cries and Whispers, Fanny and Alexander, Persona, Scenes from a Marriage, The Seventh Seal, Through a Glass Darkly, and so on. Others can recommend each of those movies. I'll recommend Winter Light.

There's a lot more I could write about Ingmar Bergman, but I think I'll stop there. I pray that God will look kindly upon him, and that in death he has found answers to the questions that he wrestled with so earnestly throughout his life, questions that informed some of his best work. Tonight I intend to honor Bergman's memory by watching one of his films, though I haven't yet decided which. Requiescat in Pace. AMDG.


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