Sunday, January 28, 2018

Winter Light

Nattvardsgästerna
(Winter Light / The Communicants)
Dir: Ingmar Bergman, 1963, 81min.

You know those harrowing genre films where the characters are put through hell and then just get back up to do it all-over again? Well, looking at “Bergman as Horror”, this film is equivalent to those films. Like a soul tearing Groundhog Day, as Ingrid Thulin and Gunnar Björnstrand dance the dance of deconstruction and devastation in Bergman's Nattvardsgästerna, only to get back up, dust off the dirt and go through all the emotions again and again.

Pastor Tomas (Björnstrand) is in crisis as he's come to the insight that he's lost his faith. Schoolteacher Märta (Thulin) is in love with Pastor Thomas who in turn is reluctant to acknowledge her gentle courtship. At the same time that there is an element of affection between the two, there is a vibrant vein of rage and animosity. 

In his own words Bergman described this film as "consciously boring", but I honestly find it hard to agree with his description, because even though it certainly is a very low-key piece it's not boring at any point at all because it is like watching two people in an freezing cold ice-hole, desperately trying to keep their heads over the waters surface.
It's a Bergmanesque quality where he showcases the dark demons of regular humans in the turmoil of life, dealing with guilt, loss of faith, rejection and suicide. But also the listlessness of humans in darkness going through the motions and never really making that change that they need to do to break free from their torment. 

Pastor Tomas is so absorbed in his selfpity that he can’t grasp Märta’s affection, which is growing sour by the hour. Looking at it from a Horror stand point, it’s all about that loss of faith, the projection of self hate, and being so disillusioned with his own struggle, that Tomas can’t help the suicidal Johan Persson (Max Von Sydow), but more or less drives him to his fatal demise at the wrong end of a shotgun. 
They become caught in a pointless loop of tediousness and an emotional tug of war as the power struggle between Tomas and Märta is fought out and shifts positioning over and over again. Tomas asks “My God, Why have thee abandoned me?” It’s sort of Key, because the film is about that struggle, the struggle to receive a sign, to reassure one self that there is something else after this life… but we all know there is only the great void nothingness in the aftermath of death.
The Spider God makes an appearance once again. It’s a depiction of the loss of God that Tomas gives when trying to comfort suicidal Johan Persson. Instead of lying, Tomas tells the truth and reveals that there is no god, there is no after life, there is really no real point to life… and God is a Spider monster, which acts as a trigger for the already doomsday petrified Persson.  SO basically when telling the truth, the darkness is replaced by deeper evil. People die and are hurt. Whilst the façade, the charade of everyday life in the small society, is upheld life goes on as it has in the hours before we joined Tomas and Märta, and as it will after we leave them. 

Märta's letter to Tomas. One can read shitloads of interpretations about that letter... but nobody ever mentions the fact that Ingrid Thulin breaks the fourth wall, stares us down and never blinks once... That's eerie. 
A bleak ambiguous Bergman ending, that for the time it was made, didn’t play by the rules of convention. There’s no romantic wedding at the end, merely a repetitious loop of spiralling slow painful angst-ridden deconstruction set into motion once again.

// OR if you want something more uplifting, Tomas realizes that the loss of his wife and the hatred/self pity that this brought with it has made him loose his faith. Why would his God do this to him? But when he realizes that love is also Märta, he rekindles his love, and though that love he finds meaning to everything, and that meaning allows him to realize that all has been a test of his faith. God has tested him and lead him to Märta. He will go on loving Märta, and they will become a couple and he will continue to preach the world of the Lord, and that’s why he holds a sermon for an empty church at the end of the film. He’s reconnected with his faith. //

But not really… its all dark and devastating… they will keep on pushing and pulling until they end their time… 

Actually, whilst watching this I did find myself thinking, this is in many ways the bloody exorcist but without the possessed teenage girl. Keep that in mind when you watch it. It is there. The loss of faith, and the Spider God…

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Through a Glass Darkly

Såsom i en spegel
(Through a Glass Darkly)
Dir: Ingmar Bergman
Sweden, 1961, 91min.


This year Ingmar Bergman would have had his 100th birthday. So obviously there's a celebratory aura though out the film universe as everyone is rewatching his films and looking at them in new light, as even yours truly is in mid process of doing. And in doing that I discovered a point of view that I've been pushing around the dark corners of my mind for quite some time, and that ended up to me deciding to share them here...


I'm currently doing a film studies course on Bergman. An advanced one, with a lot of lecturers/ professors/ film scholars that I admire and a lot of really fucking smart people in the class, so needless to say I feel like the dumbest person in the room. BUT then I realized the way to overcome that feeling was to use my advanced excellence and knowledge of the horror genre and watch everything connected to Bergman through the filter of "It's a horror movie!"

"Bam" that's the ticket! Self-esteem semi-reinstalled, and back on track. So here we go and some semi-sorta-out of the box ideas that sort of spoil stuff if you've not seen this one before...

Four people at a desolate summerhouse try to come to terms with facts that have lead them, basically, to the end of the road. Patriarch David (Gunnar Björnstrand) is a struggling author back from a long trip to Switzerland, Karin (Harriet Andersson) has just been released from hospital where she's been treated for mental issues [schizophrenia], her husband Martin (Max von Sydow) is a doctor and misses the intimacy of his wife, and her younger brother Minus (Lars Passgård) yearns for his fathers recognition.

Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly, the first of his Fårö films, and commonly pigeonholed as the "[Religious] Trilogy", (religious in the common theme of the silence of God, basically the loss of faith). It was also the second of his films to grab him an Academy Award for best foreign film. As in so many other cases when it comes to Bergman, a dark and brooding piece of film dealing with traditional Bergman themes, those being guilt, remorse, fear of death to name a few, as it tells the story of Karin's spiralling decent into madness... with the nasty twist that she's fully aware of her decaying mental state.  I'm not going to waste your time with the classic interpretations and give account of the themes of Bergman, as that's all already out there in endless writings and texts. Instead I'm going to present you a few ideas from the angle I've chose to watch these films and look at his works from. Because, if you choose to do as I have, and watch his works through the positioning as a horror buff watching a horror film this one is filled with stuff that makes it look, and feel, very much like a "Possession" film...

The obvious first, Possession:  Karin hears voices from the murky attic room, she hears voices in the wall, she talks to them and has a bit of an erotic fidgeting there too. She slips in and out of her mental illness, or possession in this case, through out the film and slowly tries to draw younger brother Minus into that realm too. During the course of the film we learn that Karin's mother, David's wife also died due to a mental sickness similar, if not the same as Karin's, and at the end of the film we kind of come to some sort of insight that even Minus is aware of the two mental realms he finds he's wandered between. The possession is passed on, the entity that has held Karin’s mother in it’s hold, now has Karin in a tight grip.

Sex: In her normal state Karin has no sex drive at all, and despite Martin's fumbling frustrated attempts she's not interested at all... but on the possessed side she's a fierce hellcat. She has that erotic-ish moment in the attic, taunts Minus when she finds his girlie mags and later tries to seduce him - perhaps even having sex with him if you want to break another taboo whilst we're at it. And if so, it's possible that the possession is sexually transmitted, sort of like in It Follows (2014) a few years back, Polanski's Repulsion (1965) is never far from the mind's eye at times either.


The Spider God: If you go into this film with the standing point that I did, you can't watch the climax without feeling that any minute now the stop motion monster is going to shuffle out of the wardrobe in the attic just like the brains in Arthur Crabtree’s stellar sci-fi horror Fiend Without a Face from 1958. EVERYTHING builds up to that moment, and it's a stunning moment in whatever way you chose to watch it. Karin meet's God, and he turns out to be a spider, that we never see, but to Karin it’s certainly there, and to us too, because as horror buffs we’ve seen relentless amount of films that are all bout atmosphere and mood that never really show us anything, yet we sill believe the horror being told. Bergman would elaborate on the Spider God in his next film, Nattvardsgästerna 1963.)

We won't get into metaphors and symbolism as we'd be here for ever, (although I might do that at some point in time) but I do hope that this entertained you and perhaps even made you want to go back and either watch the film for the first time or re-watch it though my chosen perspective, and I hope you'll tag along as I rewatch Bergman as horror.