Nurturing Silence: Solitude and the Films of Ingmar Bergman

“Love art. Of all the lies, it is the least untrue”                – Gustave Flaubert, Novelist

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Stefan Krasowski. Inspiration and movie sets for Ingmar Bergman on the coast of Gotland, Sweden. 2015. Web. Flickr.com. 28 Aug. 2016. 

Despite the warm West Coast weather that is somewhat unseasonable for late August, there is already the familiar crispness of Autumn starting to appear in the morning breeze. There is an unmistakable coolness that always makes me sentimental, reminding of previous lives and old experiences, seasons and seasonable shifts that have been forgotten but blow up again with the leaves.

Winter might be the death knell of Summer for many, the axe that grinds, but it’s always been a season rife with solitude and comfort – one of rain and morning darkness, cooler temperatures and candles, red wine and heavy books. Alongside the comforts of a colder season, there is also movie watching.

Whether it’s Bette Davis getting scorned by the masses for wearing a red dress to the ball (Jezebel) or the classic Bogart Bacall vehicles, there is something about going back to the Golden Age of Hollywood when the world – even if it wasn’t – seemed quieter. There is a source of comfort in the silence that stretches out, and the production values that, back then, weren’t so slick they nearly replicated life.

Though this period gave way to some of the most influential directors in history, there are few that capture silence – the epicness of solitude – like Ingmar Bergman. As one of the most influential filmmakers of all time, having a marked influence on Francis Ford Coppola and Woody Allen, movies like Persona, The Seventh Seal and The Silence explore themes of mortality, illness, death and doubt in a surprisingly unsparing way.

There is a certain trepidation in sitting down to watch a Bergman film because there is nothing that you can hide from. Bereft of unstoppable action or predictable comedy, his films capture the quality of what it means simply to exist, those moments of solitude that – while often occurring without any reverence – make us the most human, and can only be translated through art, music, film and perhaps philosophy, and imperfectly.

As Bergman says, of life and solitude:

“I understand, all right. The hopeless dream of being – not seeming, but being. At every waking moment, alert. The gulf between what you are with others and what you are alone. The vertigo and the constant hunger to be exposed, to be seen through, perhaps even wiped out. Every inflection and every gesture a lie, every smile a grimace…You can shut yourself in. Then you needn’t play any parts or make wrong gestures. Or so you thought. But reality is diabolical. Your hiding place isn’t watertight. Life trickles in from the outside, and you’re forced to react. No one asks if it is true or false, if you’re genuine or just a sham. Such things matter only in the theatre, and hardly there either.”

The commonness of silence and the utility of solitude are things that have gone out of fashion, in film and in life, but there is something very comforting in Bergman’s unique recognition onscreen that parts of the self – however negated or suppressed – exist, those private human moments. While the world formulates reaction to war and gun violence and disparity, there is relief that the undercurrent still exists and is being documented somewhere – that we can still be here to question and contemplate ourselves.

While disconnects between life and ourselves exist, and faithlessness can ensue, such a reality is summed up in Bergman’s Winter Light where the priest Tomas no longer believes in the relevance of God. He goes on, throughout the film, espousing and showcasing his loss of faith, but at the end, as he wonders if he should make a sermon to an empty church, he moves forward to the pulpit, persisting again.

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