Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Silence (Ingmar Bergman)


Not fortunate enough to have a copy of Bergman's "Winter Light", I immediately jumped into this aptly-titled film of his that's also the final film in his "Silence of God" trilogy. If "Through a Glass Darkly" is a religiously probing yet spiritually reassuring film, "The Silence", in a way, is its brooding half-brother. Expecting something reflectively eloquent, "The Silence" has instead caught me off-guard with its coldness. With minimal dialogue and the recurring sound of a ticking clock, this film may just be Ingmar Bergman's most emotionally distant and alienating film. 

With a plot that's very elliptical in nature and with characters that seem to act in vague, incomprehensible ways, it's a film that's quite difficult to grasp and be emotionally involved in. Yet strangely, its dark sexual spell, devastating performances (specifically by Ingrid Thulin) and Bergman's maestro-like handling of the profound landscapes of the human face makes "The Silence" a masterful mood piece that's definitely hard not to admire. 

The story, forged in simplicity, is about two sisters, Anna (Gunnel Lindblom) and Ester (Ingrid Thulin), and their complex relationship that teeters between affection and downright contempt. In the middle is Anna's son Johan (Jörgen Lindström), whose naivety makes him the perfect observer in the film. 

Compared to "Through a Glass Darkly", "The Silence's" spiritual and religious allusions are more inconspicuous, which makes it even harder to absorb and analyze on the basis of the trilogy's theme that is God's silence. 

With Bergman being a filmmaker that's more artistically inclined in capturing his actors' performances on silent, relatively empty locations, "The Silence" is a genuine challenge for him and cinematographer Sven Nykvist because they are compelled to shoot numerous scenes in busy street corners. But as expected, the film still came out to be visually stunning. 

Setting-wise, "The Silence" is primarily split into three locations: the hotel room where the three characters are currently staying at, the finely-carpeted hotel corridors and the streets. Tricky as it may seem to be, Bergman was able to convey the personalities of Anna, Ester and Johan by placing them in specific locations that reflect them as characters. 

Anna, the confused younger sister, is placed mainly on the busy streets to highlight her passively carefree attitude. Ester, the ill, emotionally tormented older sister, is perennially situated within the hotel room to emphasize her physical and emotional limitations. Johan, on the other hand, is constantly placed on the corridors to underline the fact that he is in the 'middle' of it all. Notice how he was never shown roaming the streets along with her mother. Look at how every time Anna is inside the hotel room with Ester and Johan, tension ensues. Despite of their familial ties, Bergman may have been suggesting that God seems to have given the three of them their respective planes of existence (the hotel room, the corridors and the streets) so that balance can be observed. But by integrating the concept of 'God is love' that's also present in "Through a Glass Darkly", Bergman complicates things again. 

In one key scene, he has suggestively shown that Ester is 'romantically' invested to her sister Anna. Clearly, her love for her younger sister transcends sibling affection. This therefore distorts things even more and again, the question of whether or not god and love being one and the same is truly a positive thing enters the scene. 

If God is love and love is what Ester is feeling towards Anna, then why is the former still under pain and suffering? If God embodies love, then why is it that the relationship between Ester and Anna angst-ridden, ambiguous and confused? Where is the guiding light? 

Amid all of these questions, Bergman's thematic God merely looks at the ultimate unraveling in deep silence. Perhaps Ester's love is invalid and wrong. Well, if that is the case, then God, as far as "The Silence" is concerned, is not really love in every sense of the word. The film seems to suggest that, to be more exact, it should not be 'God is love' but 'God is love...with some exceptions'. 

Arguably, Bergman is at his most emotionally nihilistic in this film. He took the concept of 'God is love' and smashed it right in front of us like some useless ornamental vase. "The Silence" is that shard in the shattered mess that cuts so deep it leaves quite a beautiful scar.


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