Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Back to Bergman

The supernatural is not uncommon in Bergman's cinematic universe; old Ingmar tends toward the Jungian, and ghosts and prescience and small synchronicities occur in several of his works. Typically, however, these spectral events are tied to a specific character manifesting internal psychic contents experienced visually only because we're limited to that character's POV. I'm thinking as an example of the drowned sisters who vomit bile on young Alexander, imprisoned in the attic in Fanny and Alexander. The ghosts are real to that child enduring unimaginable punishments, but are they actual supernatural manifestations? Likely not. Alexander's father's ghost also seems quite real, but again he appears to no one else in the film--Hamlet of course is a major theme. These "ghosts" are externalized psychic contents more than actual entities.

In Hour of the Wolf, however, the ghosts are not only visible to Johan (Max von Sydow), but to his wife Alma (Liv Ullman). So this is an actual "horror" movie, featuring actual ghosts on a haunted island. The ghosts certainly are tied symbolically to Johan's state of mind, the state of his art, and his failures and sins, but they manifest aggressively and physically, and at least one appears to Alma outside Johan's influence, giving her information that must come through parapsychology (though a Turn of the Screw altnerate interpretation is possible, because Johan shows Alma sketches of his tormentors before she sees one). Alma mentions that old couples living together for a long time begin to resemble each other, and perhaps they start to think the same thoughts as well. In other words, his ghosts become their ghosts, and the results as in all Bergman films are awful.

There's the typical disintegrating marriage, the misery of an artist incapable of expressing what he's driven to, and a slow decent into madness. None of this is unusual in a Bergman film. But the apparitions are extremely disturbing--one of a small child who attacks Johan truly freaked me out!--and the effects are what one would expect from an auteur of unparalleled skill. Ullman, von Sydow, and Erland Josephson are excellent as usual, and the DVD features some great extras, including a documentary about the film and interviews with Ullman and Josephson from 2002. This is not a Bergman "must-see," but if you're a fan and interested in his body of work I recommend The Hour of the Wolf; Ingmar rarely made "genre" pieces, and he pleased this horror fan just fine.

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