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The Phantom Carriage (1921)

J.A.A. Purves

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I acquired this after reading Ingmar Bergman's recommendation of it.  Hopefully, most of you will know Sjöström from Wild Strawberries.  He is fantastic here, both in his acting and directing.


- The number of scenes in this film that I recognized, from other films having copied them, are countless.  The influence of The Phantom Carriage on the works of other directors must be quite extensive.

- The rudimentary special effects are quite effective for being as old as they are.  In fact, the ghostly otherwordliness this film portrays is more haunting than countless other versions I've seen of the same sort of thing, done with more costly and more advanced technology.

- It's a very Dickens/A Christmas Carol sort of tale.  The religious and spiritual elements are explicit enough that, if more A&F members eventually see this, I could envision The Phantom Carriage as a strong future candidate for whenever the new and improved Top 100 list is attempted again.  The film obviously blurs the lines between the physical and the spiritual, has a very strong sense of the spiritual world watching and grieving over the physical world and leaves the viewer with strong implications about the spiritual consequences of earthly choices.

- Some parts of the film seem pretty heavy handed in their morals, but then it's not like any of the evils in the film are unrealistic.  Moreover, Sjöström's acting makes anything that his character does believable.  You buy his character, with all its faults and surprises.  He combines a roguish charm with moments of being much more cruel than you would expect him to be.

- The film's atmosphere is pretty compelling and powerful for being as old as it is.  I didn't know that Sweden was making films this good this early.

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  • 5 years later...

I nominated The Phantom Carriage for our Top 100. The original post to this thread touches on many of the reasons I did. I want to comment further on the Bergman connection. They are very evident in every scene of the film, and it is obvious why it was so important to Bergman. Nevertheless, Phantom Carriage reaches nearly the opposite conclusion about humanity that most Bergman films to. The Phantom Carriage seems to contain the belief in the possibility of repentance, whereas Bergman films tend to leave us feeling very pessimistic about anybody's ability to change their lives (I would argue Wild Strawberries is an exception). Even though it's too late for the carriage driver to make any amends, the very concept of the carriage shows that he could have. It is even life affirming without an It's a Wonderful Life-style awakening to the reasons why life can and should be worth living.

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