Bergman's "Faith Trilogy"


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Alan's thread in the Movies in Ministry section about Bergman's films reminded me that I wanted to post a thread on Bergman's The Silence. Since it's considered the third and final film of his "Faith Trilogy," I'll leave the thread open to include discussion of the other two, Through a Glass Darkly and Winter Light.

Please note: This thread will include spoilers1.gif.

After watching The Silence I read a handful of reviews but I found none that even mentioned my interpretation of the film. Maybe I'm looking at it all wrong, maybe everyone else missed what I saw or maybe I just didn't read the right reviews. In any case, I found this film to be the best movie I've ever seen dealing with the frustration of having to live our lives in the apparent silence of God.

Most of the reviews I read dealt with the interaction between the two sisters and the son, and they all made interesting points about those relationships. However, I found no mention of the palpable namesake of the film -- the silence of God. Throughout the film, the three main characters interact with metaphorical images of our perception of God -- and in all these instances, He is silent.

First, the boy runs into a repairman who fixes a light in silence. Then we meet the old man who works at (runs?) the hotel. While he is not silent, he speaks a different language and any sort of communication is severly limited. There are the dwarves, chaotic and random and who speak gibberish. There is the man who is the lover, who is physical but silent. There is the tank that rolls through the streets. It is vengeful, menacing and, of course, silent.

While the interaction between the two sisters can be seen as two sides of the same coin -- or the same person (the side that feels opposed to the side that reasons) -- and even the child then as a symbol of the "inner child," I think these characters also demonstrate how we try to interact not only with each other, but with God. The sister who winds up with the lover wants a physical manifestation of God's presence. However, even in the midst of passion, she is left in silence. The other dying sister is content to interact with a God she cannot quite understand or comprhend, but she recognizes the beauty of his creation (such as when her and the old man share the joy of listening to the music) and is content to see God working in the mundane, small instances in life. The child sees God in all these forms, all of them silent, and all of them, I think, inacurate human perceptions of God.

I think the film actually ends with a bit of hope. The child reads the bit of paper given to him by the dying sister -- he will continue his search to find, to hear God...

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Darryl, I don

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Without having seen The Silence, I can say that the silence of God is definitely the theme of The Seventh Seal (which should perhaps be considered the honorary fourth film of the "Faith Trilogy"?). The title The Seventh Seal is an allusion to Revelation 8:1: "When he broke open the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour." And of course the film is all about Antonius Block thrashing about in the darkness in which God seems not to be found: "I cry out to him in the dark, but sometimes it seems as if there is no one there."

Incidentally, I noted some comparisons and contrasts between The Seventh Seal and Andrei Rublev in my long-contemplated, long-deferred review of that film, just published within the last day or so. It's one of the most daunting things I've ever tried to write.

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Don't mean to be a stickler, but some spoilers would be appreciated here...

Looks like a really interesting post so shall watch the film before I read any further and hopefully contribute at a later date.

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Christian:

Darryl, I don

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Without having seen The Silence, I can say that the silence of God is definitely the theme of The Seventh Seal (which should perhaps be considered the honorary fourth film of the "Faith Trilogy"?). The title The Seventh Seal is an allusion to Revelation 8:1: "When he broke open the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour." And of course the film is all about Antonius Block thrashing about in the darkness in which God seems not to be found: "I cry out to him in the dark, but sometimes it seems as if there is no one there."

Ah nice observation - the film opens quoting Rev 8v1 as well - how come I missed that?

Matt

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Link to the thread on Alan's class, where discussion of the 'Faith Trilogy' has renewed.

FWIW, I caught Through a Glass Darkly for the first time in YEARS last Monday, and it was like watching the film for the first time ever. I had forgotten so much about the film, including the way the closing scenes offer a glimpse of hope, but it's the sort of hope a person has when he's been fumbling around in a room with no light but is convinced that there MUST be a light switch around here SOMEwhere.

Alas, I missed my chance to see the other two installments of the 'Faith Trilogy' again. That's what happens when you juggle work, a wedding, and a move to a new home, I guess.

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FWIW, I'm late to this party, but I just watched "Winter Light," and "the silence of God" is THAT film's theme, loud and clear, too. It practically wears that phrase on its forehead.

The film is about a pastor who is furious about God's silence, and who in turn is silent toward an atheist woman who obsessively loves him and wants to marry him.

I became interested in exploring whether or not his silence toward her was a deliberate act of cruelty on his part, a way of lashing out at God for his own fruitless pursuit of God. It could be.

Or, it could be that he is oblivious to the parallel, and thus the film is darkly ironic, showing us that we are confounded by God's silence, and yet we deliver even more cruel silences upon others.

In the end, he too presses on with his leadership in the church, even though he has received no sign of God's love.

But again, I wonder about his blindness, because he is groaning over the loss of his wife, and bitter about God's silence, when at that very moment there's a woman who dearly loves him offering herself to him... like a sign of God's grace... and all he can do is write her off as "a bitter parody."

Many may interpret this film as being, ultimately, a tirade against the silence of God. But I think it's a far more scathing indictment of the blindness and obstinance of human beings. Perhaps the most caustic line in the film comes when the atheist woman berates the pastor for his utter "indifference toward Jesus Christ."

A chilling film of distilled inquiry and agony.

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I've been watching more Bergman as of late and have been enjoying his work immensely. Last month it was Autumn Sonata, a few weeks ago it was Winter Light, and last night it was Shame.

Of the three, Shame is the greater work, especially in terms of actual film set, production and design. The acting is wonderful, dour as it must be. Bergman is engulfed in the atrocity of war. He especially shows its affects on the male human psyche -- how it changes one from a cultured sophisticate to an unaffected brute. This is the "shame" the title speaks to -- that shame itself is stripped away from us in war. When we are confronted with only our final drive for survival, all other codes of conduct strip away. Shame is a sort of precursor to Time of the Wolf in that the same kind of sociological themes are brought out, but in Shame the message is more direct.

I found it interesting that I didn't fully understand who the enemy was supposed to be, but that the project was filmed in the late 60s during both the Cold War and Viet Nam. I am sure it spoke about both "wars" without mentioning either of them by name.

I thought it was an incredibly artistic work, one which I hope to return to soon.

Winter Light was a bit harder for me to stay involved with, but rewarding all the same. Is there place in the Christian body for leaders caught up in doubt? How do we deal with a Pastor when his faith is failing him, but his job in ministry is what keeps his food on the table? In my position in church work I've gone through moments of questioning exacly like the kind in this story.

But again, I wonder about his blindness, because he is groaning over the loss of his wife, and bitter about God's silence, when at that very moment there's a woman who dearly loves him offering herself to him... like a sign of God's grace... and all he can do is write her off as "a bitter parody."
Considering that he has no love in his heart for her, maybe the parody is in regard to those who do not recognize the face of love, and choose to not love in return. This would be a tough spiritual metaphor though, as human love seems to require some deal of initial physical attraction, and spiritual love is supposed to be separated from the physical realm.

Many may interpret this film as being, ultimately, a tirade against the silence of God. But I think it's a far more scathing indictment of the blindness and obstinance of human beings. Perhaps the most caustic line in the film comes when the atheist woman berates the pastor for his utter "indifference toward Jesus Christ."

A chilling film of distilled inquiry and agony.

It also seems to be showing us that some people have faith in God whether their circumstances or feelings help them or not. Consider the fellow at the end of the film, the one who asks the minister about the suffering of Christ. This man, a hunchback, looked at the world unquestioningly, seeing the hand of The Creator in everything . He was an amazing person to look at in light of the bitter minister who could not accept the loss of a loved one. It is rather remarkable to compare the two opposite characters sitting next to each other in the back office of the parish. Their conversation is a display of two altering human views Edited by stef

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Winter Light's Tomas' experience of the Silence of God (and Bergman's) is something I can relate to.

There is redemption in the ending when the cripple sexton pointed out to Tomas that his feeling of emptiness and spiritual suffering was somehow a mystical sharing in Christ's dreadful spiritual suffering during his Passion when He experiences the silence of His Father.

Sometimes in moments of feeling abandoned by God, we become closer to Christ who cried out: "My God. My God. Why hast thou forsaken me?"

That's Grace.

Sara

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I think the

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I have now tried to get through The Silence three separate times, each time from the beginning. It has become a quest of audience determination to muscle through it, hoping for the payoff after watching the complete movie.

I just can't get through the whole thing, so far I have watched 45 minutes. I am not pulled in at all. I force myself because I love Bergman and this is the only film by him that has posed such a problem.

It seems I will need to step beyond the characters in this one because, it appears that, Bergman has brought all of their struggles to the surface, almost removing the need to create more of a human dimension. There seems to be an immediate need to see what creates the separation, the silence, from God.

So far, I see three people with no commonly shared mores. Is it me, or are we supposed to believe that Johan's mother is having some kind of intimately, sensual experience with him in the other room, after her bath?

I may try this yet again tonight but it is due back today and I have a paper to write.

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Try watching it as a horror film. To me, The Silence feels closer in spirit to Hour of the Wolf than to the other films of the faith trilogy -- its use of uncanny (in the Freudian sense) imagery, in particular. I haven't spent nearly as much time thinking about The Silence as the others, but I wonder if it is, in some way, a realization of Bergman's existential nightmare. I mean, once you've turned God into a spider, as he did at the end of Through a Glass Darkly, what kind of world are you left with?

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What did you make of the little short people, more like clowns?

Something here reminded me a bit of Fellini!

Sara

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What did you make of the little short people, more like clowns?

Something here reminded me a bit of Fellini!

Sara

I thought it was interesting to note that they dressed him up as a girl. There must be some kind of significance to that, as well as, the fact that he appeared to be urinating in the hallway after the encounter.

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I watched The Seventh Sign tonight. My impression of it kept coming back to "Lars Von Trier directing Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

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You mean The Seventh Seal? If so, Say What?

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tyler1984 wrote:

: I watched The Seventh Sign tonight.

I'm guessing you mean The Seventh Seal. The Seventh Seal is an Ingmar Bergman movie (and not one of the "faith trilogy", for what it's worth). The Seventh Sign is a late-'80s end-times movie starring Demi Moore. :)

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tyler1984 wrote:

: I watched The Seventh Sign tonight.

I'm guessing you mean The Seventh Seal. The Seventh Seal is an Ingmar Bergman movie (and not one of the "faith trilogy", for what it's worth). The Seventh Sign is a late-'80s end-times movie starring Demi Moore. :)

Oh yeah, that's right.

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Stangely, somehow I now own this trilogy.

Must. Revisit.

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The Criterion set, which also has Vilgot Sjöman's documentary called Ingmar Bergman Makes A Film, says:

In 1963 Ingmar Bergman published the screenplays for Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light, and The Silence in a single volume under the title En filmtrilogi (A Film Trilogy). In an introductory note, the director gave his reasons for uniting the three films, a rationale that has influenced their reception over the past forty years. Bergman wrote:

"These three films deal with reduction. Through a Glass Darkly -- conquered certainty. Winter Light -- penetrated certainty. The Silence -- God's silence -- the negative imprint. Therefore, they constitute a trilogy."

And I guess some critics responded with skepticism over whether it was really a trilogy, since Bergman seems to have first stumbled upon the idea sometime during the second movie's filming, and pronounced it well after the release of the third film.

I don't know when "Faith Trilogy" became a term. I still like it though! :)

I am presently half way into Through A Glass Darkly, and I'm loving it. I just took a break and I'm going straight back for the ending. I'm well caught up in it. Great stuff.

Can't wait to seek out all the extras on these discs as well.

Edited by Persona

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KJV 1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these [is] charity.

NIV 1 Corinthians 13:12-13 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

The idea of looking at God, the madness of looking at and for God, resonates in Through a Glass Darkly. Like Johannes in Ordet there is a (presumed) insane, faith-filled character, and while we hope for her faith in God to bring reward, we doubt anything good can come of it. Does the cry of the unstable one fall on deaf ears, or does it pierce God's loving heart even more?

And what would happen if our concept of God was not what we once thought? In fact, wouldn't we be terrified to know that the Higher Power we believed in was actually the opposite of our thoughts about him?

Bergman, never outgrowing his huge, political PK status, hasn't failed me yet. He can run, but he doesn't even want to hide. He wants to wrestle. Here, in the first of the trilogy, he is Jacob with an angel on his back. What is my name? What is my identity? Who is my God? What is He like? Is He like what I once thought? Is He bigger than I've known? Is He bigger than my codes and the religion that describes Him?

Whatever He is, He is certainly bigger than me. If there's even a chance that this force has a love for me, in all my weakness and foibles and insanity, in my stupidity and lust and clinging to darkness and disgrace -- if there's even the remote possibility that this is a force of love for me, then I must search Him out. I've got to find out more! There may be a plan here after all.

I don't know if that was my reaction, or my interpretation of Ingmar's reaction. Regardless, these are just a few quick quips at the end of this first amazing film in the trilogy. I plan to (re)visit the second film, Winter Light, tonight.

One more thing: Harriet Anderson, who stars as Karin and would later hold her own in other great works like Cries and Whispers, Fanny and Alexander and Dogville, is simply stunning in this role. When you can upstage Max von Sydow, and not even mean to, you know you have an accomplishment.

Edited by Persona

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I just read through this thread again. What a trip down memory lane!

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Just to keep things organized and to help myself in the future, here are links as originally posted by PTC, to Ingmar Bergman's other A&F threads:

Faith Trilogy (1961-1963),

Persona (1966),

Cries and Whispers (1972),

Scenes from a Marriage (1973),

Fanny & Alexander (1983).

Peter mentions an abundance of other Bergman related threads Here.

Having completed the trilogy earlier this week, I wanted to record a few thoughts.

The trilogy not only talks about the silence of God, but also about communication with God or the lack thereof, and of the disappointment in the lack of an answer from God, or even, as in The Silence -- much like Antichrist -- what a world without an understanding of God would be like.

These scandinavians seem to enjoy exploring this "God-less" theme. I wonder how many were influenced by Dreyer's Ordet. Like that masterpiece, here in the Faith Trilogy, one person in each segment is struggling with a mental disorder. In Through a Glass Darkly: schizophrenia. In Winter Light: Depression, anxiety, and impulse control leading to suicidal thought. In The Silence: a dying alcoholic, although this one is a bit more questionable. You're not exactly sure whether she is an alcoholic or not, but she certainly has sprees. The spree could be interpreted as her reaction to the boredom of their trip, the desperation she feels at her physical disease (once again the disease isn't explicitly named), or her anger toward her sister's self-indulgent attitude.

My reaction is that the trilogy as a whole declines as it goes. Although Winter Light comes in at #14 on the A&F Top 100, it is more well known than Through a Glass Darkly, and perhaps that's why it makes our list. However, there are no comments there to support it, so it's hard to say who found it worthy of inclusion or why. I guess the subject matter of a doubt-filled minister trying to come to terms with his wife's death is somewhat self-explanatory for such a list, and I have no qualms admitting my own hypocrisy, as I know I probably voted for its inclusion...

I do find lots to chew on in Winter Light. It so often addresses disappointment with God (to quote Yancy). We have the choice in such disappointment of either wallowing in self pity and creating tension and grief around us, or trying to find peace even amidst the pain of it. The minister and his mistress are both in varying degrees of such spiritual and emotional pain, and there's a cutting scene toward the end in which they completely devestate each other, thus making each other's hardship all the worse.

Winter Light also addresses the question of whether or not there is a will to live outside of belief in your Creator. It suggests in a way, and not just with the suicidal character, but with at least two other main characters (the minister and his mistress) that once you have lost your will to believe, once disappointment has turned into doubt, what is left is despair, and perhaps after that only the will to live in a dying state.

There's nothing revelatory here, but it is a good story of how different people deal with this "dark night of the soul," which is enhanced as the frozen chill of Swedish winter. I don't think it has the depth of Through a Glass Darkly, and it is certainly not as interesting to watch (the opening ten minute communion service is nearly unbearable, almost impossible in this day and age not to hit the FF button on your remote). But before I come off too harshly, I should note that there are powerful, mesmerizing performances in Winter Light, and that Sven Nykvist wonderfully captures Bergman's transition from his 50s "expressionist" films like Wild Strawberries and The Seventh Seal to this more minimalist kind of story-telling.

I just feel that the first film is the best, and that the second film is merely good. :)

(FWIW, The Seventh Seal is in front of Winter Light at #12, Wild Strawberries then comes in at #32, Offret at #35, Cries and Whispers at #69. Bergman is well represented on the list. In my thinking, deservedly so. I still struggle with the phrase "spiritual" and I disagree with the exclusion of some Bergman films to the inclusion of others, but I love the fact that he's well represented.)

Maybe I missed something in The Silence -- I doubt it but I'm willing to be taught. There are those who think it is the best in the Faith Trilogy:

Through a Glass Darkly has a 7.9 imdb rating with 4,893 votes.

Winter Light has a 7.7 imdb rating with 4,691 votes.

The Silence has a 8.0 imdb rating with 4,217 votes. (I just don't get it.)

I'm pretty much in full agreement with Thom (Asher) above. The Silence is a hard one to make it through. And there really is no payoff... Well, OK -- it may have one payoff. It was a good warm-up act to Bergman's similar, but far superior, Persona.

But some of it was just silly, even if it was "art" and Bergman was attempting to inject this picture with a God-shaped hole. I mean, it had dancing midgets, for crying out loud, in a circus where people in the audience had sex. It was a nice sex scene, but it helped me to lose interest rather than gain interest in the film itself, and things just kind of slid more and more out of interest from there. My mind began to wander. I finished it, but until I'm taught why it was the best of the three, I don't feel any better for having done so.

The fourth DVD in the Criterion set is the Vilgot Sjöman documentary Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie, in which Sjöman is on set from the beginning of Winter Light all the way through the filming and into post-production. There are lots of interviews with both Bergman and Nykvist in the process. I'm looking forward to seeing this one tonight.

Edited by Persona

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