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Bergman's "Faith Trilogy"

Ingmar Bergman

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#1 Darryl A. Armstrong

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Posted 25 October 2004 - 01:51 PM

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...

#2 Christian

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Posted 25 October 2004 - 03:32 PM

Darryl, I donít have much to add to your thoughts on ďThe Silence,Ē which youíve clearly hashed out much more than I have. I reacted to it almost purely on a visual level; I watched it on my parentsí DVD system, which, I found out, is not at all designed for films with mono soundtracks. The dialogue channel was so thin and soft that I could barely hear the film! I almost turned off the movie, but I figured the film is another language and I could read the subtitles and get the gist of the movie.

Turned out that the film has sparse dialogue. I would argue that it tells its story of isolation (from other people) primarily through the visuals, which are striking. I was mesmerized by the film in a way that I rarely am.

Your thoughts on the religious nature of the film dovetail well with other analyses of the film Iíve read. I wish I had more to say about that particular angle, but Iím afraid that the film didnít move me as an explicit statement about atheism, or even as a faith struggleónot on first viewing. I do plan to watch it again within the coming year, and Iíll follow the themes more closely at that point. But for now, as with the works of Tarkovsky the first time I saw them, Iím overwhelmed by the look of the film (and the pristine Criterion transfer). Anything more was too much to take inóat least it was for me.



#3 SDG

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Posted 25 October 2004 - 03:53 PM

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.

#4 gigi

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Posted 26 October 2004 - 08:38 AM

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.

#5 Darryl A. Armstrong

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Posted 26 October 2004 - 02:24 PM

Christian:

QUOTE
Darryl, I donít have much to add to your thoughts on ďThe Silence,Ē which youíve clearly hashed out much more than I have. I reacted to it almost purely on a visual level...


I have to admit I'm only beginning to truly appreciate film on a purely visual level. I'm usually drawn to stories -- I'll read almost any novel if you put it in front of me or I'll listen to any spoken story no matter how bad the delivery. I'm interested in ideas presented in film, but I usually don't glean them through visual symbols as much as through dialogue or dialogue coupled with visuals.

There are certain films which I think look marvelous visually (Kubrick's 2001, Barry Lyndon and The Shining, Malick's Badlands, Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, etc.), but I couldn't tell you why I think so.

QUOTE
I do plan to watch it again within the coming year, and Iíll follow the themes more closely at that point.


Please share your thoughts when you do!

SDG:

QUOTE
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"?).


I really ought to watch The Seventh Seal again. Have you seen Winter Light or Through a Glass Darkly?

As to whether it should be included as a member of the "Faith Trilogy," I wouldn't want to make any attempt personally to alter the labels of Bergman's canon. I've always understood The Seventh Seal as being seen as a prelude to the "Faith Trilogy."

QUOTE
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.


Wow. Great work, SDG! I'm going to have to take another stab at that film someday too...

gigi:

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


Done.

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#6 MattPage

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Posted 27 October 2004 - 02:56 AM

QUOTE(SDG)
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."

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

Matt

#7 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 26 December 2004 - 05:41 PM

Note to Vancouverites: Through a Glass Darkly (January 29, 31), Winter Light (January 31, February 2) and The Silence (February 2-3) will be playing here as part of the Cinematheque's Bergman retrospective.

#8 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 05 February 2005 - 12:13 AM

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.

#9 Overstreet

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Posted 19 September 2005 - 07:00 PM

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.


#10 Persona

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Posted 20 September 2005 - 11:23 AM

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.

QUOTE(Jeffrey Overstreet @ Sep 19 2005, 07:00 PM)
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.

QUOTE(Jeffrey Overstreet @ Sep 19 2005, 07:00 PM)
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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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 Ė while at the same time, the woman outside waits for them and prays for redemption, showing the need in every sinning character in the story.

-s.

Edited by stef, 20 September 2005 - 11:28 AM.


#11 Sara

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Posted 20 September 2005 - 12:58 PM

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

#12 Thom

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Posted 03 October 2005 - 01:24 PM

I think the ďsilence of GodĒ can be taken in two ways, one of which has been expressed and the other comes in the form of neglect; us not listening. We become too busy wallowing in our misery, or being sidetracked by the world that we drown out the voice of God. Is God silent or are we just not listening? Maybe we simply do not like what we hear and turn away.

It is during these times in oneís life that faith is tested. Faith is exhibited in the moments of not hearing God and yet, knowing, as a learned behavior or a tested theory, that he is here and he is real. We see this portrayed in the end where Tomas once again gets up and delivers the homily. It is as if we are seeing James 1:2-8* acted out right before our eyes, probably in a much more multi-dimensional way than we would normally hear from the pulpit, for in Winter Light we see the human dimension, the struggle to persevere in the moment where it might well be easier to simply quit believing.

Maybe what we have seen is here is a moment of enlightenment; a cathartic experience where one becomes separated from the denominational embryonic fluid of doctrine we so safely and comfortably float in, to exist solely on the nourishment provide by the umbilical cord of faith when the spirit can prepare us to be led down the birth canal into the light of revelation, to be born, yet once more.

Itís interesting that Bergman, a confessed non-believer or agnostic, creates these works of art that tend to confirm the very real relationship with our maker.


* 2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

#13 Thom

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Posted 31 October 2005 - 12:45 PM

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.

#14 Darren H

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Posted 31 October 2005 - 01:51 PM

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?

#15 Sara

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Posted 31 October 2005 - 06:15 PM

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

Something here reminded me a bit of Fellini!

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#16 Thom

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Posted 31 October 2005 - 07:57 PM

QUOTE(Sara @ Oct 31 2005, 06:15 PM)
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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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.

#17 Tyler

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Posted 08 November 2009 - 11:22 PM

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

#18 Darrel Manson

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Posted 08 November 2009 - 11:29 PM

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

#19 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 08 November 2009 - 11:30 PM

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. :)

#20 Tyler

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Posted 09 November 2009 - 08:30 AM

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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