Category Archives: Bergman

The snakeskin

Artistic creativity has always manifested itself in me as a sort of hunger. I have observed this need in myself with some gratification, but I have never in all my conscious life asked why this hunger should arise and demand to be satisfied. In the last few years, as it has begun to ease off, and been transformed into something else, I have begun to feel it important to try to establish the reason for my ‘artistic activity’.

I remember from very early childhood a need to show what I had achieved; progress in drawing, the ability to bounce a ball against the wall, my first strokes in the water.

I remember feeling a great need to attract the attention of the grown-ups to these manifestations of my presence in the physical world. I never, it seemed to me, excited enough interest in my fellow human beings. And so, when reality no longer sufficed, I began to make things up, regaling my contemporaries with tremendous stories of my secret exploits. These were embarrassing lies, which inevitably foundered on the scepticism of the world around me. In the end I withdrew from fellowship and kept my dreams to myself. A contact-seeking child, beset by fantasies, I was quickly transformed into a hurt, cunning and suspicious daydreamer.

But a daydreamer is not an artist other than in his dreams.

The need to get people to listen, to correspond, to live in the warmth of a fellowship, remained. It became stronger and stronger as the prison walls of loneliness closed around me.

It was fairly obvious that the cinema should be my chosen means of expression. I made myself understood in a language that bypassed words, which I lacked; music, which I have never mastered; and painting, which left me unmoved. Suddenly, I had the possibility of corresponding with the world around me in a language that is literally spoken from soul to soul, in terms that avoid control by the intellect in a manner almost voluptuous.

I threw myself into my medium with all the dammed-up hunger of my childhood and for twenty years, in a sort of rage, I have communicated dreams, sensual experiences, fantasies, outbursts of madness, neuroses, the convulsions of faith, and downright lies. My hunger has been continuously renewed. Money, fame and success have been the astonishing, but basically unimportant, consequences of my advance. By this, I do not wish to discount whatever I may have achieved. I believe it has had, and perhaps still has, its importance. What is so comforting to me is that I can see what has passed in a new and less romantic light. Art as self-satisfaction can have its importance — particularly to the artist himself.

Today the situation is less complicated, less interesting, and above all less glamorous.

Now, to be completely honest, I regard art (and not only the art of the cinema) as lacking importance.

Literature, painting, music, the cinema, the theatre beget and give birth to themselves. New mutations and combinations emerge and are destroyed; seen from the outside, the movement possesses a nervous vitality — the magnificent zeal of artists to project, for themselves and an increasingly distracted public, pictures of a world that no longer asks what they think or believe. On a few preserves artists are punished, art is regarded as dangerous and worth stifling or steering. By and large, however, art is free, shameless, irresponsible and, as I said, the movement is intense, almost feverish; it resembles, it seems to me, a snakeskin full of ants. The snake itself is long since dead, eaten out from within, deprived of its poison; but the skin moves, filled with busy life.

If I now observe that I happen to be one of these ants, then I must ask myself whether there is any reason to pursue the activity further. The answer is yes. Even though I regard the theatre as an old and well-beloved courtesan who has seen better days. Even though I, and many with me, find Westerns more stimulating than Antonioni or Bergman. Even though the new music gives us feelings of suffocation, from the mathematical thinning out of the air; even though painting and sculpture have been sterilized and waste away in paralysing freedom. Even though literature has been transformed into a mere cairn of words, with no message and no danger.

There are poets who never write, because they shape their lives as poems; actors who never perform, but who act out their lives as high drama. There are painters who never paint, because they close their eyes and conjure up the most superb works of art on the back of their eyelids. There are film-makers who live their films and would never abuse their gift by materializing them in reality.

In the same way, I believe that people today can reject the theatre, since they live in the midst of a drama which is constantly exploding in local tragedy. They need no music, since their hearing is bombarded every minute by great hurricanes of sound, in which the pain barrier is both reached and surpassed. They need no poetry, since the new world philosophy has transformed them into creatures of function, bound to interesting — but poetically unusable — problems of metabolism.

Man (as I experience myself and the world around me) has set himself free, fearfully, breathtakingly free. Religion and art are kept alive for sentimental reasons, as a conventional courtesy to the past, or in benevolent concern for the increasingly nervous citizens of leisure.

— Bergman, from an acceptance speech written for the presentation of the Erasmus Prize in Amsterdam, 1965 (tr. Bradfield)


I have not produced a film script in the normal sense. What I have written seems more like the melody line of a piece of music, which I hope with the help of my colleagues to be able to orchestrate during production. On many points I am uncertain and at one point at least I know nothing at all. I discovered that the subject I had chosen was very large and that what I wrote or included in the final film (frightening thought!) was bound to be entirely arbitrary. I therefore invite the imagination of the reader or spectator to dispose freely of the material that I have made available.

— Bergman, preface to the manuscript for Persona

These young directors who are coming up, they’re incredibly skilled. They know how to do the job. But it’s not so often that they really have anything to say.


The hopeless dream of being

The hopeless dream of being – not seeming, but being. At every waking moment, alert. The gulf between what you are with others and what you are alone. The vertigo and the constant hunger to be exposed, to be seen through, perhaps even wiped out. Every inflection and every gesture a lie, every smile a grimace. Suicide? No, too vulgar. But you can refuse to move, refuse to talk, so that you don’t have to lie. You can shut yourself in. Then you needn’t play any parts or make wrong gestures. Or so you thought. But reality is diabolical. Your hiding place isn’t watertight. Life trickles in from the outside, and you’re forced to react. No one asks if it is true or false, if you’re genuine or just a sham.

— Bergman, Persona

Something strange is happening

‘I tell myself I have the ability to love, but it’s all been shut up in a locked room. The life I’ve led has limited my life more and more. And the time has come to change it. The first step is to get a divorce. I think my husband and I hinder each other in some deadly way.’

‘That sounds frightening.’

‘Yes, it’s frightening. Something strange is happening. My senses, sight, hearing, touch are starting to fail me. This table for example, I can see it and touch it. But my feeling is dried-out, shrunken. Do you understand what I mean?’

‘I think I understand.’

‘It’s the same with everything. Music, smells, faces and voices. Everything seems smaller, greyer, without dignity.’

— Bergman, Scenes from a Marriage

The breakdown came on Monday morning

The breakdown came on Monday morning. I was sitting at home in the big room on the first floor, reading a book and listening to music. Ingrid had gone to a meeting with the lawyers. I felt nothing. I was quite collected but somewhat dopey from sleeping pills, which at that time I was not in the habit of using. The music ceased and the tape stopped with a small bang. It was absolutely quiet, the roofs on the opposite side of the street white and the snow falling slowly. I stopped reading. Anyhow, I was finding it hard to take anything in. The light in the room was sharp, with no shadows. A clock struck a few times. Perhaps I was asleep, perhaps I had taken that short step from the accepted reality of the senses into the other reality. I didn’t know and now I was deep down in a motionless vacuum, painless and free of emotions. I closed my eyes. I thought I had closed my eyes, then sensed there was someone in the room and opened my eyes. In the sharp light, a few metres away, I myself was standing looking at myself. The experience was concrete and incontestable. I was standing on the yellow rug looking at myself sitting in the chair. I was sitting in the chair looking at myself standing on the yellow rug. So far, the I who was sitting in the chair was the one in charge of reactions. This was the end, there was no return. I could hear myself wailing. I have once or twice in my life toyed with the idea of committing suicide and at one time in my youth I staged a fumbling attempt, but I have never taken these games seriously. My curiosity has been too great, my love of life too robust and my fear of death too childishly solid. My attitude to life, however, presupposed a proper and continuous control of my relation to reality, imaginings and dreams. When that control did not function – something which had never happened to me before, not even in my early childhood – the machinery exploded and my identity was threatened. I could hear my whining voice. I sounded like an injured dog. I got up out of my chair to leave through the window. What I didn’t know was that Ingrid had come home. Suddenly Sture Helander, my best friend and doctor, was there. An hour later I found myself in KarolinskaHospital psychiatric clinic. I was put by myself into a large room with four other beds in it. A professor doing his rounds spoke kindly to me and I said something about the shame, drawing on my favourite quote about fear manifesting what is feared, petrified by grief. I was given an injection and fell asleep. The three weeks in that ward passed pleasantly. We were a meek collection of drugged zombies following an undemanding daily routine without protest. I was given five blue Valiums a day and two Mogadons at night. If I felt in the slightest uneasy, I went at once to the nurse and was given an extra dose. I slept heavily and dreamlessly at night and dozed off for several hours a day. In between times, with what remained of my professional curiosity I explored my surroundings. I was living behind a screen in my large empty room, mostly reading without registering what I was reading. Meals were taken in a small dining room, the conversation polite, putting one under no obligation. No emotional outbursts were obvious, the only exception being a famous sculptor who became disturbed one evening and almost ground his teeth to pieces. Otherwise I can remember a sad girl who continually felt the need to wash her hands, a gentle six-foot young man who had jaundice and was on Methadone. He was taken once a week to UllerakerMental Hospital where much-discussed research was being carried out. There was also a silent older man who had tried to commit suicide by sawing at his wrists with a handsaw. A middle-aged woman with a stern lovely face was suffering from motor-anxiety and walked in silence for miles and miles through the corridors. In the evening, we assembled in front of the television and watched the World Ice Skating Championships on a ramshackle old black-and-white set with fuzzy pictures and bad sound, but that didn’t matter, nor did it give rise to any comment. Ingrid visited me a couple of times a day and we talked calmly in a friendly way. Sometimes we went to a matinee at the cinema, sometimes Sandrews arranged a showing in their screening room. The young man on Methadone was allowed to come to that. I read no papers, and neither saw nor heard any news programmes. Slowly and imperceptibly, my anxiety disappeared – my life’s most faithful companion, inherited from both my mother and my father, placed in the very centre of my identity, my demon but also my friend spurring me on. Not only the torment, the anguish and the feeling of irreparable humiliation faded, but the driving force of my creativity was also eclipsed and fell away. I imagine I could easily have become a ward case for the rest of my life, as my existence was so woefully pleasant, so undemanding, so lovingly protected. Nothing was either real or urgent any longer, nothing worrying or painful. I moved with caution, all my reactions delayed or non-existent; sexuality ceased, life became an elegy sung by a madrigal choir far inside under some echoing arch, the rose windows glowing and telling fairy tales no longer any concern of mine. One afternoon, I asked the friendly professor if he had ever in his life cured anyone. He thought seriously and replied, ‘Cure is a big word.’ Then he shook his head and smiled encouragingly. Minutes, days and weeks went by. I don’t know what made me break out of this hermetically sealed security. I asked the professor if I could move to Sophiahemmet, on trial. He gave me permission, at the same time warning me insistently not to break off my Valium cure too abruptly. I thanked him for all his kindness, said goodbye to my fellow patients and donated a colour television to our day room. One day at the end of February, I found myself in a quiet comfortable room at Sophiahemmet. The window faced out onto the garden. I could see the yellow parsonage, my childhood home, up there on the hill. Every morning, I walked for an hour in the park, the shadow of an eight-year-old beside me; it was both stimulating and uncanny. Otherwise this was a time of violent torment. In protest against the professor’s instructions, I stopped taking both Valium and Mogadon and the effect was immediate. My suppressed anxiety shot up like the flame of a blowlamp, insomnia was total, my demons raging. I thought I would be torn apart by internal detonations. I started reading the papers, involving myself in all that had happened in my absence, reading kind and unkind letters that had piled up, talking to lawyers and making contact with friends. This was neither bravery nor desperation, but the instinct for self-preservation which, despite or rather thanks to being unconscious at the psychiatric clinic, had had time to collect itself into some resistance. I went on to the attack against the demons with a method that had worked well in previous crises. I divided the day and the night into definite units of time, each of which was filled with activities organized beforehand, alternated with periods of rest. Only by rigidly following my day and night programme could I maintain my sanity against torments so violent that they became interesting. To put it briefly, I returned to planning and staging my life with great care.

– Bergman, The Magic Lantern (tr. J. Tate)

‘Come here, Marie. Come. Look at yourself in the mirror. You’re beautiful. You’re probably more beautiful now than before. But you’ve changed a lot too. I want you to see how you’ve changed. Now your eyes cast quick, calculating side glances. You used to look ahead, straightforwardly, openly, unmasked. Your mouth has taken on an expression of discontent and hunger. It used to be so soft. Your complexion is pale now. You use makeup. Your fine, broad forehead now has four wrinkles above each brow. No, you can’t see it in this light, but you can in broad daylight. Do you know what caused those wrinkles?’
‘Indifference, Marie. And this fine line that runs from ear to chin isn’t as obvious any more. But it’s etched there by your easygoing, indolent ways. And there, by the bridge of your nose. Why do you sneer so often, Marie? You see it? You sneer too often. See, Marie? And look under your eyes. The sharp, scarcely noticeable lines of your impatience and your ennui.’
‘Can you really see all of that in my face?’
‘No, but I feel it when you kiss me.’
‘I think you’re joking with me. I know where you see it.’
‘Really? Where?’
‘You see it in yourself. Because we’re so alike, you and I.’

— Bergman, Cries and Whispers

Good night

‘Marianne. Marianne! Sorry to wake you.’
‘It’s all right. I’ll fall asleep again. What’s wrong? Johan?’
‘I don’t know. I think I’ve got, I don’t know, some fucking anxiety.’
‘Anxiety? What do you mean? Oh I see! You’re sad!’
‘I’m not sad… It’s worse. I’m anxious. It’s bigger than me. It’s trying to make its way through every orifice in my body, my eyes, my skin, my ass. It’s like some massive mental diarrhoea! It’s seeping through everywhere, I’m too small for it.’
‘Are you afraid of death, Johan?’
‘I want to scream more than anything. What can you do with a baby that won’t be comforted?’
‘Come and lie down with me.’
‘There’s no room.’
‘We’ve slept in smaller beds.’
‘We won’t be able to sleep.’
‘It doesn’t matter. Not in the last days of our lives.’
‘I have to take off my shirt. It’s soaked with sweat.’
‘Go on then.’
‘You take yours off too.’
‘All right.’
‘Come on, Johan. Come here. There… lie down.’
‘Good night, Marianne.’
‘Good night.’

— Bergman, Saraband

‘We ought to get away from here’

‘Andreas. We ought to take a trip somewhere. We ought to get away from here. It would do us both good.’
‘I want so much to say yes.’
‘I want to say l’ll ask Elis to lend us the money. At the same time, a wall grows up. I can’t speak or show you I’m happy. I know it’s you, but l can’t reach you. Do you understand?’
‘I understand very well.’
‘I’m outside that wall. I’ve shut myself out. I’ve fled. Now I’m so far away.’
‘I understand. I know how strange it feels.’
‘Yes, it is strange. I want to be warm and tender and alive. I want to make a move. But you know how afraid – ‘
‘It’s like a dream. You want to move but can’t. Your legs and arms are as heavy as lead. You try to talk but can’t.’
‘I’m afraid of humiliation. It’s an everlasting misery. I’ve accepted the humiliations and let them sink into me. Do you understand?’
‘Yes, I understand.’
‘It’s terrible to be a failure. People think they have the right to tell you what to do. Their well-meaning contempt. That brief desire to trample on something living.’
‘You needn’t – ’
‘I’m dead. No, that’s wrong. Melodramatic. I’m not dead at all. But I live without self-respect. I know – it sounds ridiculous, pretentious. Most people have to live without a sense of self-esteem. Humiliated at heart, stifled and spat upon. They’re alive, and that’s all they know. They know of no alternative. Even if they did, they’d never reach out for it. Can one be sick with humiliation? Or is it a disease we’ve all caught? We talk so much about freedom. Isn’t freedom a poison to anyone who is humiliated? Or is that word a drug the humiliated use to be able to endure? I’m past living with this. I’ve given up. Sometimes I can’t stand it any more. The days drag by. I’m choked by food, by the shit I expel, the words I say. The daylight that shouts at me every morning to get up. The sleep which is only dreams that chase me. Or the darkness that rustles with ghosts and memories. Has it ever occurred to you that the worse off people are, the less they complain? In the end, they’re quite silent. They’re living creatures, with nerves, eyes, and hands, vast armies of victims and hangmen. The light that rises and falls heavily. The cold that comes. The darkness. The heat. The smell. They are all quiet… We can never leave here. I don’t believe in moving on. It’s too late. Everything’s too late.’

— Bergman, The Passion of Anna

The first time

Faulkner once said, ‘The stories you tell you never write’. I don’t like to talk about what I’m going to do, because if I start to talk about it… I’m always very surprised and impressed by the directors who [are interviewed and asked], ‘What is it about?’ and then they start to talk for half an hour, and you just have to sit down and look interested! The first day of shooting, of standing in the studio or on the location, and to have to make the first picture, I have the feeling that this is the first time. It’s always the first time. And I’m always making experiments. I always try and try again, try to express things. I’ve been working now for about 30 years. I’ve made 30 or 32 pictures. But every one is the first one.