Reviews & Commentary

Winter Light (1962)

Also known as
Nattvardsgästerna (original)
Ingmar Bergman
Ingmar Bergman
Gunnar Björnstrand, Ingrid Thulin, Max von Sydow

A widowed priest, Thomas (Gunnar Björnstrand), has lost his faith in God. After a sermon, a fisherman, Jonas (Max von Sydow), comes to see him, troubled by his own lack of faith and anxious about the state of the world — he saw a news story saying the Chinese are brought up to hate us, and that they’ll soon have the bomb. Thomas speaks to Jonas and thinks he was able to help, but Jonas shoots himself soon after their conversation. Meanwhile, the local schoolteacher, Märta (Ingrid Thulin), is in love with Thomas, who either is unable to love her back or is at least unable to admit to himself that he loves her.

Winter Light is one of those film’s that gets non-Swedish critics waxing poetic about dark Swedish winters, but I have to say they’ve never depressed me much. Either I’m just perverse, or it’s got a lot more to do with Bergman’s own issues.

Digging once again into the wounds of his strict Lutheran upbringing (his father was a pastor), Bergman has in Winter Light made a bleak, stark film about the agony of God’s silence, and about the inability of people to form connections, to communicate. The priest, Thomas, is an egotistical character, disgusted both by his earlier faith and his present disbelief, by his inability love and by Märta’s love for him. Märta loves Thomas to the point of self-annihilation, almost despite herself. And both are fundamentally unable to connect with each other. In the age of Auschwitz and the atom bomb, there is no comfort to be found in God or love or family — anywhere.

There is something deeply compelling about this bleakness, about the film’s unwillingness to even try to make us like its main character, to give us a shred of hope for him. And there interesting parallels to Through a Glass Darkly: just as Karin’s God became a spider when he exited the door, Thomas’s God became a spider god when confronted with the terror of real life. Unfortunately for Thomas, and for the viewer, he doesn’t even have Karin’s schizophrenia to cling to. The only small glimmer of hope he has is that he somehow let Märta love him, and even that might not be enough.

Written by Kalle on Wednesday July 29, 2009
Permalink - Category: Film - Tags: 1960s, ingmar-bergman

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