Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Silence (Ingmar Bergman, 1963)

Two women, Anna and Ester, accompanied by Johan, Anna's ten-year-old son, travel slowly through the night by train into a foreign country that seems to be at war. We will never discover the reason for their journey, to a place where the inhabitants, the culture, and the language are unknown to them. Perhaps it is to pare down or discard normal trappings of their lives, to take the consequences of who they turn out to be. In The Silence Bergman has shifted focus from God to people, from theology to psychology. But ideas are inert without visual expressions, and it is Bergman's genius to invite us, through extreme close-ups, to enter the mystery of people, of their faces. This preoccupation with faces, what they reveal and what they hide, is enhanced in The SilenceThe unfathomable silence of the city has reduced the adults in the triangle to an almost zero level of communication with the outside world. Every personal connection is oblique and truncated, creating an ominous atmosphere in which gestures and symbols are often fugitive or vaguely menacing. For the young and curious Johan, wandering the corridors of the strangely vacant hotel, the brooding foreign city is merely the shell of an adult world whose impenetrable emotional climate is determined by his mother and aunt. Anna and Ester form two sides of a whole person. Anna is defined almost entirely through her physicality - washing, anointing herself with perfume and lotions, getting dressed and undressed, having sex, watching others have sex. Ester, the translator, with her typewriter, paper, and pens, is instead a creature of languages - suffering from the lung disease that suffocates her, masturbating, smoking, drinking, and thinking of sex as a mechanical matter of "erections and secretions" that disgust her.  Her body in ruin, only words have seem to kept her alive. Amid the noise, music, and silence that layer the soundtrack, Anna and Ester are locked in a cryptic struggle that plays out before Johan's eyes and in his feelings. The lessons of life are to be learned from the lives of women. Although we see many things that he does not, Johan is the spine of the film. It is the movement of his sympathies from his seductive mother to his intellectual, ailing aunt that gives coherence and force to Bergman's meditation on human frailty.

No comments:

Post a Comment