Saturday, February 7, 2009

WINTER LIGHT (Ingmar Bergman, 1962, Sweden) Jona(s) is devoured not by a whale but the creeping spider-god, vomited out upon the banks of a turbulent river, his empty corpse adjacent to the bridge over troubled waters. He is victim to a consuming silence, caught in the web of belief that can only offer obtuse and vacuous explanations, empty words that bring about nuclear fallout, a self-destructive winter of spiritual annihilation. Ingmar Bergman’s film is focused upon Tomas, pastor of a small church whose empty rafters echo hollow with archaic scripture, his small congregation reflecting his bored and apathetic malaise like a flu virus shared during communion. Transubstantiation becomes cannibalism, eating the flesh and blood of a mythic creator, an incestuous penetration that extinguishes humanity to become an automaton spouting inane Holy Writ. Jonas Perssons is the everyman, and he seeks the counsel of his pastor to understand the violent and changing world that hovers on the brink of destruction: but Tomas can only speak of himself, caught in the selfish nexus of angst and regret, and can offer no answer to Jonas…only doubt. Bergman shoots the scene in medium close up, creating a cloistered prison while the clock ticks incessantly towards doomsday. There is no understanding a creator who allows mutilation and murder of its own children, and Tomas begins to discard the ghostly saints that haunt him. He also spurns Märta, a spinster who seeks his affections but her intentions are vague: does she truly love him, or does she relish the status of being a pastor’s wife? She refuses Tomas’s blatant emotional vivisection and accompanies him to Karin’s house where he must impart the suicidal impact of Jonas’s fate. His meaningless offer to share scripture is impractical and pregnant Karin, devastated by the news, must now tell her children. Bergman follows Tomas outside and shoots from his perspective, a voyeuristic glimpse through a glass darkly, and we momentarily hear a child’s mournful cry. Tomas finally arrives back at the church for mass, and though he is reminded of Christ’s suffering alone, he follows his daily routine and begins the faithless service to a nearly empty room. (A+)

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