Sunday, December 9, 2018

THE SILENCE (Ingmar Bergman, 1963, Sweden)

Johan walks amid the silence of a labyrinthine hotel, a way station of death and war, as a spiritual apocalypse rages between his mother Anna and his aunt. Here in convolutions of this nameless city, in the dark alleys and crowded iniquitous bars, Anna fulfills her physical desires, slave to this primal urge, while her sister Ester suffocates slowly from some dreaded disease, bedridden and lonely, translating foreign prose into understandable text. Johan haunts the hotel’s maze, distant and distracted, longing for a mother’s love, encountering strange characters but always separated from their barbed-wire boundary of language: like an imaginary god’s obtuse scripture, a burning bush whose conflagration consumes the human essence.

Director Ingmar Bergman dissects the soul in this triptych of understanding: Anna represents the physical instinct, full of beautiful life, grasping this desperate instinct which may disappear in an atomic flash; Ester courts Death, her sexual urges unfulfilled, fearing the loss of her intellect and becoming something less than human; while young Johan is the innocent and mischievous child, in need of affection and attention. Anna and Ester stare mostly out of windows, observing the world at a distance unable to cross this translucent borderland: like germs trapped under a glass slide… or maybe they are the ones being measured and observed. Anna rides her guilt trip on her back and from behind, and condemns her sister’s judgment in a penetrating ecstasy of delight. She then abandons Ester to this foreign place and takes Johan back home, on a long train ride through the rain drenched night. She opens the compartment window and becomes soaked, her memories and self lost like tears in rain. But Johan has one last parting gift from Ester: a note written in a foreign language. He holds it dearly because he loves his aunt: is there some sacrosanct message or only the whispering gibberish of an inscrutable deity?

Final Grade: (A)

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