2.03.2004

"BRAINS!"--Return of the Living Dead (and other real-life motion pictures)

People have bandied theories about that Americans are anti-intellectual. I'd always figured the theory-bandiers were dismissible as anti-American. But maybe it's true. Or maybe since Americans are humans imported from every continent, all humans distrust the intellect. Does that mean we trust intuition over reason? What could have lead us to such a crux (crutch?)?

Is this why Interstitiality is distrusted? Do we switch on our auto-distrust-pilot because we hear words we don't recognize?

Is this fear of intellectuals tied into a fear of science? and hence, a fear of science fiction? Is that why people truly hate science fiction?

I'd thought of talking about the history of the genre here, but would that be intellectual? (Ironically enough, we can trace the first anti-science sentiment to Jonathan Swift of the Age of Reason although it makes more frequent apparences in the age to follow: E.T.A. Hoffman, Mary Shelley, Nathaniel Hawthorne, et al.)

I never thought of myself as intellectual, but is that only because our society fears intellect? (I wouldn't think so, but...) Are Ingmar Bergman films too intellectual? Oh well.

I just watched Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light, and The Silence--Bergman's trilogy of faith, which traces what happens to society without God (atheists, worry not: the hypothesis is that we have no God to begin with).

By the second viewing, Through a Glass Darkly became my favorite. We have four characters, three of which have their own strong story threads. When the threads intersect, the power emitted is incredible. For instance, the play within a play plays Lars Passgard, son of Bjornstrand, in love with a ghost which is played by his mentally disturbed sister. Lars is in love with his sister outside of the play. But ostensibly Lars is also playing his father, Bjornstrand, a writer who is willing to give up the real world for the glory of living with the ghost of writing. The father does not fail to miss this latter connection, nor do the sister and brother fail to notice their father's reaction. The sister (mentally disturbed, remember but also prescient) represents our last path to God--who turns out to be worse than imagined (yet, which world does she prefer to remain in?). She gives this powerful speech:

LARS: Are all these things real, Karin?

KARIN (Harriet Andersson): I don't know. I don't know. I'm always half between them. I do know that I was very ill, and my illness was like a dream, but these aren't only dreams: They must be part of reality. [urgent whisper] They must be part of reality! ... I find that I wander from one world into the other, and there's nothing I can do to change it.

Winter Light was my least favorite. What surprised me most in this film was how Gunnar Bjornstrand, a man I found attractive in the first film, is suddenly ugly. I don't understand how Ingrid Thulin's character could be attracted to him. Yes, Bjornstrand is manipulative in the first, but he realizes this even by the way he writes in his diary of what he's doing in a negative tone. Here, his pastoral character is just cold. When the working-man character played by Max von Sydow approaches the Bjornstrand pastor for dealing with his fear of China now having nuclear weapons and who may use them, Bjornstrand just talks about his lack of faith to which Sydow responds by shooting himself in the head. Bjornstrand shows no remorse for his complicity--not even comfort to Sydow's widow who now has to care for the (three?) children on her own. (I'm only slightly less troubled by his treatment of his mistress since it's her bitterness toward God that appears to have infected Bjornstrand, yet it too is troublesome that he abandons her because she has eczema). I'm sure this is how I'm supposed to feel toward Bjornstrand, but he could have been played a little more humanly--with or without God.

Initially, The Silence appealed to me most: all the disjointed symbolism and bizarre imagery that actually added up to something. A boy, his mother and aunt travel to a foreign country by train. We see the aunt is sick, coughing up blood. The boy is insatiably curious, poking into everything. He peers out the window and sees a train carrying tank after tank heading in the other direction. Gradually, one begins to wonder where all the men are. They are all in the street, wandering around. Some are in uniform. One drives his belongings in a cart pulled by a disgustingly gaunt horse. Although the aunt is a translator, the women cannot speak the men's languages. The boy, too, at one point, cannot articulate what he feels about his mother leaving him for another man, and a tank pulls up beneath their window. The boy acts out his frustrations in a punch and judy show. When the aunt comforts him, the tank leaves. The issue of incest is more blunt in the first film, but here the issue is more complex--perhaps because it is layered, submerged, and harder to swallow: sister to sister, mother to son. The aunt, like Max Van Sydow in the first film, appears to be the most sympathetic victim, yet why should I feel more sympathy toward the aunt? I suspect it is because in both we have the Fall of the House of Usher, but in the first Sydow's character is outside the house while the aunt is at its epicenter.

Fascinating films. Plenty of interpretations to follow from within and between the films. (i.e. the relationship of father to son--what happens when the father is gone?) If you're not averse to intellectual stimulation, go watch these films. Some think Winter Light is the best, for some reason, so watch it too. I just happen to find the characterization and symbolism dead/static, which is in part the purpose, but I still think they could have been more human and integral, respectively.

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