This Playboy interview with Ingmar Bergman really sheds light on the man. Here's an excerpt:
BERGMAN: ...You know, I used to think that compromise in life, as in art, was unthinkable, that the worst thing a man could do was make compromises. But of course I did make compromises. We all do. We have to. We couldn't live otherwise. But for a long time I wouldn't admit to myself - although, of course, at the same time I knew it - that I, too, was a man who compromised. I thought I could be above it all. I have learned that I can't. I have learned that what matters, really, is being alive. You're alive; you can't stand dead or half-dead people, can you? To me, what counts is being able to feel. That's what Winter Light - the film of mine that people seem to understand least - is trying to say. Now that you've been in Stockholm in midwinter for a few days, I think you can begin to understand, a little, what this film is about. What do you make of it?
PLAYBOY: We're more interested in learning what you make of it.
BERGMAN: Well, it was a difficult film, one of the hardest I've made so far. The audience has to work. It's a progression from Through a Glass Darkly, and it in turn is carried forward to The Silence. The three stand together. My basic concern in making them was to dramatize the all-importance of communication, of the capacity for feeling. They are not concerned - as many critics have theorized - with God or His absence, but with the saving force of love. Most of the people in these three films are dead, completely dead. They don't know how to love or to feel any emotions. They are lost because they can't reach anyone outside of themselves.
The man in Winter Light, the pastor, is nothing. He's nearly dead, you understand. He's almost completely cut off from everyone. The central character is the woman. She doesn't believe in God, but she has strength; it's the women who are strong. She can love. She can save with her love. Her problem is that she doesn't know how to express this love. She's ugly, clumsy. She smothers him, and he hates her for it and for her ugliness. But she finally learns how to love. Only at the end, when they're in the empty church for the three o'clock service that has become perfectly meaningless for him, her prayer in a sense is answered: he responds to her love by going on with the service in that empty country church. It's his own first step toward feeling, toward learning how to love. We're saved not by God, but by love. That's the most we can hope for.
PLAYBOY: How is this theme carried out in the other two films of the trilogy?
BERGMAN: Each film, you see, has its moment of contact, of human communication: the line "Father spoke to me," at the end of Through a Glass Darkly; the pastor conducting the service in the empty church for Marta at the end of Winter Light; the little boy reading Ester's letter on the train at the end of The Silence. A tiny moment in each film but the crucial one. What matters most of all in life is being able to make that contact with another human. Otherwise you are dead, like so many people today are dead. But if you can take that first step toward communication, toward understanding, toward love, then no matter how difficult the future may be - and have no illusions, even with all the love in the world, living can be hellishly difficult - then you are saved. This is all that really matters, isn't it?
I'll go with thee to the lane's end... I am a kind of burr, I shall stick. Shakespeare, Measure for Measure
I write not to teach but to learn. Rebecca West
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- "The Accomplished Birder's Guide to Overcoming Rejection," Last Drink Bird Head, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer
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