(Winter Light / The Communicants)
Dir: Ingmar Bergman, 1963, 81min.
You know those harrowing genre films where the characters are put through hell and then just get back up to do it all-over again? Well, looking at “Bergman as Horror”, this film is equivalent to those films. Like a soul tearing Groundhog Day, as Ingrid Thulin and Gunnar Björnstrand dance the dance of deconstruction and devastation in Bergman's Nattvardsgästerna, only to get back up, dust off the dirt and go through all the emotions again and again.
Pastor Tomas (Björnstrand) is in crisis as he's come to the insight that he's lost his faith. Schoolteacher Märta (Thulin) is in love with Pastor Thomas who in turn is reluctant to acknowledge her gentle courtship. At the same time that there is an element of affection between the two, there is a vibrant vein of rage and animosity.
In his own words Bergman described this film as "consciously boring", but I honestly find it hard to agree with his description, because even though it certainly is a very low-key piece it's not boring at any point at all because it is like watching two people in an freezing cold ice-hole, desperately trying to keep their heads over the waters surface.
It's a Bergmanesque quality where he showcases the dark demons of regular humans in the turmoil of life, dealing with guilt, loss of faith, rejection and suicide. But also the listlessness of humans in darkness going through the motions and never really making that change that they need to do to break free from their torment.
Pastor Tomas is so absorbed in his selfpity that he can’t grasp Märta’s affection, which is growing sour by the hour. Looking at it from a Horror stand point, it’s all about that loss of faith, the projection of self hate, and being so disillusioned with his own struggle, that Tomas can’t help the suicidal Johan Persson (Max Von Sydow), but more or less drives him to his fatal demise at the wrong end of a shotgun.
They become caught in a pointless loop of tediousness and an emotional tug of war as the power struggle between Tomas and Märta is fought out and shifts positioning over and over again. Tomas asks “My God, Why have thee abandoned me?” It’s sort of Key, because the film is about that struggle, the struggle to receive a sign, to reassure one self that there is something else after this life… but we all know there is only the great void nothingness in the aftermath of death.
The Spider God makes an appearance once again. It’s a depiction of the loss of God that Tomas gives when trying to comfort suicidal Johan Persson. Instead of lying, Tomas tells the truth and reveals that there is no god, there is no after life, there is really no real point to life… and God is a Spider monster, which acts as a trigger for the already doomsday petrified Persson. SO basically when telling the truth, the darkness is replaced by deeper evil. People die and are hurt. Whilst the façade, the charade of everyday life in the small society, is upheld life goes on as it has in the hours before we joined Tomas and Märta, and as it will after we leave them.
Märta's letter to Tomas. One can read shitloads of interpretations about that letter... but nobody ever mentions the fact that Ingrid Thulin breaks the fourth wall, stares us down and never blinks once... That's eerie.
A bleak ambiguous Bergman ending, that for the time it was made, didn’t play by the rules of convention. There’s no romantic wedding at the end, merely a repetitious loop of spiralling slow painful angst-ridden deconstruction set into motion once again.
// OR if you want something more uplifting, Tomas realizes that the loss of his wife and the hatred/self pity that this brought with it has made him loose his faith. Why would his God do this to him? But when he realizes that love is also Märta, he rekindles his love, and though that love he finds meaning to everything, and that meaning allows him to realize that all has been a test of his faith. God has tested him and lead him to Märta. He will go on loving Märta, and they will become a couple and he will continue to preach the world of the Lord, and that’s why he holds a sermon for an empty church at the end of the film. He’s reconnected with his faith. //
But not really… its all dark and devastating… they will keep on pushing and pulling until they end their time…
Actually, whilst watching this I did find myself thinking, this is in many ways the bloody exorcist but without the possessed teenage girl. Keep that in mind when you watch it. It is there. The loss of faith, and the Spider God…