Ingmar Bergman and the cinema of self-evaluation…

ingmarbergman.jpg Ingmar Bergman, a giant of 20th century cinema, died yesterday. He was 89.

That’s the news. But that’s not what we should be talking about today as we enter the “re-evaluation” phase of the Swedish film maker’s distinguished career. I think we must ask a difficult question about Bergman’s films:

In a world that allows people to develop alternate lives in Second Life, The Sims, or even WoW via the Internet, does Bergman’s work still matter?

Trying to show a connection between the films of Ingmar Bergman and Second Life, et. al. might seem a stretch. But it’s not so much his cinematic creations themselves that will affect Bergman’s legacy as it is the subject(s) Bergman explored in his films vis a vis what people look for in “virtual life” games like those mentioned above. For Bergman’s chief subject of study in his most important works is the Self. And what SL and other role play games seem to allow is an exploration of the Self that is not merely passive, as watching Bergman’s examination of the subject would seem to be, but interactive experience that allows one to try out different selves until one finds a Self that satisfies.

Think about the films, however:

The Seventh Seal is, in many ways, analogous to World of Warcraft. One is on a quest, a crusade, even, to – survive. Escaping Death (I capitalize in deference to Bergman) is the primary, indeed the only goal that seems to matter….Successful understanding of the Self is achieved by a heroic act -much as in WoW….

Wild Strawberries has an analogue in The Sims. Isak’s re-experience, re-evaluation, and re-consideration of his life and its meaning ultimately proves as endless – and incomplete – as trying to win while playing The Sims. One can only go on -and on – and on. Only human finiteness is a delimiter….

– The most analogous work to Second Life is Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander. The lives of the main characters of Bergman’s film is, like those of SL residents, a series of transactions, compromises, and escapes. Fanny, and especially Alexander, try their best to “fly” away from troubles only to discover that while they may not get what they want, they might get what they need….

So. Can works like Bergman’s that explore the search for – not so much a “Self that satisfies” as an understanding of the Self one has – retain their power?

Well, we’re grasping for two things at once. Partly for communion with others — that’s the deepest instinct in us. And partly, we’re seeking security. By constant communion with others we hope we shall be able to accept the horrible fact of our total solitude. – Ingmar Bergman

As the above films demonstrate, as do other classics in the Bergman canon – The Silence, Persona, Cries and Whispers, Scenes from a Marriage, and Autumn Sonata – with interactivity, whether that portrayed in the “real world” that Bergman’s films depict or the “Metaverse” of Second Life, what we must ultimately cope with is our existential dilemma. Our inescapable solitude as humans will always be with us, whether we seek to allay it in an MMORPG (massively multi-player on-line role playing game) – or confront it as Bergman does in his films. In fact, Bergman might have said this about virtual life games instead of about his work as an artist:

Thus we finally gather in one large pen, where we stand and bleat about our loneliness without listening to each other and without realizing that we are smothering each other to death. The individualists stare into each other’s eyes and yet deny the existence of each other. – Ingmar Bergman

In a world where people use avatars as a way of representing Selves they wish they were, maybe Bergman’s films will matter because they provide reminders of how hard it is simply to be ourselves.

Or maybe not…as Bergman himself would admit, the only thing we’re guaranteed is a date with Death:

When I was young, I was extremely scared of dying, but now I think it a very, very wise arrangement. It’s like a light that is extinguished. Not very much to make a fuss about. – Ingmar Bergman

3 replies »

  1. Two things.

    First, you write: In a world where people use avatars as a way of representing Selves they wish they were…

    What are you trying to say?

    Second, how much does it matter that Bergman’s project was so expressly intellectual, while social media venues like 2L are usually anything but?

  2. Thing 1) I think you’re being a little facetious. You know as well as I, Sam, that people’s avatars are often about who people would like to be, not who they think they are….

    Thing 2) I’d respond that Bergman’s work works at deep emotional levels for most viewers as well as at intellectual ones. He uses the mind to get at the heart…I can’t speak for SL’s intellectuality, but I suspect one could do some serious intellectualizing on the psycho-social issues that arise in SL interactions….

  3. Re Thing 1) :

    I would like to be a dolphin so I guess Jim knows what he is talking about. 🙂

    Otherwise avatars (for me) are about what I like or am a fan of. 🙂