Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Faith and Imprisonment, Part 1

In a few weeks, I will begin a Mythological Studies Masters program. My goal - besides immersion in myth and story - is to understand how myth is used in our society in film and literature. Even more important is to then explore how mythic underpinnings in our art and culture help explain our politics and history while foreshadowing our future. Myth is the stories of our lives, and our lives are the stories of the world. Big ideas to get a grip on and sometimes the wonder is in whether it even makes sense to try.

Timing is everything though, and sometimes parts of the whole crystallize out of nothing. Imprisonment has been a theme running through texts I have recently been reading and watching. I will explore that in my next post, but first I want to explore some films that have served as an underlayment to my thoughts as I was thrust into these Imprisonment texts.

I began watching the Ingmar Bergman Faith Trilogy recently, consisting of the following films: "Through A Glass Darkly", "Winter Light" and "The Silence". Though known as the Faith trilogy, each one revolved around the theme of imprisonment. Bergman explores the effects, and reasons for imprisonment, whether it is just or not, and the effect it has on people's faith (in many things). The images, themes and stories have been simmering in my unconscious for weeks as the films are truly complex works of cinematic art.

The most distinctive part of these films is the cinematography of Sven Nykvist, as the black and white (and gray) imagery shimmers in the light of the filmed worlds. Just like the shading of the filmed light, the theme of Faith is not always explicit. Implicitly, faith seems to be tied to trust and family in these films, but not always with pleasant results.

"Through a Glass Darkly" depicts a small family's struggle to come to terms with a woman's ongoing insanity. The father, husband and brother all seem to have lost faith that anything can be done to actually prevent the woman's illness.

"The Silence" explores the relationship between two sisters, the older one who is dying and the younger that wants to escape from under her dominance. The eldest has lost faith in the younger, who resents having to tend to her and acts out in a destructive manner. Complicating the situation is the small son of the younger daughter - he cannot comprehend what is happening with his mother and tries to comfort his aunt as best he can. As the eldest is dying, alone in a hotel room, the boy is the only one who even thinks about her.

Only "Winter Light" explicitly discusses faith as Faith. A priest's lack of faith in his god spreads to the people of his church, who begin to stay away from him. He is imprisoned by his role as pastor of a congregation and as his belief leaves him he becomes unable to help anyone else believe. When this leads to a father's suicide, we see faith, and perhaps loss of faith, causing undue stress in our lives.

As usual with great film, the thematic situations and magnificent imagery stayed with me even when I was concentrating on thinking about these films. For an example, the last amazing shot of the eldest sister in "The Silence" - the lighting of the scene almost making the shot look like a negative image. It is of her in agony, mouth open to scream but unable to, as she is about to die, alone and abandoned, her faith in her sister and in the way she was taught to live utterly dissipated. Powerful image to go with large ideas to ponder. And there are many more scenes of equal quality.

In the next few days, I will be examining other films and stories that look at imprisonment, as well as some disturbing American history. If you are familiar with the Bergman trilogy, keep these films in mind. He works with the spiritual and mental imprisonment in ways that linger - and also in ways that come to mind when faced with real imprisonment.

Also - I would welcome any comment about these films or other Bergman films. I have not seen many more and don't see general discussion of his work brought up usually. It would be interesting to hear what others had to say about him.

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