Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Women Here

Last night I watched Ingmar Bergman's The Silence, the third in his trilogy also comprised of Through a Glass Darkly and Winter Light. In my post about Winter Light, a movie which seemed to me to conclude with the idea that faith was necessary for human beings to communicate love to one another, I wondered if The Silence would, "in some way question the necessity of love."

Certainly, one might imagine the two sisters depicted in The Silence as being far happier if they did not love each other. This analysis of the film that Moira gave me a link to suggests the relationship between the women is intensely painful because the love they feel for each other is subjugated by resentments that have accumulated over time into profound hatreds. Though a darker view might be that neither woman can achieve total freedom because they're trapped by the love binding them together.

Roger Ebert's analysis of the film suggests the women might be two halves of one person--Ester, the woman dying from an unnamed disease, is the mind and Anna, a woman who frequently communicates with her world physically in a variety of ways, is the body. I think this is a worthy interpretation. But what are we to make then of the scene where Ester masturbates? Near the end of the movie, too, Ester despairs as she proclaims that life is merely about erections and secretions. Ester's dying and her condition and perhaps her personality seems to have denied her the physical life Anna taunts her with. Yet one wonders about Anna's true feelings about sex when a couple unabashedly having intercourse in a seat next to her in a theatre seems to shock and disgust her.

But this experience gives Anna, who's married, though her husband is never seen, the notion to allow Ester to see her having sex with a waiter she'd just met; Anna recognises this exhibition can be used as a weapon because she was hurt by it, and she uses it to hurt Ester because of the resentment she feels for her.

Anna wasn't disturbed by the vulgarity of the sight, but by the idea that two people could be so carefree that they're unconcerned with how people around them perceive them. It represents a freedom from the silent game that traps the sisters--Anna believes it's about dominance. But all Anna's flaunting of physical freedom before Ester does nothing to advance Anna's cause because she's misunderstood the rift between them, as Ester tells her, which only serves to infuriate Anna further because now not only is Ester acting superior, she may well be superior for all Anna knows because Anna senses she really doesn't understand things as well as her sister does.

Ester works as a translator, which may be a metaphor for the fact that she understands the situation better than her sister. The movie's filled with affections that don't know how to find expression or satisfaction, and Ester's business is to analyse symbols for meaning. But for all Ester's skill, she's less effective at attaining the simple bliss of love she sees in the embraces exchanged between Anna and Anna's young son, Johan. Ester awkwardly invades Anna's privacy because she's intensely lonely, not because she wishes to dominate Anna. Anna's stories of physical promiscuity make Ester jealous because she can't connect with others as easily as Anna seems to.

In a way, Anna is an innocent, but it's important to contrast her with the movie's more prominent figure of innocence, her son Johan. Johan sees his naked mother, and a painting of a nymph and a centaur, and doesn't perceive sexual connotations--he watches his mother's feet "because they move her around all by themselves". He wanders about the hotel and everything seems to be there to entertain him, including a vaudevillian troupe of dwarves, who play with him and put him in a girl's dress in a scene inter-cut with one of Anna selecting a small, sexy white dress for herself. When Ester sees the dwarves in the hall later in the film dressed as heavenly figures and death, it seems as though Ester's seeing the prominent symbols of life as the small and ridiculous things they are. To Johan, it's fun and natural and he doesn't think much of it. To Ester, near death, it's a frightening understanding of the world.

Anna, meanwhile, may lack her sister's view of the world's inadequacy stripped bare, but she's accumulated some misperceptions of the world and the people around her that she clings to, even as her stronger, more sensual side puts the lie to it, creating the conflict that causes her to laugh and cry bizarrely while she has sex with the waiter.

Bergman's trilogy is about the silence of God, but God and theology are never discussed directly in The Silence. The closest the film comes is when a radio playing Johann Sebastian Bach seems to unite the sisters momentarily in appreciation of the music's beauty--one wonders if there's significance in the child's name being Johan. It seems to point to the necessity of a plainer bliss to act as a conduit for people. The hall porter, who speaks no language even Ester can understand, seems to join them, too, in the rapture created by the music.

It puts me in mind of Friedrich Nietzsche's idea that Jesus was very near to his conception of the superman--that is, someone who is neither a master nor a slave, someone who rises above both roles. In The Silence, Ester might be the closer of the two sisters to the superman, but defined by a life led in a master role. What both sisters need, and what they both get from Bach and from Johan, is something or someone who can freely give love without the strings of preconceived dynamics or the fear of imparting love without receiving reciprocation or respect.

I watched the eighteenth episode of Battlestar Galactica's second season last night, and it was another one I didn't have any real problems with. There were flaws, yes, but they don't seem worth mentioning. It's interesting how much better the show seems to have gotten near the end of the season.

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