Known for their repeating motifs and signature tropes, the films of
Ingmar Bergman also contain extensive variation and development. In these
reflections on Bergman’s artistry and thought, Irving Singer discerns distinctive
themes in Bergman’s filmmaking, from first intimations in the early work to
consummate resolutions in the later movies. Singer demonstrates that while Bergman’s
output is not philosophy on celluloid, it attains an expressive and purely aesthetic
truthfulness that can be considered philosophical in a broader sense. Through
analysis of both narrative and filmic effects, Singer probes Bergman’s mythmaking
and his reliance upon the magic inherent in his cinematic techniques. Singer traces
throughout the evolution of Bergman’s ideas about life and death, and about the
possibility of happiness and interpersonal love. In the overtly self-referential
films that he wrote or directed (The Best Intentions, Fanny and Alexander, Sunday’s
Children) as well as the less obviously autobiographical ones (including Wild
Strawberries, The Seventh Seal, and the triad that begins with Through a Glass
Darkly) Bergman investigates problems in his existence and frequently reverts to
childhood memories. In such movies as Smiles of a Summer Night, Scenes from a
Marriage, and Saraband, Bergman draws upon his mature experience and depicts the
troubled relationships between men who are often weak and women who are made to
suffer by the damaged men with whom they live. In Persona, Cries and Whispers, and
other works, his experiments with the camera are uniquely masterful. Inspecting the
panorama of Bergman’s art, Singer shows how the endless search for human contact
motivates the content of his films and reflects Bergman’s profound perspective on
the world.

Irving Singer is Professor of Philosophy at MIT. He is
the author of Reality Transformed: Film as Meaning and Technique, Three
Philosophical Filmmakers: Hitchcock, Welles, Renoir (both published by The MIT
Press), and many other books.

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