the joy in me

I was nine when Ingmar Bergman made Scenes From a Marriage / Scener ur ett Aktenskap with Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson, about the disintegration of a marriage.  I finally got around to seeing it now.

Bergman’s father was a Lutheran pastor.  In the interview with him on the dvd, he describes the de-Christianizing of Sweden, in which the new generation kept the outward signs of their faith – the courtesies, legalisms, forms, and got rid of the love.  This story is about a young couple – Marianne and Johan – who live in the illusion of their happiness which is based on these outward signs.  They have good jobs, young daughters, family obligations and connections.  And eventually, by the catalyst of an affair, they are forced to confront their relationship on a much deeper level.  Marianne is much more successful than Johan in this hard work, the work of knowing herself.  She uses a journal to do the hard work which she reads to Johan, and he utterly fails her here by falling asleep during the reading.

In her journal she describes a violence that is the real root of her proper, happy, bourgeois life.  And that the formal exterior is really a means of keeping that violence at bay.  And that families teach their children from a very young age to conform and repress their personality and emotions in the interests of conforming to the requirements of proper society.  She describes the guilt that acts as a poison that takes her over completely, and makes it hard to live a full life later as an adult.

Bergman describes how his film led to a spike in divorces as more Swedes decided to challenge their repressed relations.  Irony that the son of a pastor sees divorce as good: a reckoning of people to their own true selves and to what it means to truly love.

Marianne reading from her diary about self awareness:

Marianne:  In the snug world Johan and I lived in, taking everything for granted, there is an implied cruelty and brutality that frightens me more and more when I think back on it.  The trappings of security come at a high price:  the constant erosion of your personality.  It’s so easy right at the outset to thwart a small child’s cautious attempts to assert itself.  In my case, it was performed with injections of a poison that is 100% effective.  Guilt.  At first, it was directed towards my mother.  Later, towards others.  And finally, towards Jesus and God.  In a flash I see what kind of person I would have been had I never allowed myself to be brainwashed.  And I wonder whether I’m hopelessly lost.   Whether the potential for joy that was innate in me is dead, or whether it merely lies dormant and can be awakened.  I wonder what kind of wife and woman I would have become if I’d been able to use my resources as they were intended.

Ingmar Bergman Scenes From a Marriage, 1973


2 Comments so far
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Antonioni mined much the same vein in serveral films where characters love in vain in a self seeking world. Thanks for the excellent post.

Comment by bessfones

Which films by Antonioni are you thinking of? Thanks for the tip.

Comment by Peter Rudd

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