INGMAR BERGMAN, PART ONE:
 
The Darkness Before the Dawn:
"Why must we live?"
 
 
 
 

"We must live", says the pastor in Bergman's Winter Light to a man contemplating suicide. "WHY must we live?" retorts the man. This question occupies a central place in Bergman's art and life, as indeed it should in the life of every human being. In answer to this question, the pastor in Winter Light says nothing and lowers his eyes, indicating in this way the impotence of faith to supply the answer to this most important question. The insistence on asking such simple, yet disquieting questions, which demand introspection and self-examination, is arguably the most valuable quality of Bergman's filmmaking. The questions are on a child's level - Why must we live? Who are we? Is there a God? - but as grown-ups many believe that they have already found the answers to them. It is only at the approach of death that such people begin to concern themselves once more with these questions (this is stunningly portrayed in Cries and Whispers, The Silence and Wild Strawberries.)

In The Hour of the Wolf there is a remarkable scene, in which a few moments from Mozart's "Magic Flute" are depicted on the stage of a miniature theater. The opera's main character, in the course of his quest, finds himself engulfed in complete darkness and cries out:

"Eternal night,
when willst thou flee?
When will mine eyes
The daylight see?"

After a moment of desperate silence, he receives the answer from afar:

"Soon, soon...or never."
 
This passage seems today even more timely than when Mozart wrote it two hundred years ago. For eventhough the cloud of Darkness, which now engulfs our entire world, has never been so thick, the opportunity to break through it to a New Life is at this moment within reach of every human being - if only he would be willing to grasp it!

Persona is a singular film. In the midst of her performance on stage, an actress suddenly stops: stops talking, stops moving, stops her life. Perhaps, it suddenly becomes clear to her that everything - this world, the art in it, all the relationships and her own persona - everything is wrong. And shouldn't such stopping of life be the norm for all of us? How can we go on living, when we don't know who we really are underneath all these outward designations (of actress, wife, mother, daughter, etc.)? How can we simply accept this reality, when we have no idea what we are meant to do here and what our true persona is? All of these questions seem to be condensed into a single close-up of Liv Ullmann's face with the fading light accompanied by the music of J.S. Bach.

Some of Bergman's best films are told from the perspective of a child: The Magic Flute, The Silence, Fanny and Alexander. In The Magic Flute, one of the most magical elements is the smile of a spectator-child (Bergman's daughter) in the audience. And when, during the intermission part of the opera, Bergman shows a singer studying the score of "Parsifal" and shoots the cover of the score in a big close-up with the letters PARSIFAL filling the entire screen - then it is clear that at that moment Bergman himself is in a state of true childhood, a state of extraordinary intuitive perception as yet unobstructed by the intellect. And in this state, he is able to intuit something, which lies far beyond his present comprehension and which is yet of the greatest importance to his spirit.

It is in his childhood that Bergman's best as well as his worst memories dwell. Tormented by the aftermath of a tyrannical religious upbringing (his father was a pastor), he makes the crisis of faith a central theme in a series of unforgettable films: The Seventh Seal, Winter Light, Through a Glass Darkly and Virgin Spring.

In Winter Light, he tears into the soul of the main character of a pastor with a ferocity and perception born of true suffering. When the pastor comes to recognize the real nature of his concept of God (an "Echo-God", simply echoing the pastor's own beliefs and wishes), then this should hit home for many a believer. And when the pastor, in the agony of self-recognition, describes his own pathetic position of having to shield and protect his carefully constructed image of God from the horrors of reality - here Bergman is right ontarget in his observation of how humanity has simply made a convenient idol out of God, imbuing it with qualities of their own wishful thinking. It is no wonder then that such a man-made contraption cannot stand up to the test of reality (unless it is artificially propped up through self-delusion). The pastor's agonizing confession, though, is not in vain: true, it has inwardly shattered him, but in the process his idol of God is also shattered. The idol, to which he clung, no longer obstructs his path. He is free to seek the true God, free to start on his TruthQuest! Instead, he throws in the towel and declares that there is no God - exactly as Bergman has done upon completion of this film, declaring his relationship with God to be settled, never again making it the principle subject for a film.

Since we've gotten onto the subject of confessions, a confession of another famous individual comes to mind: "Confession" by Lev Tolstoy. The following passage seems to parallel Bergman's inner state at the time he finished Winter Light (and judging by his latest statements, even now):

"The mental state in which I then was seemed to me summed up in the following: my life was a foolish and wicked joke played upon me by I knew not whom. Notwithstanding my rejection of the idea of a Creator, that of a being who thus wickedly and foolishly made a joke of me seemed to me the most natural of all conclusions, and the one that threw the most light upon my darkness. I instinctively reasoned that this being, wherever he might be, was one who was even then diverting himself at my expense, as he watched me, after from thirty to forty years of a life of study and development, of mental and bodily growth, with all my powers matured, and having reached the point at which life as a whole should be best understood, standing like a fool with but one thing clear to me - that there never was anything, and never will be. To him I must seem ridiculous . . . ."

For Tolstoy, this state was just the beginning of his quest; for Bergman it became the end.

Bergman greatly admired the work of the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky and said that Tarkovsky was able to enter and move freely in rooms, which remained inaccesible to him (Bergman). The reason for this is simple: Tarkovsky never abandoned his quest for a connection with God, and greatness for any artist (as well as any human being) is determined solely on the basis of this quest. (It goes without saying that what mankind considers "great" is of no importance in Creation at large.) With objective examination of cinema (and all art) a crystal-clear pattern emerges: whenever an artist earnestly seeks a connection with God, he produces great works of art; whenever an artist abandons this search, his works become marked by triviality, narrowness of vision and, very often, baseness.

"My whole life has been a meaningless search," declares the knight in The Seventh Seal. He assumes that because his search has turned up nothing, there is nothing to find. It doesn't seem to occur to him that there is another possibility: he has been searching in the wrong way and/or in the wrong places. "Seek and ye shall find," is not only a promise - it is, first of all, a demand directed towards us: SEEK! Without that - nothing. If, therefore, we end up with nothing at the end of our quest, then the only logical conclusion is that our manner of seeking has been wrong and that alone led us into a dead end. This natural conclusion, however, rarely occurs to any of us; perhaps, because it requires personal courage and severe self-examination. Not everyone is capable of or willing to summon up these qualities at the right moment. One, who did, was Lev Tolstoy:

"I understood that I had erred, and how I had erred. . . .The mistake lay in my having applied an answer which only concerned myself to life in general. I had asked what my own life was, and the answer was: an evil and a thing without meaning. Exactly so, my life was but a long indulgence of my passions; it was a thing without meaning, an evil; and such an answer, therefore, referred only to my own life, and not to human life in general. . . .

This truth was always a truth, as 2x2=4, but I had not accepted it, because, besides acknowledging 2x2=4, I would have had to acknowledge that I was evil. It was of more importance to me to feel that I was good, more binding on me, than to believe 2x2=4. I have grown to love good men, have grown to hate myself, and I accepted truth. Now it was all clear to me. What if the executioner, who passes his life in torturing and cutting off heads, or a confirmed drunkard, or a madman, who had shut himself up for life in a darkened room, who soiled that room and who believed that he would perish if he left it - what if he had asked himself the question, What is life? Obviously, he could get no other answer than - Life is a monstrous evil.

The answer would be a true one, but only for the man who gave it."

The character of the pastor in Winter Light comes to the conclusion that God is silent - and it never dawns on him that it is he, who is silent to God's call. It is he, who has rendered himself incapable of understanding the Language of God, in which He continually speaks to every single one of us every second of our existence. That is why, sooner or later, everyone must come to recognize the need to seek the source, which will restore to us the Knowledge of this Language. The Knowledge, whose verification is anchored not in belief, but in the naturalness of life itself. The desperate need for this kind of Knowledge is expressed magnificently by the knight in his conversation with Death in The Seventh Seal:

    Death: "What are you waiting for?"
    Knight: "Knowledge."
    Death: "You want a guarantee."
    Knight: "Call it what you will. . . .
    What will become of us, who want to believe but cannot? And what of those, who neither will nor can believe? . . I want knowledge. Not belief. Not surmise. But knowledge. I want God to put out His hand, show His face, speak to me."
 

The Knowledge of the Language of God, in which He speaks to us, which alone guarantees a living connection with Him and which enables a human being to comprehend and to fulfill his mission in Creation - that Knowledge is now here. It is contained in the remarkable book "In the Light of Truth: the Grail Message" by Abd-ru-shin. But only those, who, despite their disappointments, still carry within them a desperate yearning for this Knowledge, will be able to grasp It and make use of It for a return to life - like that knight in The Seventh Seal, who at the end still issued one last desperate prayer:

"Out of our darkness we call to Thee.

O Lord! Oh, God, have mercy on us!

We are small and afraid and without knowledge."
 *   *   *   *

"It is the sacred duty of the human spirit to investigate why it is living on earth, or in general in this Creation, in which it is suspended as if by a thousand threads. No man considers himself so insignificant as to imagine that his existence is without purpose, unless he makes it purposeless. In any case he deems himself too important. And yet there are only a few men on earth capable of laboriously detaching themselves from their spiritual indolence, so far as seriously to concern themselves with the investigation of their task on earth.

Again it is solely indolence of the spirit that makes them willing to accept the firmly-established doctrines of others. And it is indolence that lies in the reassurance that comes from thinking that it is great to adhere to the faith of their parents, without submitting its underlying principles to keen, careful and independent examination.

In all these matters men are now eagerly supported by calculating and selfish organisations, which believe that the best way to extend and safeguard their influence, and thus to increase their power, is by adding to the number of their adherents.

They are far from true recognition of God; for otherwise they would not bind the human spirit with the fetters of a firmly-established doctrine, but would have to educate it for the personal responsibility ordained by God, which fundamentally stipulates full freedom of spiritual decision! Only a spirit free in this respect can come to the true recognition of God that matures within him to the complete conviction which is essential for anyone who wishes to be uplifted to Luminous Heights; for only free, sincere conviction can help him to achieve this...

The whole of Creation is the Language of God, which you should earnestly strive to read, and which is by no means as difficult as you may think...

Learn to recognise your path in Creation, and you will also know the purpose of your existence. Then you will be filled with grateful rejoicing, and the greatest happiness a human spirit is able to bear, which lies solely in the recognition of God!

The supreme bliss of the true recognition of God, however, can never grow out of an acquired blind faith, much less come to flower; but convinced knowledge, knowing conviction, alone gives to the spirit what is necessary for this...

This demands of you that you live Creation. But you are only able to live or experience it when you really know it.

With my Message I now open the Book of Creation for you! The Message clearly shows you the Language of God in Creation, which you must learn to understand so that you can make it completely your own.

Just imagine a child on earth who cannot understand his father or mother because he has never learned the language they speak to him. Indeed, what is to become of such a child?

He does not even know what is expected of him, and will thus fall into one difficulty after the other, draw upon himself one sorrow after another, and probably end up utterly useless for any purpose or enjoyment on earth.

If he is to amount to anything, must not every child personally learn the language of his parents for himself? Nobody can do it for him!

Otherwise he would never adjust himself, nor would he ever be able to mature and work on earth, but he would remain a hindrance, a burden to others, and would finally have to be segregated to prevent him from causing harm.

Could you expect anything else then?

You have of course inescapably to fulfil such a duty of the child towards your God, Whose Language you must learn to understand as soon as you desire His help. God, however, speaks to you in His Creation. If you want to advance in it, you must first recognise this His Language. Should you neglect it, you will be cut off from those who know the Language and adjust themselves to it, because you would otherwise cause harm and obstruction, without necessarily wishing to do so!

You must therefore do it! Do not forget this, and see that it is done now, otherwise you will be helplessly abandoned to whatever threatens you.

My Message will be a faithful helper to you!" (Abd-ru-shin, "IN THE LIGHT OF TRUTH: THE GRAIL MESSAGE", chapter "The Language of the Lord")

 
picture 1: Unknown
picture 2: "Lost Childhood" by Gregory Pearse
pictures 3-6: Jože Tisnikar (born 1928)
 
 
 
GO TO
INGMAR BERGMAN 2:
A 'Saraband' at the End of the Road
 
 
 
Copyright (c) 2005 Gregory and Maria Pearse