Ingmar Bergman’s 1968 postmodernist work, Shame, is a film that looks at war in a very unique, innovational manner. Made during the period of America’s involvement in Vietnam and Bergman being a part of Sweden, an internationally famed icon of neutrality, Bergman felt that it was necessary that he offer up some sort of a contribution informing his viewers of his take on the hotly debated issue. Yet, characteristic of Bergman, he did not take the established, perhaps even cliché, route in terms of making an anti-war film; Shame focuses on the internal strife on its characters, it introduces themes such as the fear of modernity, gender politics and even, the inherent problems in communication amongst individuals. Be that as it may, Bergman’s thoughts about the film after it was released were that he had indulged too much in capturing ‘the events’ of war in the first half of the film and spent too little time capturing ‘the effects’ of war, which he felt to have been represented, of course, in the second half of the film. (Images, p. 299) Despite that, it seems, as usual, Bergman has been a bit overcritical of himself in this respect, as the film is quite thematically dense and complex throughout; such moments as Col. Jacobi seducing Eva in front of Jan are wonderfully written, almost unforgettable in their grotesque depiction of complete disintegration of morality amongst individuals in the time of war.
This film was most interesting to me in the role-reversal that Jan and Eva take after their house has been burnt down by the rebel soldiers; it was something uncharacteristic of any Bergman film I had seen before and it was certainly an intriguing narrative device that was astoundingly well-executed by the infinitely talented archetypal Bergmanesque leading man, Max Von Sydow. Throughout the first part of the film, Jan is constantly depicted as being positioned in the fetal position, as if he wants to return to the safety of the womb. He is shown to be overly emotional, weak, passive; it is almost as if he emasculated, he seems to be the feminine figure in the relationship. Contrastingly, Eva is portrayed as active, emotionally strong and most importantly, with a certain virility; she seems to be the masculine one in the relationship. Yet, after they have lost everything and they are walking through the war-ravaged potato fields something has changed; the roles have reversed. Perhaps the moment that marks this reversal most poignantly is when Jan and Eva approach a young boy, apparently allied with the rebel soldiers, who, after three days of being estranged from his companions, has been reduced back to a helpless child-like state.
Jan attempts to ask him for the information regarding the whereabouts of a certain boat but he responds quite brashly with “none of your business.” Jan’s reaction is still uncertain to the viewers as we are so used to him being the passive, emasculated figure that he has been presented as in the first half of the film, yet, we are a bit thrown off by the action he has taken in striking his wife earlier before they leave the ruins of their burnt-down home. The boy, returning to the fetal position and longing for a mother figure, crawls up in Eva’s lap and in this moment it seems, the roles are reversed; Eva becomes the feminine, weak, mother figure and Jan becomes the active, ruthless, figure of masculinity. After killing the boy and finding out the whereabouts of this mysterious boat, the scenes in which Jan and Eva traverse through the war-torn landscapes of the island are really evocative of themes of the fear of modernity. Established first in the opening credits of the film with the background sounds exhibiting the noise of machinery and radio frequencies, then carried on throughout the film with the constant images of automobiles, radios, planes and guns; Jan and Eva are an artistic couple that live in nature without the need for communication with the outside world for the most part. When in need of a phone, they simply use their neighbor’s; Jan sees no urgency in repairing the radio because he is simply interested in his music and his life with Eva on the island. One must wonder about this championed position of hermitage and how much this might be reflective of the auteur’s own life perspective, as he lived until his death in 2007 in virtual seclusion on his famed island of Färo.
1. Bergman, Ingmar. Images: My Life in Film. New York: Arcade Pub., 2007. Print.
2. Bergman, Ingmar, and Maaret Koskinen. Ingmar Bergman Revisited: Performance, Cinema and the Arts. London: Wallflower, 2008. Print.
3. Gervais, Marc. Ingmar Bergman: Magician and Prophet. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s UP, 1999. Print.
4. Cowie, Peter. Ingmar Bergman: A Critical Biography. New York: Limelight, 1992. Print.