Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light is the second installment in a trilogy of films that deal with the artist coming to terms with his spiritual identity. Bergman himself notes in his autobiography that all three films deal with reduction but specifically: “Through a Glass Darkly – conquered certainty. Winter Light – penetrated certainty.” (p. 245) He also states that Through a Glass Darkly should be regarded as the starting point for Winter Light. Bergman started to formulate some of his thematic concepts regarding religion in the latter film, while really honing in on his thematic intentions in the former. One can see evidence for this claim in the repetition of such key phrases as “God is love” and “Spider-god”; while God’s silence is only alluded to in Through a Glass Darkly, it is openly discussed in Winter Light.
We have a main character in the form of Pastor Ericsson, a religious figure who is undergoing a crisis of identity as he realizes that his whole existence has been based on a fabrication, an abstraction, a false hope; yet, through all of the tragedies that take place throughout the film, it seems, that as in other Bergman films, the healing/therapeutic power of human relationships is the closest thing that one can have to a divine experience. One might point to the Bergman’s chapter on The Seventh Seal in his autobiography in which he speaks about the common factor amongst all religions, or, a certain general holiness of people. I think this is what Bergman stresses here when the character of Algot, the hunchback, reminds Pastor Ericsson that “God is love”. It seems suggested that whether God does or doesn’t exist doesn’t matter as long as you maintain that what is important is human relationships, thus, Pastor Ericsson ends the film doing a service for no more than his mistress and the hunchback sexton, Algot.
Bergman states in his autobiography that not one shot in the entire film is done in direct sunlight, he insisted on only shooting on gloomy, overcast days to ensure that the ambiance of the film would be reflective of the harsh conditions of the weather and moreover, of the jaded, grim psychological compositions of the characters. It is certainly interesting to see Sven Nykvist branching out from his usual polished, glossy style that we’ve come to know with his earlier collaborations with Bergman such as The Virgin Spring and Through a Glass Darkly. Three of the actors within this cast have been in films that have previously been screened in our class before: Gunnar Björnstrand, Max Von Sydow and Gunnel Lindblom.
In the scene in which Pastor Erisson and his mistress, Märta, are in the car together and a train passes by, it is arguable that when he makes his comment “it was my parents dream that I became a clergyman” that his statement is representative of Bergman himself — a bit of the artist’s own preoccupations and sentiments seeping through his own work; regardless, Bergman notes himself in his autobiography that this is one of his favorite scenes in the film in its thematic and artistic depth. If one looks closely, one may notice how each passing train cart is meant to resemble a coffin, heightening the intensity of the reminder of the Pastor’s mortality as he has just seen his life flash before his eyes as he was leaving the schoolhouse before he called back to Märta and asked her to come along. Also, in an earlier scene where Pastor Ericsson is guarding the body of the dead fisherman, Jonas Persson, and we get this marvelous imagery of this bitterly cold, and frigid winter lake. There seems to be the implication, although this might be a stretch, that there is some kind of a rebirth going on here; one may argue that the character of Jonas serves as the martyr figure for Pastor Ericsson as he saves his life in realizing his salvation lies in human relationships. “God is Love.”
1. Bergman, Ingmar. Images: My Life in Film. New York: Arcade Pub., 2007. Print.