Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman regularly finds his way onto those lists which contain the names of the greatest film directors of all time. Widely revered for his celebrated filmography which contains multiple masterpieces like Wild Strawberries and The Seventh Seal among others, Bergman’s works continue to be studied and dissected by newer generations. On the 103rd anniversary of his birthday, we revisit Ingmar Bergman’s illustrious career as a celebration of his invaluable contributions to the world of cinema.
Born in Uppsala in 1918, Bergman later claimed that his childhood was an abusive one. His father was a Lutheran minister who allegedly beat Bergman and his siblings and locked them up in closets. Bergman also described his mother Karin, a nurse, as “cold and rejecting”. He later recalled: “One of the strongest feelings I remember from my childhood is of being humiliated; of being knocked about by words, acts or situations.” However, researchers have cast doubts on these claims and wondered whether Bergman made up his own twisted mythology about his early years. Some scholars insist that Bergman used his storytelling talents to borrow for himself what really happened to his elder brother.
Although he grew up in a religious household, Bergman became disillusioned with the idea of God when he was just eight years old: a dominant question that would become a recurring motif in many of his later works. As a child, Bergman used his overactive imagination to construct his own Strindberg productions with the help of a magic lantern and performed in them on his own. From a very early age, he perfectly grasped the repressive nature of institutionalised religion and believed that the sole purpose of those institutions was “to create obedient slaves, with God at the top.” With such heavy philosophical burdens on his mind, Bergman naturally ended up having a difficult experience at school and felt that it did not contribute adequately to his intellectual stimulation.
At the prestigious Stockholm University, Bergman focused on art and literature in order to expand his understanding and engaged heavily with student theatre groups. It was around this period that he was properly exposed to the magic of cinema and became a “genuine movie addict,” even directing his first theatrical production in 1942 which was based on his own script – Caspar’s Death. The burgeoning artist rewrote many screenplays during this time but his first major accomplishment is considered to be Alf Sjöberg’s 1944 film Torment which Bergman wrote. Soon after that, he directed his first cinematic work Crisis (1946) and followed up with several others like Prison and Summer with Monika.
However, Bergman only achieved success on a global scale with the 1955 comedy Smiles of a Summer Night which earned a nomination for the Palme d’Or at Cannes and followed it up with the film that is often referred to as his magnum opus – The Seventh Seal in 1956. In it, he conducted a fascinating examination of his existential and religious beliefs by staging a terribly pessimistic game of chess between a man and Death. Bergman continued his brilliant meditations on mortality, memory and life in films like Wild Strawberries, Through a Glass Darkly and Winter Light which are now considered to be his finest works and immensely contribute to a definitive understanding of the filmmaker’s uncompromising vision of the human condition.
Over the course of his wonderful career, Ingmar Bergman directed around 60 films and many of them have become an indispensable part of cinematic history. Ranging from the psychological experimentations of Persona to the unforgettable explorations of childhood in Fanny and Alexander, Bergman has left an indelible mark on the world of cinema. His works have inspired other filmmakers like Woody Allen and Thomas Vinterberg among others who have drawn ideas from his extensive legacy. Bergman still remains extremely relevant as an artist even after all these years because his cinematic accomplishments continue to generate critical as well as casual discourse. Both Michelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman passed away on the same day in 2007, leaving the entire world in mourning.
Just as we find comfort in Bergman’s films, he found solace in cinema as well: “If I didn’t have my profession, I think I would be sitting in a nuthouse.”