#12. Winter Light (1963)
Directed by: Ingmar Bergman
Written by: Ingmar Bergman
Starring: Ingrid Thulin, Max von Sydow, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Gunnel Lindblom
My favorite Ingmar Bergman film is one I hesitate to call a “favorite” simply due to the nature of the subject matter explored in his 1963 film Winter Light. The film is the second in a loose thematic trilogy of Bergman-directed movies exploring themes of faith and its effects on people of all walks of life. The trilogy also includes Through a Glass Darkly and Silence, both of which are excellent films in their own right. Winter Light follows Pastor Tomas Ericsson (Gunnar Bjornstrand) over a day as he prepares for his afternoon service in a neighboring town. Over the course of the morning, he has interactions with Jonas Persson (Max von Sydow), who feels depressed after reading about China developing an atomic bomb, Marta Lundberg (Ingrid Thulin), an atheist who is in love with Tomas, and Karin Persson (Gunnell Lindblom), the distraught wife of Jonas. Tomas, who is struggling with questions about his own faith in God, fails to help Jonas with his depressive feelings, which eventually leads to his suicide – leaving his wife Karin alone with their children. Ingmar Bergman is a director who is notorious for exploring difficult themes, most notably about death and faith – two things that almost nobody likes involved in their escapist entertainment. Winter Light is Bergman at his most uncomfortable and instigative – it’s a film with almost no hope and no light. It’s a cold, bitter, challenging, and deeply personal experience in every sense. The bleak nature of Bergman’s script allows for serious questions about God’s silence and one man’s struggle with his once rock solid faith to come across as urgent and deadly serious, especially after it leads to the death of a member of his congregation. Gunnar Bjornstrand’s performance as the Pastor Tomas Ericsson is terrific, allowing members of his congregation to speak at him about their worries and troubles even when he is not sure about his own future with the church. His internal struggle throughout the film is palpable, and makes his interactions with others seem cold and businesslike. Max von Sydow’s performance as the mentally tortured and horribly depressed Jonas Persson is erratic, panicked, and absolutely devastating. When Jonas’ final moments come, the little light truly begins to drain from Winter Light. While it truly is a difficult moviegoing experience, Ingmar Bergman’s film is also one of the most intellectually-challenging experiences I’ve ever had – nothing has ever resonated in my mind quite like Winter Light. I can’t recommend it to many readers, but if the experience sounds like it may be for you, then I can promise you’ll never forget your short time with Winter Light – it’s an unsung masterpiece from one of cinema’s greatest.