1970s, 4/4, Bergman, Review

Scenes from a Marriage

Image result for scenes from a marriage poster

#2 in my Ranking of Bergman’s Best Films.

In a godless world, all we have is each other.

Jonah and Marianne seem to have a very good marriage. They have two daughters, careers (him as an academic and her as a family lawyer), and a nice apartment, but as we watch the two interview for a women’s magazine we can see the cracks hidden underneath that will doom the arrangement. They seem happy, and generally are, but there’s something for each of them that they dare not talk about directly that’s eating away at their vision of the other.

Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage contains sights and sounds of such brutality as we watch that marriage collapse. Everything comes out. Her disdain for sex, both of their inabilities to communicate, and his boiling anger at all manner of disappointments in his life (both professional and personal). The absolute magic of the film is that both characters are so clearly realized and feel so real. Even though we do sense the unhappiness under the surface, we also see actual happiness. Despite their brewing troubles, they do love each other, and we spend the first two episodes with that version of them.

That hour and a half, where we can sense something is wrong but we can’t quite put our fingers on what it is, are key to making the whole thing work. Thinking way back to To Joy, Bergman’s earlier effort that reminded me of this movie, that movie ultimately didn’t work in my opinion because it skipped those good times. Scenes keeps us there for a while so we can get a very clear view of the happiness that they are about to tear up from the roots. Maybe we can’t quite understand exactly why, but we can still believe that Johan would begin an affair with a 23 year old and run off to Paris with her for seven or eight months. We can believe that Marianne would be helpful as Johan left, even going so far as to packing his clothes and making him breakfast.

We can believe that they would keep coming back together over the years despite their other lovers and that they would also finally have one final moment when recriminations about everything would lead to an explosion of rhetorical and physical violence that leads to a quiet moment as both silently sign their divorce papers. We can also believe that, years later, they would still love each other and cheat on their new spouses with their old spouses. The characters are so incredibly well-written and acted that everything they do makes perfect sense, even when the actions come out of the blue.

The movie (actually, television miniseries, which I’ve now seen twice) is mostly a character piece, but there are interesting ideas hiding in the background of dialogue and some images in the final scene. Bergman said that his characters spoke a lot of nonsense before getting to the truth, so it can be hard to tell if he thought this was nonsense or truth, but Johan talks about how loneliness is the natural and permanent state of man. Any break from that is an illusion. It comes up a couple of times, and, at the very end, Marianne ends up parroting it after a nightmare. In that final scene, though, there’s a paper balloon, round, yellow, and with a face, that lords over the two characters for much of it. It feels like the invisible presence watching us all as though to say, even if there is a God, he’s still not talking to us. Even if there is a God, we are effectively alone.

That outlook, combined with the movie’s ending where the two do end up coming back together, creates a wonderfully bittersweet feeling. Maybe we’re alone, maybe not, but if we can find someone who loves us genuinely, then we can no longer feel the pressure of the loneliness of the world.

Having learned a bit more about Bergman’s life (his five marriages, his complex relationship with his reverend father, his struggles with existential questions) makes me appreciate where this story came from even more. This is obviously a heavily auto-biographical film that pulls from incidents in his life and how he views the world. It’s a remarkable insight into the mind of a man who seemed incapable of loving a single woman, or finding the answers to his biggest questions, but he still ultimately finds some semblance of peace.

Netflix Rating: 5/5

Quality Rating: 4/4

3 thoughts on “Scenes from a Marriage”

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