Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Out of Love

The mere questioner has knocked his head against the limits of human thought; and cracked it.
-G.K. Chesterton

I love The Seventh Seal. I don't watch it as often as I should.

It has somewhat unfairly developed a reputation as a dour, serious film that tackles the big questions that we don't like to think about. Even the Criterion box cover with Death on the front invites the general public to just walk away.

Which is too bad. Because The Seventh Seal has everything that I'm looking for in a spectacular summer blockbuster.

We've got: bawdy songs and spiritual songs, dancing and flagellation, action and contemplation, romantic comedy and existential trembling.

The Seventh Seal is a generous film. Even at its most serious moments, there is a gentle humour just below the surface. We are not passive spectators. Bergman invites us to share in the narrative and invest ourselves in these characters and their struggles, occasionally winkingly reminding us that it's all fiction.

No one should be afraid of Bergman or The Seventh Seal. Fire up the corn popper and settle in for a good time.

Minor Spoiler: This viewing, I noticed for the first time how important Jof's visions are. If we join in believing that he sees Death later in the film (and we have all along accepted Death's presence as real so we must grant the same liberty to him) then I think we're forced to also accept that he earlier had a genuine vision/encounter with Virgin and Child.

Only the holy fool has simple eyes to see. The practical result of this is that Virgin and Child are at least as real as Death. Bergman tips his hat, barely but clearly, in favor of faith.

The knight simultaneously does not believe and believes with his whole heart. But he cannot see. Or rather sees only partially; Through a glass darkly.

Lord, I believe; Help thou mine unbelief.

Early last year or late the year before, I was driving to work and listening to a magazine compilation CD for probably the 20th time. This time, I really heard one specific song for the first time. Devendra Banhart's cover of Antony's Fistful of Love. It made me cry. I played the song again. It made me cry again.

Something snapped in my mind and I heard the song as if it were being performed by a "praise and worship" band at the chapel at Houghton. I don't know if anyone else on earth would have had that thought, but it came naturally to me. I hate "praise and worship" music. I hated most Houghton chapel services. But, that's because they were never as earthy or painful as Fistful of Love.

There may be something sacriligeous or blasphemous about how I'm interpreting a song which on the surface seems to be about an abusive relationship. Maybe. I can't change how I heard the song.

God shows His love to His covenant people by beating the hell out of them. That's the message of the Prophets, more or less, no?

I thought of Fistful of Love while watching Bergman's Through a Glass Darkly.

"I was lying in my bed last night staring
At a ceiling full of stars
When it suddenly hit me
I just have to let you know how I feel
We live together in a photograph of time
I look into your eyes
And the seas open up to me
I tell you I love you
And I always will
And I know you can't tell me
I know you can't tell me
So I'm left to pick up
The hints, the little symbols of your devotion
So I'm left to pick up
The hints, the little symbols of your devotion
And I feel your fists
And I know it's out of love
And I feel the whip
And I know it's out of love
And I feel your burning eyes burning holes
Straight through my heart
It's out of love"

There's no 1:1 correspondence between song and film, but there is the connection of the strained communication of love.

My favorite moment is early in the film when, after dinner, Karin's father goes into the house with the pretence of grabbing his tobacco. Once inside, he sobs under the weight of his failures. Later, he speaks of love as something light, but here he is overwhelmed by its heaviness.

There's another more (in)famous scene in which Karin encounters god or a demon or a spark of miswired brain chemistry. This scene is more terrifying than anything I saw in my horror explorations last year. But here also the subject is love.

Each of the characters speak of love and/or enact love. Yet that love more often than not fails to hit its mark. There's a love breakdown. The film is "about" many things- mental illness, the presence/absence of God, identity and family dynamics; through it all, its cinematic seams are stuffed with love. The really painful kind that is so hard to give and harder to receive.

I could spend the rest of the year thinking and writing about Through a Glass Darkly. Maybe I should, but I won't.

Instead, I'll move on to the next film and the one after that. For better or for worse, I'll keep on moving on,

But I won't forget. I hope I won't forget.



Storm and Stress said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly about THE SEVENTH SEAL. I was astonished to hear from good writers who don't like it and dismiss it as serious and dour. I was reading David Hudson's new year's resolution and it was to seek out the words and opinions of people that aren't cinephiles to see what they can bring to the discussion. I know that my older brother is a good example of someone who can read things in film that i typically miss. THE SEVENTH SEAL is a film that i would love to hear his opinion on. I was actually talking to Justin Mann the other day about ANTICHRIST, he thinks it's one of the best films of the year. I wonder why.

What are your thoughts on this?

Also, I'm happy to hear that you love GREMLINS 2 as much as I do. I wasn't allowed to see it in theaters because i was known for throwing temper tantrums when things scared me. I was terrified of ET and GODZILLA 1985.

I've been borrowing my brother's computer and watching utorrents. Talk to you soon pal.

82jp said...

Have you seen Winter Light? I'd be curious about your opinion of Bergman's stance on faith after that one.

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