Review - "Winter Light" (1963) (Svensk Filmindustri)

WriterDave By WriterDave, 2nd Jun 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Reviews>Film & TV>Drama

Once again, we examine Ingmar Bergman, one the film's greatest directors. This time around, Bergman questions the nature of faith and religion. Bergman opted out of an intricate plot, and decided to make this primarily a serious character study. Bergman also seems to be in his most direct mode at this juncture in his film making career.

Bergman and Religion

“Winter Light” is Ingmar Bergman’s meditation on religion from the perspective of those with true faith, those without, and also those who are earnestly questioning its various meanings. This is one of Swedish director Bergman’s most direct challenge to organized religion, although all his films contain elements of religious meaning. Bergman’s mouthpiece for his explorations of faith is often both the protagonist and the antagonist, yet in “Winter Light” there seems to be neither, only characters going through turmoil.

Gunnar Bjornstrand plays a parson who is bitter after a tragedy and is seemingly incapable of true feeling. He must deliver a sermon to an empty congregation while also under the influence of a nasty flu. His cynicism unfortunately spills over to Max Von Sydow’s character who is desperately seeking advice and council. Ingrid Thulin plays a school teacher whose complicated feelings for Bjornstrand see-saw between passionate yearning and cold blaming. Thulin is frustrated by the parson’s inability to give her any anything in return and is kept in a kind of emotional limbo.

Another poignant character is the church helper who suffers from a crippling malady and yet seems to have the most faith of all. He is given one of the most heartfelt speeches towards the end of the film by Bergman. He sites the example of Jesus’ disciples who after being with their savior for three years, still bickered and questioned him up until the very end. Bergman’s frank look at direct scripture is uncharacteristic of his later films which take a decidedly more subtle approach to spirituality. Bergman himself, the son of a minister, would explore these themes all his life, alternating between acceptance and, at times, bitter recrimination. One has only to look at one of his last big screen efforts, “Fanny and Alexander” in the character of the minister who marries the kindly widower, and then turns out to be a cruel and heartless man. Bergman obviously felt strongly about those who were pious and yet had no real compassion. Bergman, whatever his personal beliefs however, never answered any question of faith finitely, he left it open to discussion and thought as any good film maker would.

The character of the parson in “Winter Light” after struggling with his beliefs is asked by the physically-challenged church helper ‘whether having suffered a malady most of his life, had he then suffered more than Jesus, who suffered for four hours on the cross.’ (paraphrased). The parson has no answer and numbly walks out to deliver his sermon like an automaton. It is a poignant, somewhat disconcerting scene and shows Bergman at his most sincere, yet humorless stage in his film career. Certainly, the films he made with Liv Ullmann later on would contain more warmth and seemed more resigned to smatterings of peace and acceptance.


Gunnar Bjornstrand, Ingmar Bergman, Ingrid Thulin, Max Von Sydow

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author avatar WriterDave
Writing can be many things to many people. For me, it is a way of expression and understanding. Reviewing films, hopefully helps myself and others better understand and get more out of the film.

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