TYSTNADEN - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

(The Silence)

Sweden, 1963

Director: Ingmar Bergman

Production: Svensk Filmindustri; black and white, 35mm; running time: 95 minutes; length: 2623 meters. Released 23 September 1963, Stockholm. Filmed sporadically from Summer 1962-Summer 1963 in Sweden.

Producer: Allan Ekelund; screenplay: Ingmar Bergman; photography: Sven Nykvist; editor: Ulla Ryghe; sound engineer: Stig Flodin; production designer: P. A. Lundgren; music: Bach; special effects: Evald Anderson; costume designer: Marik Vos.

Cast: Gunnel Lindblom ( Anna ); Ingrid Thulin ( Ester ); Jörgen Lindström ( Johan ); Haakan Jahnberg ( Hotel manager ); Lissi Alandh ( Woman in the cinema ); Leif Forstenberg ( Man in the cinema ); Nils Waldt ( Cashier at the cinema ); Birgir Lesander; Eduardo Gutierrez.



Bergman, Ingmar, Le Silence , in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), May 1964; as The Silence , in A Film Trilogy , New York and London, 1967; revised edition, London, 1989.


Béranger, Jean, and François Guyon, Ingmar Bergman , Lyons, 1964. Chiaretti, Tommaso, Ingmar Bergman , Rome, 1964.

Donner, Jorn, The Personal Vision of Ingmar Bergman , Blooming-ton, Indiana, 1964.

Nelson, David, Ingmar Bergman: The Search for God , Boston, 1964.

Steene, Birgitta, Ingmar Bergman , New York, 1968.

Gibson, Arthur, The Silence of God: Creative Response to the Films of Ingmar Bergman , New York, 1969.

Wood, Robin, Ingmar Bergman , New York, 1969.

Sjögren, Henrik, Regi: Ingmar Bergman , Stockholm, 1970.

Young, Vernon, Cinema Borealis: Ingmar Bergman and the Swedish Ethos , New York, 1971.

Björkman, Stig, and others, editors, Bergman on Bergman , New York, 1973.

Ranieri, Tino, Ingmar Bergman , Florence, 1974.

Kaminsky, Stuart, editor, Ingmar Bergman: Essays in Criticism , New York, 1975.

Bergom-Larsson, Maria, Ingmar Bergman and Society , San Diego, 1978.

Kawin, Bruce, Mindscreen: Bergman, Godard and the First-Person Film , Princeton, 1978.

Marion, Denis, Ingmar Bergman , Paris, 1979.

Manvell, Roger, Ingmar Bergman: An Appreciation , New York, 1980.

Mosley, Philip, Ingmar Bergman: The Cinema as Mistress , Bos-ton, 1981.

Petric, Vlada, editor, Film and Dreams: An Approach to Bergman , South Salem, New York, 1981.

Cowie, Peter, Ingmar Bergman: A Critical Biography , New York, 1982.

Livingston, Paisley, Ingmar Bergman and the Ritual of Art , Ithaca, New York, 1982.

Steene, Birgitta, Ingmar Bergman: A Guide to References and Resources , Boston, 1982.

Jones, William G., editor, Talking with Bergman , Dallas, 1983.

Lefèvre, Raymond, Ingmar Bergman , Paris, 1983.

Dervin, Daniel, Through a Freudian Lens Deeply: A Psychoanalysis of Cinema , Hillsdale, New Jersey, 1985.

Gado, Frank, The Passion of Ingmar Bergman , Durham, North Carolina, 1986.

Bergman, Ingmar, Laterna Magica , Stockholm, 1987; as The Magic Lantern: An Autobiography , London, 1988.

Cohen, James, Through a Lens Darkly , New York, 1991.

Bjorkman, Stig, and Torsten Maans, and Jonas Sima, Bergman on Bergman: Interviews with Ingmar Bergman , Cambridge, 1993.

Cohen, Hubert I., Ingmar Bergman: The Art of Confession , New York, 1993.

Long, Robert Emmet, Ingmar Bergman: Film and Stage , New York, 1994.

Tornqvist, Egil, Between Stage and Screen: Ingmar Bergman Directs , Amsterdam, 1995.

Blackwell, Marilyn J., Gender and Representation in the Films of Ingmar Bergman , Rochester, 1997.

Michaels, Lloyd, editor, Ingmar Bergman's Persona , New York, 1999; revised edition, Cambridge, 2000.


Bory, Jean-Louis, in Arts (Paris), March 1964.

Interview with Bergman in Sunday Times (London), 15 March 1964.

Collet, Jean, in Télérama (Paris), 18 March 1964.

Sadoul, Georges, in Lettres Françaises (Paris), 26 March 1964.

Billard, Pierre, in Cinéma (Paris), April 1964.

Kyrou, Ado, in Positif (Paris), Summer 1964.

Scott, James, "The Achievement of Ingmar Bergman," in Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism (Cleveland), Winter 1965.

Hamilton, William, "Ingmar Bergman on the Silence of God," in Motive , November 1966.

Lefèvre, Raymond, "Ingmar Bergman," in Image et Son (Paris), March 1969.

Young, Vernon, "Cinema Borealis," in Hudson Review (Nutley, New Jersey), Summer 1970.

Steene, Birgitta, "Images and Words in Bergman's Films," in Cinema Journal (Evanston, Illinois), Fall 1970.

Alexander, W., "Devils in the Cathedral: Bergman's Trilogy," in Cinema Journal (Evanston, Illinois), Spring 1974.

Amis du Film et de la Télévision (Brussels), February 1976.

Troelsen, A., in Kosmorama (Copenhagen), Spring 1978.

Holloway, R., "Tystnaden som tema," in Filmrutan (Stockholm), vol. 28, no. 1, 1985.

Listener (London), 23 June 1988.

Trasatti, S., "Bergman, il paradosso di un 'Ateo cristiano,"' in Castoro Cinema (Florence), November-December 1991.

Bergman, I., "Kepek 2," in Filmvilag (Budapest), no. 10, 1992.

Sitney, P. A., "Bergman's The Silence and the Primal Scene," in Film Culture (New York), June 1992.

Kieslowski, Krzysztof, "Kan Kieslowski lösa Tystnadens gåta?" in Chaplin (Stockholm), vol. 36, no. 5, 1994.

Visscher, J. De, "Gods zwijgen?" in Film en Televisie + Video (Brussels), no. 462, May 1996.

Kieslowski, Krzysztof, "Peut-on résoudre l'énigme du 'silence?"' in Positif (Paris), no. 457, March 1999.

Lahr, John, "The Demon-Lover: After Six Decades in Film and Theatre, Ingmar Bergman Talks About His Family and the Invention of Psychological Cinema," in The New Yorker , vol. 75, no. 13, 31 May 1999.

* * *

The Silence : there are alternative or multiple significances to that title by Ingmar Bergman. The most commonly understood is an allusion (yet again: as in The Seventh Seal, Winter Light , and Through a Glass Darkly ) to the utter unresponsiveness of God to the tribulations of humankind, but another potential implication is the silence that follows upon non-communication, misunderstanding, and the lack of sympathy between human beings. The protagonists in this film are two sisters in their thirties—Anna, the younger (Gunnel Lindblom), with her small son Johan (Jörgen Lindström), and Ester (Ingrid Thulin), who are travelling by train (the published script emphasizing its stench) to an unspecified central European country where the language is utterly unknown to them and is, indeed, an invention by Bergman. They end up in what is to be the main setting for the film—a suite of two rooms in a vast, almost unoccupied hotel in a city full of people with whom they cannot communicate and which is strangely, eerily silent. As in Persona (Bergman's film to be released some three years later) the two women are involved in a form of love/hate intimacy which some have tried to interpret as lesbian. While Anna is full of a lust for life and sex (which she seeks out promiscuously in this strange city), Ester (forever jealous of her younger sister) is suffering from what appears to be a terminal sickness, her only faithful attendant being an elderly and cadaverous floor waiter who seems to resemble Death himself.

The essence of this film lies in the failing relationship of the two sisters, who represent a polarity of opposites in temperament. Ingrid Thulin once told the writer that Bergman had considered inviting her to play both parts, thus emphasizing this polarity as dual aspects of a single person, but that the logistics of production with a single actress proved too daunting. Anna is sensual in all her contacts, even with her small son. The scenes between her and her eager lover (a man she picks up during an evening's solitary outing) caused the censors of the early 1960s some considerable concern, though they would cause little stir today. Anna's carnality contrasts with Ester's lonely austerity, and her demanding rationality. She is, according to the script, a translator, and she shows throughout the film her curiosity about certain words in the country's language, as conveyed to her by the waiter. As the elder, she attempts to dominate her sister (who is deeply resentful) and to adopt a guardian-like attitude to the boy, which makes Anna jealous. The boy himself wanders off to explore the hotel, large and empty like a mausoleum, and finds a kind of momentary, sick companionship with a party of dwarfs, creatures of his own size who are evidently a company of entertainers and virtually the only other inhabitants in the hotel. The effect of this perverse contact is somehow surreal. As for the country itself, Bergman says ( Bergman on Bergman ), "It's a country preparing for war, where war can break out any day, all the time one feels it is something perverse and terrifying." Every so often tanks roll through the city streets, and the sinister wail of air-raid sirens can be heard.

Bergman has said much from time to time about this daunting film. In a press interview for the London Sunday Times (March 15, 1964), he said, "Ester loves her sister; she finds her beautiful and feels a tremendous responsibility for her, but she would be the first to be horrified if it were pointed out that her feelings were incestuous. Her mistake lies in the fact that she wants to control her sister—as her father had controlled her by his love. Love must be open. Otherwise Love is the beginning of Death. That is what I am trying to say." Some years later in Bergman on Bergman , he added, "The crux of the matter is that Ester—even though she is ill and inwardly decaying—is struggling against the decay within her. She feels a sort of disgust for Anna's corporeality . But Anna is uninhibitedly physical. She holds her little boy within the magic circle of her own animality, controls him."

There is, however, at least the suggestion of hope at the close of the film. Anna leaves her sister to return home, taking the child with her. But the boy carries a secret message with him from his aunt in a strange language which has excited her curiosity. Ester entertains maternal feelings towards him; the message excites him as he struggles to spell it out. As Bergman puts it ( Bergman on Bergman ), "To me Ester in all her misery represents a distillation of something indestructibly human, which the boy inherits from her. Out of all man's misery and conflicts and his insufferable condition is crystalized this clear little drop of something different—this sudden impulse to understand a few words in another language." The boy acts as a catalyst between the two sisters; both women, adds Bergman "turn their best sides towards the kid. He escapes from the film almost unscathed." Nevertheless, he carries a toy gun and has a childlike vision of flight and the space age.

On its release, the film excited much hostile criticism—as anti-woman, anti-sex, as near-pornographic (partly because of Ester's moment of masturbation). The explosive, sometimes sick erotic suggestions and action in the film are thematic, not in any way pornographic. Bergman claims to have received after the film's release threatening or otherwise vicious letters and phonecalls, but in Bergman on Bergman he categorically rejects any of these hostile implications. The film, he says, "tells its story by simple means, not by symbols or such antics. The people in my films are exactly like myself—creatures of instinct, of rather poor intellectual capacity, who at best only think while they're talking. My films draw on my own experience, however inadequately based logically and intellectually."

—Roger Manvell

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