Beliefnet
Idol Chatter

IngmarBergman2_070730.jpgLike many artists born to oppressively religious parents, Ingmar Bergman ran away from his upbringing, only to devote his work to questions of faith, eternity, and redemption. The great Swedish film director, who died over the weekend, broke with his Lutheran pastor father in his late teens, but from “The Seventh Seal” to his last major feature, “Fanny and Alexander,” Bergman was obsessed with man’s fate in what seemed like a loveless universe more haunted than cared for by God.
You can see in “Fanny and Alexander”–the closest thing to Bergman’s cinematic autobiography–how God got such a bad rap with the young Bergman. When the two children of the title lose their fun-loving father, their mother marries a ghoulishly serious Lutheran bishop. This baleful cleric, a delightfully vengeful take, one gathers, on Bergman’s father, provides the widow with the order and rectitude she’s seeking; he provides Fanny and Alexander with the sense that everything, especially gladness, is forbidden.
Next to the bishop, the black-cloaked, wraithlike figure of Death in Bergman’s early masterpiece “The Seventh Seal” is a barrel of laughs. In the end, the “Seventh Seal’s” doomed party of humans is liberated from their earthly misery by Death and dance away across a meadow. In “Fanny and Alexander,” the church, in the person of the bishop, offers little such hope of happiness in eternity. Indeed, it’s the afterworld that undoes the Christian believer, not the other way around.

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