Bergman’s Female Characters

When I first viewed Ingmar Bergman’s THE SEVENTH SEAL, I knew I had discovered one of my favorite filmmakers. Now, working my way through his oeuvre, I am deeply moved by the honesty of his female characters.

The titular character in SUMMER WITH MONIKA (1953) is at first a high-spirited young woman (played by the sensually powerful Harriet Andersson). But after brutal abuse and sexual assault, she becomes unable to stomach family life and even society itself. Desperate to evade the misogyny that threatens Monika and the poverty that engulfs her lover, they enjoy one brief summer of freedom, drifting from shore to shore and stealing food from those who are older and more securely placed in society. But as adulthood becomes inevitable, the pair of young people descend into the same cycle of emotional and physical violence they had tried to escape. By the end of the year, Monika has shifted from the abused to an abuser.

Bergman is Henry James’ ideal artist, the creator “on whom nothing is lost.” He is so perceptive in his art that he is able to render women’s lives fully, even when he imperfectly understood.

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