Marriage scene: Ingmar Bergman's 'Scenes From A Marriage'
Quiet hell of a rotten relationship
Tuesday 16 September 2008
Happy marriages rarely make for good cinema. The real drama comes when we see spouses tearing strips off one another, using their intimate knowledge of each others' lives for a blitzkrieg of taunting and humiliating insults about weight, personal hygiene and sexual inadequacy. As George and Martha in Mike Nichols's film of Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf (1966), Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor scrapped away like the film world's answer to two heavyweight boxers who both specialise in trading low blows. The reason they seemed so fresh and invigorating in their malice was that as the whole world knew the actors had a marriage (or marriages) almost as tempestuous as the one portrayed in Albee's play.
Grimmer but equally trenchant is the picture of married life given in Bergman's Scenes From A Marriage (1973). Strangely enough, the most vicious moments in the movie aren't those featuring the main protagonists Marianne (Liv Ullmann) and Johan (Erland Josephson.) By far the most excruciating sequence in the movie comes early when Marianne and Johan's good friends Katarina (Bibi Andersson) and Peter (Jan Malmsjo) arrive for dinner. At this point, Marianne and Johan seem like the perfect bourgeois couple. Their home is beautifully furnished. The couple are proudly boasting about the flattering interview with them that has appeared in a big glossy magazine. The journalist has characterised them as "people who have never forgotten to give love pride of place." The mood at the dinner very rapidly sours when Peter reveals how "rotten" his relationship with Katarina has become. She calls him a spineless jellyfish. He complains about her cooking. That is just the prelude to a full-blown marital spat that ends with Peter quoting one of Bergman's favourite lines from Strindberg. "I wonder if there is anything more horrible than a man and wife who hate each other." The subsequent breakdown of Johan and Marianne's marriage shows just how perceptive Strindberg's remark remains.
Originally made as a TV series, Scenes From A Marriage turned into a full-blown phenomenon in Sweden. Bergman found himself cast in the unlikely role as a marriage guidance counsellor. Strangers would approach him for advice about their relationships. He was obliged to change his telephone number to escape entreaties from miserable husbands and wives. In the wake of the film, there were widespread debates about the institution of marriage. Commentators said how healthy it was for the nation that warring spouses were at last discussing their problems in the open. However, divorce rates went up rather than down. Meanwhile, Peter and Katarina the couple from the beginning of the movie were resurrected by Bergman (albeit played by different actors) in the even more vicious, German-made From The Life Of The Marionettes. (1980) By now, Peter had turned into a killer. We also saw Johan and Marianne again in Bergman's final movie, Saraband (2003). And, no, Bergman's view of marriage as a battleground didn't seem to have softened in the slightest in the intervening years.
Life & Style blogs
Coachella Festival 2015: from Kendall Jenner to Alexa Chung, stars and festival-goers parade their boho best
What do the emoji on Snapchat mean?
A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
'Game-changing' new way to fight cancer discovered
The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive - it's where the CIA gets its coffee fix
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
Russian warships in English Channel 'to conduct anti-aircraft and anti-submarine military drills'
- 1 BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
- 2 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
- 3 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 4 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...
£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...
£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...
£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...