By Petrakis, John
The Christian Century , Vol. 124, No. 18
I have struggled all my life with a tormented and joyless relationship with God. Faith and lack of faith, punishment, grace and rejection all were real to me, all were imperative. My prayers stank of anguish, entreaty, trust, loathing and despair. God spoke, God said nothing. Do not turn from me Thy face.
GROWING UP in the Greek Orthodox Church, I learned to confess my sins by kneeling directly in front of the priest. I had no reason to believe that other churches handled this sacrament differently. When I first saw Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal, I was mesmerized by the scenes of Death and the Knight talking to each other, in part because they were sitting in some sort of booth with a small door between them. What a great cinematic concept, I thought. When I later visited a Catholic church for the first time and saw the rows of confessionals, my response was, "They stole the idea from Bergman!"
It was an easy conclusion to draw for someone like me, who was attending film school and just discovering, with awe, the Swedish director whose images were so potent and clear. Why wouldn't they be adopted for use in the real world?
I also vividly remember the first time I viewed the merging faces in Persona, the old doctor's close-up at the end of Wild Strawberries, the sister mutilating herself with a shard of glass in Cries and Whispers, and the dance of death at the end of The Seventh Seal.
Ingmar Bergman died July 30 at the age of 89. He was asleep at his home on the island of Faro, perhaps immersed in his dreams, which would often find their way into his films. The obituaries and tributes have been rolling in ever since, along with a few suggesting that Bergman wasn't really that important or that great.
Well, he was. Though he will probably be best remembered for his art-house successes of the 1950s and 1960s, he was still on his game as late at 2003, when he wrote and directed the intense and disturbing Saraband.
Not all of his many films (he made about five dozen) were brilliant, but they were all hugely ambitious. Bergman made movies about things that matter. His aim was high and true, focusing on humankind's search for meaning in the short gap between birth and death.
He was also, as has been well documented, an artist who drew from his myriad life experiences to fill large canvases about the choices we make, and the steep price we pay for our mistakes. …