AUTUMN SONATA (HÖSTSONATEN)(1978)

Autumn Sonata (1978) - IMDb

(a “do you hate me?” film review by Timothy J. Verret)

I would love to be able to tell you exactly how Ingmar Bergman is able to film (director) and write (screenwriter) what he films and writes, but I would be pretty clueless in whatever I could come up with. I can only say what I think my fellow Enneagram 4 with a 5 wing would want me to say: “Ingmar films and writes the way he does because he’s looking to be honest and thus healed….and so am I!” And the honesty and healing we BOTH are needing can only come about when we seek the “heart and soul” of the matter in our our lifetime (or lifetimes). Although I called this a “do you hate me?” film review, I shudder to think I would ever “hate” Ingmar Bergman. On the contrary! I LOVE INGMAR BERGMAN, because I’m a “better” artist AND human being (BOTH) because of a “better” Ingmar Bergman!

Like many of Ingmar Bergman’s films, AUTUMN SONATA has female characters who dominate the screen, and he couldn’t have directed and written stronger roles for two stronger actresses than mother, Charlotte (Ingrid Bergman) and daughter, Eva (Liv Ullmann). Charlotte is a concert pianist who, like many artists, has put her career above everything and anything else (and everyone and anyone else does include Charlotte’s daughter). Eva has led a life of quiet solitude with her husband and a life of quiet grief because of the drowning death of her son. Charlotte also has another daughter, Helena, who suffers from a debilitating disease that Eva has taken on as Helena’s caretaker. When Charlotte visits Eva during an “autumn sonata,” it’s all resentment and all grief and all unforgiveness from Eva. Charlotte “visits” Eva with the same. This “same” prevents either one of them from honesty and healing. I think the reason there can be no honesty or healing is because Charlotte looks at Eva and delivers a line to her that is the antithesis to honesty and healing: “Eva, do you hate me?” I don’t think there is any line in any language that is more horrible to communicate between a mother and a daughter (or really between anyone and anyone). To think that another we care about so much just might possibly hate us kills everything that is honesty and healing that is “heart and soul” of the matter in any relationship. Does Eva, in fact, hate her mother? She certainly has every right to hate her mother for the decades of despair brought on by her mother’s insane need to accomplish her own acclaim. I want to say that at the film’s end, Eva has forgiven Charlotte as best as she can at any given moment. Eva considers suicide at any given moment because of the deep ache of any given moment that she may not have forgiven her mother enough.

When I tell others how huge of a fan I am of Ingmar Bergman, I often get, “she’s a great actress!” No, Ingmar Bergman (he), NOT Ingrid Bergman (she). But I like that they get this wrong, because I believe Ingmar Bergman embodies beautifully BOTH “he” AND “she.” Bergman’s actresses in interviews have consistently and constantly commented how incredibly (and probably unusually) sensitive and “feminine feeling” is Ingmar Bergman. He brings out the best in his actresses because of exactly this. And he brought out the best in Ingrid Bergman as Charlotte. My word, how brilliant is “she” (and “he”)! I also get from others that Ingmar Bergman is Ingrid Bergman’s father. The truth of the “heart and soul” of the matter is that they are not even related! It was only when Ingmar met Ingrid at a film festival that she handed him a note that said, “Please, let us work together soon.” This is how Ingrid and Ingmar came together finally in their later lifetime and how absolutely essential it is that they did! Liv Ullman, Bergman’s very best actress in his films, matches Ingrid heart-to-soul as Eva. Ingmar actually met Liv when he was walking down a street one day and said to her that she had a great face. Ingmar knew that the camera would love Liv’s face and that her face would tell the whole story with hardly a word spoken. This was certainly the case in Ullmann’s “masterclass in acting” and mute role as Elisabet Vogler in Bergman’s PERSONA (1966). That said, what Ingmar has given Ingrid and Liv is a script that is probing and dissecting and mercilessly BOTH. Mother and daughter “tear” at each other and they rip it all out in the open, probably against their better wishes.

I know I will never in a million lifetimes forget this scene:

(NOTE: When you try to play this video, you may get the message, “Video unavailable.” Just click “Watch this video on YouTube” and that should play the video)

I can tell you that never in a million lifetimes will I forget Eva’s face as Charlotte plays the piano in a way Eva never will be able to play. Charlotte plays from a place of superiority and sternness. Eva can’t play this way because she does not consider herself superior in the least (pun intended) nor stern in the least. This isolated scene could have been all Ingmar needed to film and write for AUTUMN SONATA, because this isolated scene IS this film! It is when we look to another we have so admired and, yes, so loved, to have he or she looking away from us. “Do you hate me?” That’s stunning and that’s shame! Ingmar is so infatuated with the filmed image of one character in profile with another character facing the camera head on. Ingmar does this to give us the image of two characters of one face and, of course, one heart and one soul and, of course, one shame. It’s a shared and shamed face that can never be severed or separated no matter what has transpired or will transpire forever more. In this scene and throughout this film, Ingmar delivers to me the Bible verse that is the epitome of the entirety of this scene and film: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5). This Bible verse, in fact, IS this scene and film and it IS the relationship between Charlotte and Eva who are the “speck and the plank.” What Charlotte “hates” in Eva, she hates in herself. What Eva “hates” in Charlotte, she “hates” in herself. This is, in fact, every single one of us “hating” what we don’t like in another, only to have that same “hating” inside ourselves. No honesty or healing of any heart or soul or shame can take place in this kind of “hate.” That said, this “speck and the plank” works BOTH ways for BOTH Charlotte AND Eva! The mother is the daughter AND the daughter is the mother….BOTH!

I have to say how blessed I am that in this time and space and place that I occupy in this lifetime, Ingmar Bergman has occupied this same time and space and place. I know without a shadow of a doubt that I am a “better’ artist AND human being because of Ingmar Bergman’s films and screenwriting (BOTH). And when someone like myself has been able to watch and “worth” each film masterpiece (and there are many) of Ingmar Bergman, I am someone who can “steal” from this master filmmaker and screenwriter to be the ‘better” artist AND human being I desire to be. Two (BOTH) Enneagram 4’s with a 5 wing, like Ingmar and myself, I hope, are just fine with all this “stealing.” “Is it okay, Ingmar, that I ‘steal’ from you to be a ‘better’ artist AND human being?” Ingmar Bergman, because of his film directing and screenwriting, has turned Timothy’s “do you hate me?” into Timothy’s “I love me!” This kind of “never in a million lifetimes” is something that I know will last me throughout all my lifetime (or lifetimes), long after the film credits of my lifetime (or lifetimes) have rolled on and on….and forever more!

2 thoughts on “AUTUMN SONATA (HÖSTSONATEN)(1978)

  1. Thank you, PJ. I always like your replies to what I write, because I always have to look up a word you use that I am not sure of the definition. Today, it was “unstinted” (“given without restraint; liberal”). That word describes me to a “T” (as in “Timothy” or “Mr. T”). I appreciate you and I appreciate a dictionary! 😉😎

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