Joseph E. Cunneen
Sep 1, 1991
Robert Lauder, a philosopher and close student of film—who has contributed to The New York Times, America and other periodicals—has long been deeply engaged by the hauntingly introspective movies of Ingmar Bergman. Considering the number of books on Bergman already available, Lauder's new study is an act of courage, but his philosophical concerns tend to produce reductionist interpretations, limiting his ability to explain why he responds so deeply to the movies he is discussing. Beginning the book with a summary of his own philosophical realism was probably a tactical mistake, since it might allow hasty readers to conclude that his position is less nuanced and open-ended than it is. Though inappropriate as a text, God, Death, Art and Love is a readable reprise of the major films from The Seventh Seal to Fanny and Alexander which should prove of value to those unfamiliar with the literature on Bergman. Readers will be reminded of how the knight's tormented cry in the earlier film Why Can't I Kill God Within Me? seems to have been stilled in the later works, but the cataloguing of references to God, death, art, and love offers little fresh illumination. For example, Lauder correctly observes the importance of touch as a metaphor for love in such movies as Winter Light and The Silence, but when he concludes that "The only hope we have, according to Bergman, is human love," the effect is bathos. Asking Bergman to provide a "philosophical vision" was probably always an unreasonable request. A more relevant question is why at least some of his movies remain enduring art. The fact that even scenes of despair can, as in Winter Light, hint at the reality of the sacred, needs sustained analysis that may have to go beyond Bergman's conscious intentions or ability to verbalize his "philosophy."