December 22, 1972 [Cries and Whispers]

Cries and Whispers made Camus' Sisyphus slip into my head--and almost random sentences from his heroic surrender wandered around as I watched the movie; but this one will do: "His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth."

Ingmar Bergman's Cries and Whispers is polished with a master's hand, the grain of it glowing, the passion of every curve of the thing rising above its surface like dust-motes stirred. As Agnes dies of cancer, she seems able to assert--as does Camus' other hero, Oedipus--"my advanced age and the nobility of my soul make me conclude that all is well." Agnes and her sisters suffer in the present, which gives new life to the suffering of the past, invites it to send Agnes to not simply death but a heroic oblivion, one that does feel Greek--that is, if those troubled Hellenic women wrestled with their fates in Sweden, the cold Lutheran admonitions first wrapped around them like furs, then cast off, Agnes' magic end like a fit pitched in faith--the certainty of a few minutes of perfection.


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