Ingmar Bergman, the leading light of the Swedish Lutheran "Life Is Shit And then You Die" School, apparently lost his chess match with Death yesterday, according to reports filtering out of Sweden this morning.
As a Swedish Lutheran child myself, I identified closely with the Grand Master of the Swedish Malaise. He had the Swedish national pastime down pat, that existential sang-froid, that life must be endured, not enjoyed, that if you suffer enough and resist joy you will be rewarded with the ultimate sweetness of non-existence. Maybe.
So I loved his films, and I especially loved the sweet lilt of the language (the last remnants of which would later earn the Oscar for the Coen brothers for Fargo) even as I squinted at the subtitles. For although the "Old Folks" spoke the native tongue, us kids were never taught it. We were "Americans", and so we had to speak "English". I always thought that was a tragedy and, gosh, I hope that never happens to the Spanish kids.
I could never understand how the rest of the world could watch his films, however. The rest of the world was supposed to be happy, goddammit! Us Swedes were supposed to have a monopoly on bittersweet! But then I heard Woody Allen thought Bergman was the best ever. The Swedish Lutheran and the New York Jew? Could it be that suffering was everywhere?
Apparently 'twas so. 'Twas thus, with the Twin Towers of Man's Inhumanity to Man, and God's Inhumanity to Man to overcome. There was nothing but suffering. A few laughs, a couple of wild strawberries, but that was about it. Suffering, suffering, misery and then a little more suffering for dessert.
Yes, sir. You wake up and start your day off with another episode of 'Breakfast in Hell'.
"May I have another slice of masochism, please? Perhaps another dollop of self-flagellation? Mommy! Mommy! This toast isn't dry enough!
It sure looked glum when I headed off to college. Luckily, there I discovered another Lutheran, named Henry Miller.
"My parents were Lutherans," wrote Henry, "which is to say, idiots.
That perked me up.
"Always merry and brite!" wrote Henry. He was quoting someone.
I don't think it was Ingmar Bergman.
But, then again, maybe it was, in a way.
"Ingmar, Ingmar, the whallopin' Swede,/
Never had nothin' but a left hand lead."
No, wait a minute. That was another 'Ingmar'...