Erik Hedling
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Return to the bourgeoisie
Fanny and Alexander in Swedish politics

This chapter argues that Bergman deviated from his highly critical depictions of bourgeois life in the films of the 1960s and 1970s—from Persona (1966) to the television series Scenes from a Marriage (1973) —in Fanny and Alexander (1982), his final contribution to films made for the cinema. Bergman himself came from an upper-class bourgeois background, and by his own account he did not take an interest in politics until the mid-1960s. He sided with Sweden’s ruling Social Democratic party at that time, a stance that certainly represented a sort of break with his family background. It is argued here that Bergman obviously profited from this connection to contemporary power politics, by obtaining official support for his work, both in the theatre and in film. However, Bergman temporarily broke off with Sweden in the aftermath of his being charged with tax evasion in 1976. The author argues that Bergman’s return to Sweden with Fanny and Alexander in the early 1980s coincided with a new Zeitgeist, in which the country’s Socialist past came under much critical scrutiny. It was in this new political climate that Bergman chose to celebrate the bourgeois society in which he was raised and at the same time denigrate enemies, like Uppsala philosophy professor Ingemar Hedenius, a strong advocate of scientific positivism and atheism, who appears in several Bergman film as the arch rationalist Vergérus. In Fanny and Alexander, this figure is—somewhat surprisingly and ambiguously—depicted as the Lutheran clergyman.

The political climate in Sweden was somewhat tumultuous at the time of Bergman’s writing Fanny and Alexander in 1979. The oil crisis of 1973 had impaired the strong Swedish economy, which had been growing steadily since the late 1940s. In 1976, several factors caused Sweden’s ruling Social Democratic Party to lose the general election for the first time in forty years, and the international scandal surrounding tax evasion charges brought against Bergman was one of them.1 Despite their election promises, Sweden’s newly elected government (consisting of three non-socialist parties, from liberals to conservatives) continued to follow the same Keynesian economic policies that had held sway in Sweden for half a century, and the economic decline continued.2

The Islamic Revolution in Iran in March 1979 caused a second oil crisis in Sweden. What some critics perceived to be the disadvantages of the Swedish Model Welfare State (high taxes, a huge and expensive public sector, and low mobility in the labour market) were now singled out as the major reasons for Sweden’s limited economic growth and high inflation. This led the post-1976, non-socialist government to introduce some very unpopular changes from 1980 onwards, namely restrictions to welfare policies; cuts were made in the state budget that would have been unthinkable during the decades of Social Democratic rule. As Swedish historian Kjell Östberg puts it, ‘Keynes was dead and Sweden had taken its first steps towards market-orientated politics.’3 Östberg also describes the years that followed as being characterized by neoliberalism—a distinct right-wing wave—and by a decline in the leftist values that had permeated rather significant areas in Swedish media and culture during the 1970s.4

In this context, it is important to differentiate between the various layers of Swedish left-wing politics. On the one hand, there was (and still is) the ‘Establishment Left’, characterized by the powerful Social Democratic Party (which has governed Sweden for sixty-nine of the last eighty-six years), and the trade unions. On the other hand, there was the (albeit much smaller) ‘Anti-establishment Left’, comprised of a number of Marxist fractions which began to emerge with Sweden’s anti-Vietnam War movement in the mid-1960s.5 By 1980, however, these latter groups had begun to lose some of their former media clout. While the Establishment Left and the Anti-establishment Left had very little sympathy for each other, some semantic problems arose from the fact that they both described themselves as ‘Socialist’.

Swedish culture also underwent change during this period. Young literary critics began to attack Sweden’s former predilection for left-wing politics, a penchant that was replaced by a philosophical approach and a more modernist-elitist aesthetic. Or, as historian Göran Hägg describes it in his outspoken history of the Swedish Model welfare state:

it was a process where the arts sector as a whole changed its stripes—most often silently—from a routine leftist engagement to ‘post-modernism’ or other vaguely apolitical ideas. Some leading arts personalities even went so far as to express right-wing or neoliberal political sympathies, which would have been inconceivable only a few years before.6

Nobody knows how Bergman was affected, if at all, by these vicissitudes in Sweden’s cultural, economic, and political climate. The only overtly political comment I can find in the numerous interviews he gave to the Swedish press at the time pertains to a discussion of Sweden’s upcoming referendum on nuclear power in March 1980. Theatre critic Arne Ruth conducted the interview on behalf of Sweden’s liberal Expressen tabloid, one of the major newspapers to support Bergman throughout his tax scandal trauma four years before.7

Bergman typically—and provocatively—claimed that Sweden had exchanged debating religion for discussing nuclear power, just as it had done earlier with the Vietnam War and the furore over Stockholm’s elm trees, to mention two examples. Ironically, the latter instance referred to a violent public demonstration organized by the Anti-establishment Left against the felling of trees in Stockholm’s inner city in 1971. Bergman also declared himself to be opposed to nuclear power: ‘Although I will get into trouble for saying so, I am a passionate opponent of nuclear power. At the same time, my position on this matter makes me feel ridiculous.’8 This latter comment was probably connected to Bergman’s juxtaposition of religion and nuclear power. However, his anti-nuclear stance was not shared by the Social Democrats, the very party Bergman himself claimed he had long voted for. That said, according to various accounts his support for the Social Democrats waned after the tax scandal of 1976.9

Bergman’s politics

Bergman made the following comment to a Swedish weekly in an interview published in 1956, shortly after completing his film The Seventh Seal (1957):

I have not turned bourgeois in my old age [Bergman was thirty-eight at the time]. I have always been bourgeois, conservative, reactionary—or whatever you wish to call it.10

In spite of his self-confessed lack of interest in politics,11 in so far as Bergman was referring to an actual political stance he might have inherited this outlook from his upper-middle-class upbringing in the 1920s and 1930s. By the 1950s, however, Sweden was very heavily influenced by the Social Democratic Party and the impact of its—at that time—successful implementation of the Swedish Model Welfare State. Although the Social Democrats were originally a workers’ party, they also attracted members of the middle class as well as many intellectuals. The fact that Bergman eventually joined the Social Democratic ranks might be considered something of a surprise given both his background and the nature of his films produced up until the mid-1960s, which espouse a world-view far removed from that championed by the Social Democrats. It was a world-view focused on spirituality rather than science and progress, human tragedy rather than social optimism, humiliation rather than material prosperity, and—albeit inconsistently—conservatism rather than modernity.12 Bergman biographer Michael Timm describes this aspect of Bergman as follows: ‘For decades he had opposed official Sweden, not in political statements, but like […] the neorealists[, in] presenting counter-images to official ideology [implicitly, Social Democratic ideology].’13 I have chosen to single out an article by socialist film critic Jonas Sima from among the writings of many critics and scholars who have recognized this aspect of Bergman’s views. The article is a review of From the Life of the Marionettes from 1981, published in the Social Democratic Party newsletter Aktuellt i politiken. In it, Sima describes Bergman’s counter-images in bourgeois terms:

Ingmar Bergman is a bourgeois artist. His films are most often bourgeois melodramas set in upper-class surroundings (preferably stucco-decorated Östermalm apartments [that is to say, in a distinctly upper-class neighbourhood in central Stockholm]), among well-educated people with solid bank accounts and respectable family trees.

By his own account, Bergman claimed to have voted for the Social Democrats up until his ‘exile’ in Germany.14

This does not amount to saying that I personally believe that Bergman’s films can be squeezed into a definite ideological framework: sometimes the narrative perspective is clearly conservative, as in some of his early films, and sometimes it is surprisingly radical. That was how Bergman functioned as an artist.

If such a change ever actually occurred, perhaps Bergman’s shift in ideological outlook—his conversion to Social Democracy—might have taken place, at least in part, when Sweden’s Social Democratic government began to show him open support. Bergman himself claimed that his ‘mistrust of politics’ lasted until the mid-1960s.15 In January 1963, Bergman received a phone call from Sweden’s then-minister of culture and education, Social Democrat Ragnar Edenman, in which Edenman offered him the position of head of the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm, one of Sweden’s most important administrative positions for a man of the arts.16 Later that same year, Edenman also personally proposed to Bergman that he submit his new film The Silence (1963), with its provocative display of sexuality, to the state’s film censorship authority for approval while its notoriously strict censor Erik Skoglund was taking his annual holiday. Unsurprisingly, the film passed inspection without cuts, and in the fierce debate that followed—even reaching the Swedish Parliament—Edenman, who was no friend of film censorship, proved to be a staunch supporter of Bergman.17 Regarding the liberalization of sexual politics during the 1960s, Bergman’s views and the Social Democrats’ visions most certainly coincided.18

As head of the Royal Dramatic Theatre, and following the founding of the Swedish Film Institute in 1963, Bergman presumably became convinced that the arts (particularly the elite culture that he represented, especially through the theatre) needed strong state support to survive in a capitalist economy. Thus, I believe he was at least partly referring to himself when he wrote in his private notes concerning the film Shame in 1967 that the two leading roles, artists Jan and Eva (played by Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann), should be named Rosenberg. As he wrote, ‘they are sprung from the same rose’, the red rose being the traditional symbol of the Socialist movement and, since 1969, also the official symbol of the Swedish Social Democratic Workers’ Party. Bergman goes on to specify: ‘They are Social Democrats[.] They have always supported the Social Democrats, as that party supports the arts.’19

Bergman went on to declare his support for Sweden’s Social Democratic Party in a series of interviews, ranging from the classic interview book Bergman om Bergman (1970)20 to an especially candid interview with British critic and poet Alfred Alvarez. This interview was published in The New York Times just weeks before the start of the rift between Bergman and the Social Democrats over the infamous 1976 tax scandal. In it, Bergman openly praised the social revolution in his homeland—that is to say, the implementation of the Swedish Model Welfare State—and was taken seriously by Alvarez on political matters in a manner that differed from that of Swedish critics, who were somewhat condescending in their approach to Bergman where politics was concerned:21

But you must remember that 50 years ago Sweden was an extraordinarily poor country—people were starving and life [was] generally hard. Then this almost completely unbloody revolution happened in a mere 50 years. This, in my opinion, is remarkable.22

Even so, Bergman was less enthusiastic the next time he commented on his commitment to Social Democracy. The remark coincided with his self-imposed exile in Germany after he was charged (wrongly, as it was later proven) with tax evasion in January 1976, an event that echoed throughout the Western world. Many years later, Sweden’s Social Democratic government would apologize officially to Bergman for this error.23 Just before leaving Sweden, in April of the same year, Bergman wrote a farewell letter published in the Swedish newspaper Expressen in which he lamented:

I have been a convinced Social Democrat. With genuine passion have I believed in this ideology of grey compromise. I thought my country the best in the world, and if I continue to think so, it is perhaps because I have seen so very little of other lands. My awakening was a shock, partly because of my unbearable humiliation, partly because I saw that anyone in this country, whenever and however, can be attacked and abased by a special kind of bureaucracy that grows like a galloping cancer […] and to which society has given powers exercised by individuals who are in no way mature enough to handle them.24

These sentiments might have epitomized Bergman’s mood when he wrote Fanny and Alexander three years later. Bergman himself wrote of this film:

I conceived Fanny and Alexander during the fall of 1978, a time when everything around me left me in darkest despair. But I wrote the screenplay during the spring of 1979, and by that time many things had eased up. Autumn Sonata had a successful premiere, and the whole tax business had dissolved into thin air.25

This development marked something of an end to Bergman’s public relationship with the Swedish political faction I have termed the ‘Establishment Left’. That aside, something remains to be said about the relationship which he was simultaneously developing with the Anti-establishment Left, a relationship which might also have had some bearing on his work on Fanny and Alexander.

The Anti-establishment Left attacked Bergman vigorously from the late 1960s onwards, even going so far as to organize demonstrations outside cinemas in connection with the release of Bergman’s pacifist film Shame in September 1968.26 The protesters objected that in reality, Bergman was acting as an errand boy for American imperialism by suggesting that the two opposing sides were equally guilty of atrocities during war, particularly since he told reporters that his film was about the Vietnam War. Conversely, the Anti-establishment Left advocated a firm commitment to the Vietnamese people, as represented by North Vietnam and the South Vietnamese Communist guerrilla force, or Viet Cong (a stance often challenged by contemporary historical research on the Vietnam War).27

This strong anti-Bergman sentiment, including harsh accusations of his being a bourgeois artist with no relevance for the working class, persisted into the 1970s, and it is summarized in Maria Bergom Larsson’s book Ingmar Bergman och den borgerliga ideologin.28 Some film critics continued to view Bergman in this light even up until the 1980s, as is exemplified by Jonas Sima’s defence of Bergman in the quotation below, in spite of his aforementioned review of From the Life of the Marionettes:

I think that Bergman’s films can teach us Socialists something about life itself, for example. […] I don’t view Bergman as being a particularly bourgeois person. But he does drill into something that he knows very well: the bourgeois society, the sacred family, and […] good manners. He transcends taboos[;] in the end he is showing us the inside of the soul. There are several good artists [who] provide us with a picture of the dark side of society. […] The bourgeoisie is a carcass. Nevertheless[,] it moves. Sometimes Bergman’s gluttonous approach to this rotten social body feels rather necrophiliac.29

This kind of discussion of Bergman’s films was common within left-wing circles, sometimes with favourable connotations, as in this example. Most often, however, the opposite was true.

Bergman’s own ultimate opinion of Sweden’s Anti-establishment Left proved to be scathing. In his autobiography The Magic Lantern (1987), published a few years after Fanny and Alexander’s release, he writes:

It is possible some brave researcher will one day investigate just how much damage was done to our cultural life by the 1968 movement. […] Today, frustrated revolutionaries still cling to their desks in editorial offices and talk bitterly about ‘the renewal that stopped short’. They do not see (and how could they!) that their contribution was a deadly slashing blow at an evolution that must never be separated from its roots. In other countries where varied ideas are allowed to flourish at the same time, tradition and education were not destroyed. Only in China and Sweden were artists and teachers scorned.30

As is further demonstrated in the twenty-two pages of The Magic Lantern dedicated to the subject, Bergman was deeply affected by the tax scandal of 1976, and he indirectly laid the blame for the wrongful charges levelled against him at the feet of the Social Democrats and their charismatic prime minister, Olof Palme.31

Fanny and Alexander revisited

At the time of its release, most critics viewed Fanny and Alexander as a celebration of what could be loosely termed ‘bourgeois values’. This was certainly the case in Sweden, albeit without the negative connotations such a designation would have entailed in the two decades prior. Thus, while Bergman himself remained unaffected by the changes in the zeitgeist, the opposite is true of Fanny and Alexander’s reception. Historian Göran Hägg explicitly refers to Fanny and Alexander as a parable of the troubled nature of the era:

Ingmar Bergman returned to his native Sweden after his exile in the aftermath of the tax scandal of 1976. Fanny and Alexander (1982) met with enormous success as a series on Sweden’s then-dominant public-service TV network (still a state monopoly at the time), and afterwards as a film all over the world. [Hägg gets the chronology of events wrong here, since the film came before the series.] When the first episode was broadcast, some critics interpreted its lavish Christmas party as a satire depicting a depraved upper class. However, it was soon revealed that on the contrary, it was in fact a paean to the Oscarian bourgeoisie [named after Sweden’s King Oscar II, who reigned in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries] as a life form, and to the virtues of the ‘little world,’ and was thus far from any moralism or social posing. In this regard, the film was highly typical of the new ideological climate.32

In a caption, Hägg adds regarding Fanny and Alexander: ‘A vanished bourgeoisie is suddenly portrayed with the same kind of nostalgia as was reserved for the working class in the 1960s, and the peasants in the 1970s.’33

One could even apply a neoliberal understanding to Fanny and Alexander, although many film scholars would shudder at the mere suggestion. The ‘little world’ famously hailed by Gustaf Adolf Ekdahl (played by Jarl Kulle) in the film’s concluding speech could be understood to represent the Ekdahl family’s capitalist enterprises, the theatre and other small companies he obviously ran with great financial success, though the theatre experiences a (presumably) brief hiatus in its operations when its star actress, Emilie Ekdahl (played by Eva Fröling), temporarily ends her career to marry the bigot Bishop Edvard Vergérus (played by Jan Malmsjö). Here, the little world is portrayed as the antithesis of a broken monolith, the state-run Church of Sweden, as represented by the morally and financially destitute Bishop.

Swedish film scholar Mats Rohdin has studied the theatre–church dichotomy in Fanny and Alexander as an interplay between the profane and the sacred, the new and the old. Rohdin notes: ‘what separates Fanny and Alexander from earlier Bergman films, such as Sawdust and Tinsel (1953) and The Magician (1958), is that the bourgeoisie (read: the Ekdahl family) has this time formed an alliance with representatives of the theatrical arts, instead of oppressing and humiliating them.’34 To this could be added the purely economic juxtaposition of the Ekdahl family businesses (representing healthy commercial private ventures) with the church (representing an outdated and stale public sector).

Things become even more complex in connection with the depiction of the main villain of the piece, the Bishop. The Bishop is named Vergérus, a character who has appeared in several Bergman films since The Magician in 1958. This name might be derived from the Latin verb vergo/vergere, which, among other things, means ‘to lie’. In other words, Vergérus is a liar. Vergérus is most often depicted as an arch-rationalist, a man of science who is thoroughly aware of his superior point of view, as in the case of his debut in The Magician. In that instance, Gunnar Björnstrand plays Vergérus in the role of a particularly arrogant and conceited medical doctor. As the Vergérus character developed over the years, he came to take on the physical appearance and personality traits (already evident in The Magician) of famous Uppsala Professor of Philosophy Ingemar Hedenius. Hedenius was well known in Sweden in the 1950s and 1960s both as a major contributor to Stockholm’s biggest broadsheet, Dagens Nyheter, and as a keen critic of various conservative institutions.35 As an introducer of Anglo-Saxon analytical philosophy in Sweden, Hedenius was recognized as a fierce and highly eloquent atheist, and even as something of a nemesis of the state-run church during the social and political upheavals of the 1950s. In their fascinating comparison of Hedenius and Bergman as critics of religion, Maria Bergom Larsson and Bengt Kristensson Uggla maintain: ‘The rationalistic mode of thought represented by Hedenius’ philosophy characterized both Sweden’s Modern Project and the social-engineering process that would build the new state [folkhemmet (‘the people’s home’), according to Social Democratic phraseology].’36 Hedenius’s book Tro och vetande (Belief and Knowledge), published in 1949,37 sparked a huge debate in Sweden, as is elegantly summarized by Bergman in the dialogue between the medical and theology students during lunch at the inn Gyllene uttern in Wild Strawberries (1957). Kristensson Uggla and Bergom Larsson highlight this scene as a comic critique of just how abstract and theoretical the debate triggered by Hedenius could be.38 Hedenius was also identified as an occasional Social Democrat, in this case representing the strong scientific and educational bent found in official party policy.

The physical representation of Hedenius in Vergérus is particularly striking in German actor Heinz Bennent’s appearance in The Serpent’s Egg (1977). Here, Bennent plays the diabolical Dr Hans Vergérus who conducts scientific experiments on humans in 1920s Berlin, often with fatal consequences.

Although exaggerated scientific rigour is exchanged for religious bigotry in Fanny and Alexander, the phenomenon works in similar ways. Hedenius is invoked by Bishop Vergérus (incarnated by Jan Malmsjö) in what Mats Rohdin has described as ‘his idealistically elevated search for purity, free from all kinds of human misery, penury, and decay’.39 In this instance, a passion for science has developed into a particularly austere and grim version of Lutheranism. Hedenius was also famous for his love of classical music and was known as a master flautist, even performing for live audiences. In order to make the connection between Vergérus and Hedenius in Fanny and Alexander, Bergman made the Bishop a devoted flute player.

While I am speculating about Bergman’s use of names, I cannot resist the urge to mention that Bishop Edvard Vergérus also bears the given names Henrik—which Bergman famously used to depict his father, Erik Bergman—and Olof, which he shares with the most famous of Sweden’s Social Democratic politicians, former Prime Minister Olof Palme, a man whom Bergman ‘despised’, according to his own testimony in relation to the tax scandal in The Magic Lantern.40 According to Michael Timm, the ire Bergman felt towards Palme lasted until his death.41 On the other hand, ‘Olof’ might also refer to Olof Lagercrantz, the powerful editor-in-chief of Swedish daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter, a person whom Bergman regarded as an enemy from time to time.42

That aside, the Vergérus persona also embodies several more of Hedenius’s character traits, such as were often gossiped about among his many adversaries: his smug sense of self-importance, his contempt for others, and his appeal to a higher power. For Hedenius personally, and for some of the other Vergéruses in Bergman’s films, the latter was represented by scientific discourse. For the man of religion in Fanny and Alexander (such as he purports to be), a similar line of thought creates ‘an atmosphere of purity and austerity’. Moreover, his clearly neurotic sister is allowed to add regarding the Bishop’s Palace that ‘punctuality, cleanliness, and order rule in this house’, to the great dismay of the children, Fanny and Alexander. We also discern that blatant anti-Semitism infects the Bishop’s Palace.

Of course, it would be highly ironic of Bergman to model this religious bigot, the arch-villain of the film, and the obvious criticism of the Church that he embodies, on Ingemar Hedenius, the harshest and best-known critic of Christianity in modern Swedish history. What is more, Bergman would not be Bergman if there was not a catch somewhere, something that would foil overly narrow interpretations of his work. This anticipated catch appears towards the end of the film, in the masterful scene in which the Ekdahl brothers finally confront the Bishop.43 Surprisingly, the Bishop somehow has the last word, concluding the discussion by saying that Gustaf Adolf Ekdahl ‘believes that everything can be bought and sold’. He then adds: ‘Director Ekdahl is the son of one of the greatest actresses in the land. Despite this, he has grasped little or nothing […] of the mind’s unlimited power over matter.’ This, I would suggest, is a typical Bergman twist on the film’s general sentiment.

The Bishop is thus allowed to deliver the counter-argument, dismissing such capitalist practices as buying and selling and arguing that mind comes before matter. His words constitute a solid critique of a neoliberal ethos, thus harmonizing with the general tenor found universally in Bergman’s oeuvre, where economic gain counts for very little and where mind always seems to triumph over matter.

Naturally, the film also contains other minor ambiguities, such as the Ekdahl family name which is a reference to Ibsen’s play The Wild Duck, in which the Ekdals (a variant spelling of the same name) are characterized by a lifelong deception regarding their own existence.44 Bergman was once asked in an interview: ‘Is it a coincidence that [the family in Fanny and Alexander] bears the same surname as the family in Ibsen’s The Wild Duck, which also defends the “life-lie”?’ To which he replied:

No, it [was a] highly conscious [choice], but I didn’t think it would be noticed […] many serious people would now attack me for defending our need for a life-lie, for escapism. [We’re] all supposed to be so committed [to contemporary society]. [I’m] just not sure that everybody is [cut out] to be that [way].45

Thus, paradoxically, the Bishop in Fanny and Alexander seeks an oppressive and limiting ‘truth’, while the Ekdahls relax behind their life-affirming ‘lie’.

To summarize, one could at least partly interpret Fanny and Alexander as a film embodying Bergman’s reconciliation with his upper-middle-class background. In calling attention to the favourable aspects of a bourgeois way of life, Bergman might also have intended an implicit critique of Sweden’s Social Democratic Party’s policies, in spite of that party’s irrefutable contribution to the progress made by post-war Swedish society—policies that Bergman himself had openly supported. In one way, it was also Bergman’s revenge: he was given the opportunity to return to Sweden for one last major film production and, seizing the chance, he triumphed, getting away with a piece that can be viewed as propaganda in support of his own social class. Although the film presented both Sweden’s Establishment Left and Anti-establishment Left with an enormous, obvious target at which to take aim, everyone was happy. In a sense, this was a sign of the changes that had occurred with respect to ideological attitudes in Sweden by the early 1980s.

Post scriptum

I have read all the reviews of Fanny and Alexander printed in Sweden’s major newspapers. I have not quoted from them, however, as they are all predictably affirmative—even laudatory—and enthusiastic. There is one minor exception to this rule: Jan Aghed, a distinguished Swedish critic with a consistently left-wing view. Aghed wrote for the Malmö daily Sydsvenska Dagbladet before he died in 2018. While Aghed praised Bergman’s filmmaking in Fanny and Alexander, he typically complained about the lack of social analysis included in the depiction of the patriarchal, sexist world of the film, and about its celebration of the bourgeoisie. Aghed wrote a substantial review of books by Peter Cowie and Paisley Livingston46 for the Swedish film journal Chaplin in 1983, in which he continued his political critique of Fanny and Alexander despite his admiration for the film. In it, Aghed compared the film’s lyrical setting with the grim realities of Swedish society at the time (just prior to the First World War), characterized as it was by an unstable labour market, the fight for universal suffrage, and violent class struggles:

I do not wish to imply by this that the spectacular variance between the film’s idealization of the bourgeoisie and the reality of an exploitative, besieged, and aggressive bourgeois class, together with its objectively uncalled-for optimism and creation of a truly idyllic space, diminishes Fanny and Alexander, which I consider to be a great cinematic work.47

In reality, Aghed was just about the only person to express any such reservations.

1 For an account of the tax scandal, see Erik Hedling, ‘Bergmans bortgång: Realpolitiska reflektioner’, in Erik Hedling and Ann-Kristin Wallengren (eds), Den nya svenska filmen: Kultur, kriminalitet & kakofoni (Stockholm: Atlantis, 2014), pp. 329–352.
2 Many Swedish historians have recounted and analysed domestic events of the late 1970s and early 1980s. I have chosen to base my account on two popular histories distributed by mainstream publishers and widely read in Sweden: Göran Hägg, Välfärdsåren: svensk historia 1945–1986 (Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 2005) and Kjell Östberg, När vinden vände: Olof Palme 1969–1986 (Stockholm: Leopard, 2009 [2012]). Both authors can be loosely affiliated with a general Social Democratic outlook—that is to say, with Sweden’s dominant political party of the twentieth century—and both have published regularly in the tabloid Aftonbladet, Sweden’s main Social Democratic newspaper. This does not mean that I consider them biased, however. Since I interpret Bergman’s politics at this particular time (although certainly not always, since he was a self-confessed Social Democrat for many years) as being in opposition to the Social Democrats, I consider this to be a reasonable approach.
3 Östberg, När vinden vände, p. 279. Here and elsewhere in this chapter, quotations from works originally in Swedish have been translated by the author.
4 Östberg, När vinden vände, pp. 275–279.
5 For a thorough general account of this process, see Kim Salomon, Rebeller i takt med tiden: FNL-rörelsen och 60-talets politiska ritualer (Stockholm: Rabén Prisma, 1996).
6 Hägg, Välfärdsåren, p. 376.
7 Arne Ruth, ‘“Svenskarna pratar om kärnkraft istället för Gud”’, Expressen, 15 March 1980, Arts section.
8 Ruth, ‘“Svenskarna pratar om kärnkraft”’.
9 While Bergman might have retained his sympathy for Social Democratic ideology, a few things indicate that he changed his vote. One of Bergman’s personal friends, Finnish-Swedish film director and author Jörn Donner, claims to know that Bergman voted for Sweden’s liberal party (Folkpartiet) in the 1990s. See Jörn Donner, ‘Ett långsamt farväl till Ingmar Bergman’, Svenska Dagbladet, 14 July 2018, Arts section.
10 Ingmar Bergman, Artiklar, Essäer, Föredrag, edited by Håkan Bravinger, Christo Burman, Jan Holmberg, Maaret Koskinen, Per Stam, and Astrid Söderbergh Widding (Stockholm: Norstedts, 2018), p. 239.
11 Stig Björkman, Torsten Manns, and Jonas Sima, Bergman om Bergman (Stockholm: P.A. Norstedt & Söners förlag, 1970), p. 15.
12 See also Erik Hedling, ‘The Welfare State Depicted: Post-Utopian Landscapes in Ingmar Bergman’s Films’, in Maaret Koskinen (ed.), Ingmar Bergman Revisited: Performance, Cinema and the Arts (London and New York: Wallflower Press, 2008), pp. 180–193.
13 Michael Timm, Lusten och dämonerna: Boken om Bergman (Stockholm: Norstedts, 2008), p. 461.
14 Jonas Sima, ‘Bergman – angår han oss’, Aktuellt i politiken, 12 February 1981, 33.
15 See Maria Bergom Larsson, Ingmar Bergman och den borgerliga ideologin (Stockholm: Bokförlaget PAN/Norstedts, 1976), p. 26.
16 Timm, Lusten och dämonerna, p. 352.
17 Timm, Lusten och dämonerna, pp. 362–363.
18 See Erik Hedling, ‘Breaking the Swedish Sex Barrier: Painful Lustfulness in Ingmar Bergman’s The Silence’, Film International 6 (2008), 17–27.
19 Ingmar Bergman, Arbetsboken 1955–1974, edited by Håkan Bravinger, Christo Burman, Jan Holmberg, Maaret Koskinen, Per Stam, and Astrid Söderbergh Widding (Stockholm: Norstedts, 2018), p. 217. I also believe that the name ‘Rosenberg’ has a connection to the famous American spy couple, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, who were executed for espionage in 1953. I believe that, to Bergman, the name signified his protagonists’ status as victims of an oppressive state apparatus.
20 Björkman, Manns, and Sima, Bergman on Bergman, especially pp. 19 and 192.
21 Regarding Bergman on Bergman by Björkman, Manns, and Sima, Bergman would later state explicitly: ‘My young interviewers were the bearers of the one and only true political conviction. They also knew that I had been left behind by the times, demeaned and scorned by the new aesthetics of the younger generation. […] What I did not realize during our sessions was that they were little by little reconstructing a dinosaur piece by piece with the kind assistance of the monster himself.’ Ingmar Bergman, Images: My Life in Film, translated from Swedish by Marianne Ruuth (New York: Arcade Publishing, 1990), p. 11.
22 Alfred Alvarez, ‘A Visit with Ingmar Bergman’, The New York Times, 7 December 1975.
23 See Birgitta Steene, Ingmar Bergman: A Reference Guide (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2005), p. 46.
24 Ingmar Bergman, Artiklar, Essäer, Föredrag, p. 295. The English translation is from Frank Gado, The Passion of Ingmar Bergman (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1986), p. 468.
25 Bergman, Images, p. 370.
26 For an account of the fierce debate regarding Shame, see Erik Hedling, ‘Shame: Ingmar Bergman’s Vietnam War’, Nordicom 29:2 (2008), 245–259.
27 See, for example, Max Hastings, Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945–1975 (London: HarperCollins, 2018). Without defending the American intervention in the slightest, Hastings also points to the appalling atrocities committed against the common people by both the North Vietnamese army and the Viet Cong. He likewise draws attention to the brutal and deadly dictatorship imposed on Vietnam after the American withdrawal in 1975. In Hastings’s view, this was a conflict that nobody deserved to win, an understanding of the war that coincides with that portrayed in Bergman’s Shame in 1968.
28 Bergom Larsson, Ingmar Bergman.
29 Sima, ‘Bergman – angår han oss’, 33.
30 Ingmar Bergman, The Magic Lantern, translated from Swedish by Joan Tate (New York and London: Penguin, 1988), p. 199.
31 Bergman, The Magic Lantern, pp. 84–106.
32 Hägg, Välfärdsåren, p. 409.
33 Hägg, Välfärdsåren, p. 409.
34 Maaret Koskinen and Mats Rohdin, Fanny och Alexander: Ur Ingmar Bergmans arkiv och hemliga gömmor (Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 2005), p. 125.
35 See Svante Nordin, Ingemar Hedenius: En filosof och hans tid (Stockholm: Natur & Kultur, 2004).
36 Maria Bergom Larsson and Bengt Kristensson Uggla, ‘Film som religiöst språk: Hedenius och Ingmar Bergman i livsåskådningsdebatten’, in Maria Bergom Larsson, Stina Hammar, and Bengt Kristensson Uggla (eds), Nedstigningar i modern film – hos Bergman, Wenders, Adlon, Tarkovskij (Delsbo: Åsak, 1992), p. 9.
37 Ingemar Hedenius, Tro och vetande (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1949).
38 Bergom Larsson and Kristensson Uggla, ‘Film som religiöst språk’, p. 12.
39 Koskinen and Rohdin, Fanny och Alexander, p. 146.
40 Bergman, The Magic Lantern, p. 95.
41 Timm, Lusten och dämonerna, p. 470.
42 Jan Holmberg describes Lagercrantz, a major critic and one of two editors-in-chief at Dagens Nyheter, as Bergman’s ‘Nemesis’. See Jan Holmberg, Författaren Ingmar Bergman (Stockholm: Norstedts, 2018), p. 47. While Lagercrantz was often critical of Bergman, he could also be highly supportive of the filmmaker, as in the debate regarding The Silence. See Hedling, ‘Breaking the Swedish Sex Barrier’, pp. 24–25.
43 It should be noted that this masterful scene is only included in the complete, five-hour version, which is the version that was aired on Swedish television and elsewhere and released on DVD by Artificial Eye.
44 Henrik Ibsen’s influence on Bergman is particularly emphasized in Michael Tapper’s book Ingmar Bergman’s Face to Face (London and New York: Wallflower Press, 2017).
45 Christina Palmgren, ‘En gobeläng om barndomen’, Vi 15:5 (1975), 40.
46 Peter Cowie, Ingmar Bergman: A Critical Biography (London: Secker & Warburg, 1982) and Paisley Livingston, Ingmar Bergman and the Rituals of Art (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1982).
47 Jan Aghed, ‘Konstnären som gammal valp’, Chaplin 189:6 (1983), 265. Translation mine.
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Ingmar Bergman

An enduring legacy



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