Swedish Filmmaker and Atheist Scatters His Atoms Into the Void
Playing Chess With Death from The Seventh Seal (1957)
It's an image that has become iconic in the annals of film history, but now fifty years after creating his most celebrated work, film auteur Ingmar Bergman has finally forfeited his king to Death. As in many of his celebrated works this son of a Lutheran pastor infused his art with the epic struggle to find an answer to God's silence.
Bergman wrote in his autobiography, The Magic Lantern:
I have struggled all my life with a tormented and joyless relationship with God. Faith and lack of faith, punishment, grace and rejection, all were real to me, all were imperative. My prayers stank of anguish, entreaty, trust, loathing and despair. God spoke, God said nothing. Do not turn from Thy face.
The lost hours of that operation provided me with a calming message. You were born without purpose, you live without meaning, living is its own meaning.
When you die, you are extinguished. From being you will be transformed to non-being. A god does not necessarily dwell among our capricious atoms.
His films such as The Seventh Seal, Through A Glass Darkly, Winter Light and The Silence spoke to his struggle to reconcile, and eventually release, the belief he had been raised with but which he could not find any basis for in reality. His capricious atoms, forged in the explosions of distant suns, have now been scattered back into the universe from whence they came. But the flickering light of his life's work will continue to illuminate and inspire for generations to come.
"I hope this generation will be the last to live under the scourge of religious anxiety."
- Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007)
His obituary in The New York Times can be seen here.