Monday, November 1, 2010

#537: The Magician

(Ingmar Bergman, 1958)

The Bergman film to receive the Criterion treatment most recently, The Magician is also one of the more unusual films in the director's entries. For starters, there's a happy ending, something that happened occasionally, as with the comedy Smiles of a Summer Night, but with very few of the director's films that are so directly tied into his core themes, as The Magician certainly is. Furthermore, moments of The Magician play out more like Corridors of Blood than The Seventh Seal. There are hands reaching out from the darkness, solemn discussions of the unknown (magic, not God... or are they one and the same to Bergman?), and criminals with a mysterious past in disguises.

The magician of the title is played (masterfully as always) by Max Von Sydow as Bergman's representative artist, facing off against the scientist. The showdown between the two (with a bit of the law thrown in) is a fascinating give and take between the two perspectives, and the final development, in which the king calls on the magician to perform for him, seems to imply that art will always win out, not because people believe despite all evidence but because they want to believe. This is what ties The Magician so strongly into the overall themes of Bergman's films, and it's what (along with the mere fact that Bergman made the movie) elevates it beyond its humble roots as a house of mirrors. I don't think the film can compare with Bergman's great films (like the one I watched after this one, Through the Glass Darkly) but standing on its own, it's a fine, entertaining investigation into our inability to ignore our own doubts about our reality and our reluctance to change it.

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