Three passengers suffocate in the sweltering heat of a confining train cabin, traveling through a foreign country, seemingly on the brink of war: a fragile translator, Esther (Ingrid Thulin), her sister Anna (Gunnel Lindblom), and Anna’s son Johan (Jorgen Lindstrom). Suffering from a bronchial attack, Esther checks into a hotel room, with Anna and Johan occupying the adjoining suite. Soon, Esther’s excessive attachment proves too stifling for the sensual Anna, who leaves them and goes to a night club. The bedridden Esther indulges herself with cigarettes and alcohol, attempting to suppress her pain. Johan is left to his own devises and explores the near desolate hotel, encountering a kind, elderly hotel manager, and a dwarf carnival troupe. Distant at first towards his ailing aunt, Johan inevitably develops an understanding towards her, drawn together by their mutual love for Anna and sense of abandonment. The following day, still unable to travel, Esther gives Johan a letter containing a list of helpful translations for their journey, and she is left behind.
The Silence, Ingmar Bergman’s final installment in his chamber series, is arguably the most abstract and nihilistic film of the trilogy. As Winter Light explored spiritual bankruptcy, The Silence is an examination of emotional isolation in a world without God – where salvation lies in human connection. Figuratively, Esther has the linguistical faculties to communicate, but physical frailty and fear of rejection prevent her from being understood. Anna, on the other hand, seeks emotional intimacy through physical contact, and is also, invariably, misunderstood. Thematically, Bergman conveys alienation through geography, partitions, darkness, and non-confronting dialogue. The use of mirrors further provides discontinuity, creating a sense of distance. Note the use of Esther’s mirror image in her “dialogue” with the hotel manager as she attempts to order another bottle of liquor, emphasizing the language barrier. Another scene shows Esther observing Anna’s reflection from the adjoining room as she washes her face, suggesting the fractured intimacy between them. After a prolonged, convulsive attack, Esther implores God to allow her to die in her own homeland. In the end, she is left to die, alone and suffering, in a strange land: unanswered prayers by an absent God.
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