“I just want to exist. Nothing more” – Bengt, the newly blind protagonist of Music in Darkness.
Ingmar Bergman’s fourth film Music in Darkness (1948) continues an unbroken run of love stories. This tale concerns the evolving love between Bengt, an upper class man who is blinded in the film’s opening sequence, and Ingrid from the peasantry. The film is at its best when this love is slowly building between the two main characters, rather than when showing Bengt’s struggles to come to terms with his sudden blindness in isolation. These struggles are still there when she is also onscreen and the manner in which she helps him to take on this suddenly dark world give their relationship much of its tenderness and weight.
The first scene is a cracker. I mentioned Hitchcock in my review of A Ship Bound for India (1947), but this scene is even more reminiscent of the great man. Bengt is on an artillery range when a gorgeous puppy wanders into the range of machine gun fire. It seems like an age between rounds of fire as Bengt tries to lure the puppy to safety in what is an exceptionally tense scene. Eventually there is another burst of machine gun fire and Bengt crumples to the earth. What follows is a quite strangely brilliant, albeit a little out of place sequence as Bengt lays in a coma. It is a series of stark almost avant-garde imagery – an eye, writhing mud-clad tortured figure, and towering fish – that is quite unlike anything Bergman has produced so far in his first three films. When Bengt finally awakes he finds that he is completely blind, obviously a massive blow to the man. This is redoubled by the fact that his fiancée leaves him because of his newfound state. It is a little strange actually that more is not made of her leaving throughout the film. Into this life comes Ingrid, a member of the peasantry who works in the house where Bengt lives. The early part of their relationship is quite beautifully built up. It begins as a friendship as she goes to far more effort than anyone to engage with the blind man. She literally broadens the horizon of a world that has suddenly closed in around Bengt. This whole first part of the film is really wonderful. In his third film with Bergman, Birger Malmsten is acting out of his skin, perfectly conveying how it must feel to suddenly have one’s sight taken away. The love story meanwhile is a return to the more subtle slow building ones of Bergman’s first two films after the more melodramatic romance of A Ship Bound for India.
As the film goes on, we discover that Bengt is a talented pianist and organist, hence starkly illustrating the quite wonderful title that the film has. After failing to be accepted into the Royal Music Academy, Bengt leaves his lodgings and gains work in a restaurant away from Ingrid. They part on bad terms after she overhears him calling her a “little wench” for some unknown reason after it is suggested they could eventually marry. Following this, she understandably refuses to respond to Bengt’s correspondence. After such a great start, I was disappointed that the film really petered out through a long middle section where Bengt and Ingrid are apart. Their separate character arcs are interesting enough, but they pale when compared to the masterful build of their relationship. The impetus that was given by their budding romance is only recaptured when they are once again united, this time with their future prospects in question given that Ingrid now has a new boyfriend. Again, the film excels as it explores whether our main couple will end up together or not.
A really excellent first third and a satisfying concluding final quarter sandwich something that is quite disinteresting. It is great to see the genuine tension on show, both in the opening sequence and also in a later sequence on railroad tracks. Also, Bergman continues to show that he is extremely adept as both writer and director at bringing his films to really satisfying conclusions. Just be prepared for this to be really rather flat throughout the middle period.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs
‘The Bergman Files’ Leaderboard
- It Rains on our Love (1946)
- Crisis (1946)
- Music in Darkness (1948)
- A Ship Bound for India (1947)
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