Tuesday, 26 September 2017

From the Life of the Marionettes


Full of astonishment I look back on our lives, on our former reality and think it was all a dream. It was a game. Lord knows what the hell we were doing. This is true reality and it’s unbearable. I talk, answer, think, put on my clothes, sleep and eat. It’s a daily compulsion. A strange, hard surface. But under the surface, I’m crying. I’m crying for myself… because I can no longer be the way I was. What was, can never be again. It’s been destroyed. It’s gone… like a dream.’ (Katarina, From the Life of the Marionettes).

Philemon and Baucis, an old married couple, poor but devoted and therefore content, are the only ones in their town in Phrygia who show hospitality to two bedraggled strangers – who it transpires are Hermes and Zeus. The gods spare the couple as they destroy the town that repudiated them and offer them a wish; they choose to be together forever and that when one of them dies the other should die at the same time. Their wish is granted and when they die they are changed into intertwining trees.

A myth about the sacredness of hospitality, honouring the gods, global hubris, how poverty of circumstance need not lead to poverty of heart, fidelity, love and so on.

The idea of two people who have become inseparable, who have got to know and depend on each other so much that they have almost become one person, is an aspect of the Philemon and Baucis myth that appealed to Ingmar Bergman when he made From the Life of the Marionettes (1980) – except that in Bergman, Peter and Katarina’s inseparability and intertwining have bred hate, humiliation, torture, loneliness, perversion and a fervent desire to kill each other – repressed rage which the smallest detail – ‘a word, a gesture, a tone of voice’ – could release, and is eventually released, leading to shocking violence, to a murder or, as Bergman repeatedly refers to it in the film, to a ‘catastrophe’.

From the Life of the Marionettes – which I saw yesterday – is a dark and brutal film about being trapped – by our childhoods, families, lovers, desires, dreams, society, time and so on – about how, as Peter repeatedly states, ‘there is no way out’ – from the past, present and future; but it is not a depressing film, and this is because the film presents the truth – of our own vulnerabilities, suffering and chaotic existence – and the truth is always uplifting.


* (The above clip is the only one I could find of From the Life of the Marionettes. It is a montage put together by a Youtube user, with music added not belonging to the film. The clip has some female nudity in it, so Americans should be careful before they click play).