Ingmar Bergman and the Contentment of Depression

As a citizen of one of the allegedly “happiest” countries in the world, it seems a hair ironic that Ingmar Bergman should direct such grim, macabre films. His greatest works, The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries and Scenes From A Marriage evoke feelings of melancholy tinged with an uncontrollable desire to commit suicide. And yet, everything he tells us is true.

You know you don't give a fuck about depression when one of your main characters is Death
You know you don’t give a fuck about depression when one of your main characters is Death
As most creative spirits (and serial killers) will tell you, their insanity tends to stem from a troubled or unusual childhood. In Bergman’s case, being locked in a dark closet for doing fairly normal “kid things” like pissing in bed was probably what led to his initial grasp of reality being utterly unenjoyable. Bergman would later admit that he recalled losing faith in religion around eight years old, in spite of his family being devoutly Lutheran. Another scarring experience for the director was his fleeting attraction to the Nazi party, due in large part to what he perceived as Hitler’s charm.
Film cover for Wild Strawberries
Film cover for Wild Strawberries
Bergman’s attendance at the University of Stockholm, where he majored in literature and art, ultimately led him to the film scene after he directed a number of theater scripts. His illuminating explorations of mortality and existentialism were, surprisingly, quick to find an enthusiastic audience. By 1955, Bergman had achieved national success with his film, Smiles of A Summer Night. He followed this with the one-two punch of The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries, released just ten months apart.
Scenes From A Marriage
Scenes From A Marriage
Bergman also had an uncanny ability to make the TV movie come across as sophisticated with a number of titles including The Venetian and A Dream Play. Scenes From A Marriage, too, was a TV mini series–either proving that Swedes hold higher standards for their programming or Bergman somehow managed to eke out a time slot because he was Bergman.

Incidentally, Bergman’s favorites of his own movies tended to be the less lauded ones, like Winter Light. He himself also stated that he found it too depressing to watch his own work. So perhaps he was part soothsayer, part sadist (as you generally can’t possess the first quality without bearing the second). His influence over other directors who would feel unapologetic about basking in their own misery, chiefly Krzysztof Kieślowski and Woody Allen, would also prove his lasting impact on audience contentment in the showcasing of themes that appeal to the comfort of wallowing in depression.