By William Markiewicz
In two films, "The Shame" and "The Devil's Eye", Ingmar Bergman depicted two different kinds of men, two different kinds of women. The women had one thing in common: they yielded to a forbidden passion.
Only disconnected pictures from "The Shame" remain in my memory, enough to outline what held my attention. The couple, musicians, are sophisticated, upper class. Then an old gentleman appears, blind with passion, having adored the woman for years. She accepts his advances and doesn't hide what has just happened from her husband. When he starts to cry, she calmly and disdainfully responds: "Cry, cry..." and leaves.
Then things get complicated, I don't remember the details, because the Bergmanian ambiance is always oneiric, and I saw the film a long time ago. Anyway, what interests me in the story is not the concrete logic of the events. The unspecified enemies in an unspecified war enter the apartment to ask the old gentleman for some keys. I don't remember in which circumstance the man gave the keys to the woman, and the woman to her husband. They threaten the old man with death if he doesn't return the keys right away. The woman, in a panic, cries to her husband: "Where did you put the keys!?" He answers with a sheepish smile: "What keys?" One of the enemy soldiers gives a weapon to the husband: "Either he returns the key, or you kill him!" The husband refuses the weapon and the enemy threatens: "If he won't turn over the key either you kill him or you die with him!" The husband shoots without aiming and the old man, writhes on the ground, screaming in pain and terror like a wounded animal. The husband shoots again and this time kills the old man. The enemies leave; obviously they could do without the key, and the woman cries to the husband: "Where is the key?" He simply pulls it from his pocket and gives it to her. "Why didn't you give it before!?" With a smirk he slaps his wife's face and turns away. Now she, in her turn starts to sob heavily, and -- follows him. In this war situation she can't survive without masculine support. They take some boat and he starts rowing. He gives her cover and whatever she needs, but otherwise ignores her, doesn't look at her and doesn't say a word, just staring ahead. One young soldier appears on the shore, he seems exhausted. The man lets the kid get in the boat and starts to interrogate him. The kid dozes on the woman's shoulder during the interrogation. The man wakes him brutally and once he learns what he wanted to know, reaches for his gun. The kid screams: "Don't kill me," and starts to run. The man follows and from far away we hear a shot -- the man has killed the kid so he can't report them. He comes back to the boat and the woman says: "I cannot continue like this." He whispers: "Good riddance." She cries and -- stays. She has no chance of survival without her Dr. Jekyll who's become Mr. Hyde. They navigate among floating oneiric symbols and she, totally subdued, speaks while he stays silent. She says: "How can we continue together without speaking?" He doesn't answer. At the end they arrive somewhere, obviously their destination, and she, with her head on his shoulder, tells him her long dream. In her mind he becomes again her confessor, her father, brother, lover, while he persists in silence, and absent staring. Will they stay together? We will never know. In Guy de Maupassant and Joseph Kessel stories, appear couples, one partner enclosed in eternal silence, wounded for life. Bergman doesn't answer why the woman who despised her angelical husband is ready to stay when he becomes a beast. Does she accept her own responsibility? Bergman doesn't give us a clue.
May we advance our own speculations; he certainly continues to feel something for her, otherwise he wouldn't protect her during his constant, simultaneously icy/burning, tension. So, if his pride permits him, he may forgive her the disdain she showed him and her betrayal when he was "Mr. Nice." It will be harder to forgive her that she made him a murderer. As for the woman, she needed him in the dangerous situation, but she doesn't seem to fake attachment just to save herself, otherwise the film would be trivial.
The film may also be a dig at the 'women's liberation' philosophy; 'show her your tough side, and she will respect you.'
In the second film, "The Devil's Eye", the devil frees don Juan from Hell with the mission to seduce the Minister's virtuous daughter. Don Juan's faithful servant, himself a second class "don juan", is allowed to accompany his master on the Earth. The minister, a lovely soul and a wimp, indifferent to the trivialities of life, holds onto his ideal vision: one of his predecessors who trapped the devil in a closet. His wife, still young, lets herself be seduced by don Juan's servant who has learned his master's ways with the ladies. While she is in the bedroom with her lover, the devil appears to the minister, saying: "Follow me, I will show you your wife in bed with another man!" The minister follows the devil who smirks: "Let's enjoy the spectacle of evil!" He probably thinks he will draw the minister into voyeurism. The minister says: "Please, first help me find something in the closet..!" The devil enters the closet and the minister locks him inside. While the devil screams "Let me out!" the minister sits at his desk and starts to write: "How I trapped the devil in the closet." Nothing else was important.
After his wife confesses her infidelity, he asks: "Will you stay?" She bitterly replies: "Where will I go?" This is the story of a woman condemned to stay in her private hell beside her angelical husband. As usual, no conclusion. Bergman shows slices of human dramas adorned with Bergmanian beauty for the spectators' entertainment and joy.