The Silence (1963 film)

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The Silence
File:Tystnaden (the silence), film poster.jpg
Danish film poster
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Produced by Allan Ekelund
Written by Ingmar Bergman
Starring Ingrid Thulin
Gunnel Lindblom
Birger Malmsten
Håkan Jahnberg
Jörgen Lindström
Cinematography Sven Nykvist
Distributed by Svensk Filmindustri Palador Pictures Pvt. Ltd. (India)
Release dates
  • 23 September 1963 (1963-09-23)
Running time
96 minutes
Country Sweden
Language Swedish
Box office $350,000 (USA)[1]

The Silence (Swedish: Tystnaden) is a 1963 Swedish film written and directed by Ingmar Bergman and starring Ingrid Thulin and Gunnel Lindblom. The plot focuses on two sisters – the younger a sensuous woman with a young son, the elder more intellectually oriented and seriously ill — and their tense relationship as they travel toward home through a fictional Central European country on the brink of war.


Two emotionally estranged sisters, Ester (Ingrid Thulin) and Anna (Gunnel Lindblom), and Anna's son, Johan (Jörgen Lindström), a boy of 10, are on a night train journey back home. Ester, the older sister and a literary translator, is seriously ill. Anna coldly assists her, seemingly resenting the burden. They decide to interrupt the journey in the next town called "Timoka", settled in a fictitious Central European country with an incomprehensible language and on the brink of war.

The sisters rent a two-room-apartment in a once-grandiose hotel. Ester suffers in her room, self-medicating with vodka and cigarettes while trying to work. Johan wanders around the hotel's hallways, encountering the elderly hotel porter and a group of Spanish dwarves who are part of a traveling show. Meanwhile, Anna ventures into the city and is openly advanced by a waiter in a cafe. Later, she watches a show in an uncrowded theatre, and is both repelled and fascinated when a young couple begin to have sex in a seat nearby. Anna returns to the cafe, brushes past the waiter, and returns to the hotel in time.

Left with Johan while his mother is out, Ester attempts to form a more intimate bond with him, but Johan avoids her attempts to stroke his hair and face. On Anna's return, Ester is eager for an account of what her sister has done after seeing her soiled dress. Provoked, Anna spitefully fabricates a sexual encounter with the waiter to her sister. Anna also reveals her intention to meet him again that evening, which Ester, not wanting to be left alone, begs her not to do.

Anna meets the man in their hotel, and Johan witnesses them kissing and entering a room down an adjacent hall. Upon returning to the room, he asks Ester, why his mother dislikes being with them, as she always departs as soon as she gets the chance. Ester tells him that she has learned a few words of the local language, and she promises to write them down for him. Johan, instinctively knowing Ester is seriously ill, embraces her in a show of concern and compassion.

After Johan has fallen asleep, Ester sobs at the door of Anna and her lover, asking to come in. Anna lets her in and turns on the lights so that Ester can fully see the two of them in bed together. Anna tells Ester that she once aspired to be like her, morally elevated, but realized that her apparent goodness was actually a reflection of Ester's hatred of Anna and all that belonged to her. Ester insists that she loves her and that Anna is wrong. Anna gets furious and asks her to leave the room. On leaving, Ester says "poor Anna", enraging her even more. Anna's lover advances her again; Anna is laughing hysterically, but it turns into sobs.

The next morning, Anna announces that she and Johan are going to leave the hotel after breakfast. Ester deteriorates while they are gone, having painful spasms of suffocation. She is helped by the elderly porter, who attempts to comfort her; she reveals her fear of death and loneliness but also her loathing for sexual contact. When Johan returns to say good-bye, Ester gives him a note. After he and Anna have boarded the train, Johan reads the title: "To Johan – words in a foreign language". Uninterested, Anna opens the window and cools herself with the outside rain.


After Bergman's death, Woody Allen observed in a New York Times article that the film opens up when you realize that the two women represent different aspects of people.

In a scene, Johan stares out of the window as a lone tank rolls down the street at night; in Against Interpretation, Susan Sontag comments, "Again, Ingmar Bergman may have meant the tank rumbling down the street in The Silence as a phallic symbol. But if he did, it was a foolish thought." She then continues to say, "Those who reach for a Freudian interpretation of the tank are only expressing their lack of response to what is there on the screen."

Reception and themes

The film has been classified as a "landmark of modernist cinema" with Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad (1961), Michelangelo Antonioni's L'avventura (1960), and Luis Buñuel's Belle de Jour (1967).[2] Popular film critic Vernon Young reversed his position on Bergman and admitted in 1971 that The Silence was an "extraordinary achievement in its way...The Silence rewards effort..."[3] The film was selected as the Swedish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 36th Academy Awards, but was not accepted as a nominee.[4] At the 1st Guldbagge Awards in 1964 (the "Golden Beetles" being the most prominent annual film awards of Sweden), the film won the awards for Best Film, Best Director and Ingrid Thulin won the award for Best Actress.[5]

The Silence was submitted to the film rating/censorship board (Biografbyrån) of Sweden in July 1963 and went through without any cuts. The general instructions for the work of the board had been modified just weeks before the film reached them, and this contributed to its passage, though Bergman claimed that he was not in any real sense trying to test the limits of what could be allowed in mainstream cinema. He actually did not expect this rather inaccessible film, with sparse and uncommunicative dialogue, to be a big box-office success, and commented in an interview in 1970: "I said to Kenne Fant /CEO of the Swedish Film Institute which had produced the film/: "You might as well realize, this isn't a film that will have people storming the theaters". Oh the irony; that's exactly what people did."[6]

The original cut (the only one to be shown in Sweden and certain other countries) includes a number of brief but controversial sex scenes, showing nudity, female masturbation, urination and a couple making out on the seats of a murky cabaret theatre. This plus some strong language led to intense public controversy in Sweden and several other countries at the time. In many countries the film was cut,[7][8][9] while in Sweden it has come to be regarded as a beacon in a string of films that broke down the wall of censorship and opened the way for later films, both mainstream and more 'adult' or experimental, to include graphic erotic content as well as strong language without cuts being expected (e.g. Vilgot Sjöman's 491, I Am Curious (Blue) and I Am Curious (Yellow), and Stefan Jarl's They Call Us Misfits). Bergman's and Sjöman's prestige as directors, their high aims and the trend of openness during the decade made it untenable in Sweden to treat their films as tainted or semi-pornographic, and this in turn weakened the general acceptance of casual, intrusive film censorship.

While the film is noted for its sensual impact, enhanced by Sven Nykvist's camera work where long pans and contrasting shots of deep darkness and sweltering light, rapid movement (the train ride at the opening) and long, slow-moving and almost dialogueless shots, pull the viewer into the unfamiliar and unsettling scenery, it was hardly a movie about sex. The story seems to use sex and other factors to set up and explore tensions between the two sisters, tensions that run through the whole film and reach a series of climactic points towards the end. The erotic action is also motivated as a kind of last resort in a world where language has lost its function – the trio in the centre don't know the language of the strange city, and Anna and Ester continuously misread each other when they talk – and where the threat of destruction (war) is hanging over everyone. Bergman has commented in numerous interviews that the film marked a point of final exit from a set of religious problems that had been dominating his films since The Seventh Seal.

According to Jerry Vermilye, The Silence "...achieved a measure of sensationalistic attention by dint of its scenes of sensuality, mild though they were. It raised a great deal of controversy in Sweden, and its notoriety continued to raise hackles elsewhere in Europe. All of which attracted the attention of filmgoers; in Britain and the United States it became a considerable hit, perhaps for reasons of prurience rather than art."[10] Due to its reputation for "pornographic sequences" the film became a financial success.[3]

Vermilye is supported by Daniel Ekeroth, who notes in his 2011 book Swedish Sensationsfilms: A Clandestine History of Sex, Thrillers, and Kicker Cinema that "Tystnaden is the production, and marks the exact moment, when sex and nudity became normal in Swedish film. If an internationally acknowledged director like Ingmar Bergman could portray sex in such an explicit way, the last border had been crossed. Hordes of less serious filmmakers immediately abandoned all remaining inhibition about depicting whatever crazed and depraved ideas they thought would attract and scandalize a paying audience.".[11]

Trilogy of Faith

The Silence was almost immediately recognized and has since widely been considered the final film in a trilogy ("Trilogy of Faith"), preceded by Through a Glass Darkly (1961) and Winter Light (1963).[12] All three films focus on spiritual issues. Bergman writes, "These three films deal with reduction. Through a Glass Darkly – conquered certainty. Winter Light – penetrated certainty. The Silence – God's silence – the negative imprint. Therefore, they constitute a trilogy."[13] In an interview in 1969 Bergman stated that these three films had originally not been intended as a trilogy, he only regarded them as such in retrospect due to their similarity.[14]

Printed screenplay

Together with the two films preceding it, Through a Glass Darkly (1961) and Winter Light (1963) this was the first Bergman film to have its script published in his native language, as En filmtrilogi ("A Film Trilogy", Norstedts, Stockholm, 1964). Four scripts from his late-fifties breakthrough years, including The Seventh Seal had been printed in Britain a few years before, as translated into English, but they had seen limited circulation. The trilogy screenplays initiated regular printing of Bergman's film scripts in Sweden and elsewhere.

The Silence uses minimal dialogue, the entire screenplay containing only a mere 1,710 words of actual dialogue lines - while the settings and wordless actions receive much more attention.


Home media

After various releases in VHS format, the film was released on DVD in the UK in 2001, in the US in 2003 (only available as part of a four-disc box set of Bergman's "Faith Trilogy"), in Sweden in 2004 and in Germany in 2005. While all versions contain the film in original Swedish language (with subtitles in the language of the releasing country), the US and German versions also contain a dubbed audio track in English and German, respectively.

See also


  1. Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry, University of Wisconsin Press, 1987 p. 231
  2. Michaels, Lloyd (2000). Ingmar Bergman's Persona. Cambridge University. p. 21. ISBN 0-521-65698-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 Gado, Frank (1986). The Passion of Ingmar Bergman. Duke University Press. p. 305. ISBN 0-8223-0586-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
  5. "Tystnaden (1963)". Swedish Film Institute. 24 February 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Bergman om Bergman by Jonas Sima, Stig Björkman and Torsten Manns; Norstedts, Stockholm, 1970, p.195 (in Swedish)
  7. Robertson, James Crighton (1993). The Hidden Cinema: British Film Censorship in Action, 1913–1975. Routledge. pp. 127–128. ISBN 0-415-09034-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Morwaski, Stefan (1974). Inquiries Into the Fundamentals of Aesthetics. MIT Press. p. 375. ISBN 0-262-13096-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. von Bagh, Peter; Per Olov Qvist (2000). Guide to the Cinema of Sweden and Finland. Greenwood Press. p. 16. ISBN 0-313-30377-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Vermilye, Jerry (2002). Ingmar Bergman: His Life and Films. McFarland & Company. p. 28. ISBN 0-7864-1160-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Daniel Ekeroth: SWEDISH SENSATIONSFILMS: A Clandestine History of Sex, Thrillers, and Kicker Cinema, (Bazillion Points, 2011) ISBN 978-0-9796163-6-5.
  12. Crowther, Bosley (9 February 1964). "Bergman's Trilogy". The New York Times. p. 2,1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. [Through a Glass Darkly DVD Inner Sleeve]
  14. "Bergman ombeen Bergman", Stockholm 1970

External links