Thursday, September 23, 2004

Movie Review: Cries & Whispers

"The reunion of three sisters (Harriet Anderson, Ingrid Thulin, Liv Ullman), one of whom is dying, leads to painful revelations and long-suppressed emotions. One of the biggest triumphs of Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman, Cries & Whispers was also one of the few foreign launguage films to be nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award. Bergman's longtime collaborator Sven Nykvist won an Oscar for his moody photography." [Netflix]

This 1972 film by Ingmar Bergman relatively accurately depicts the experience of watching a loved one die. They realistically portrayed the dying's struggle with pain, sleepiness, dyspnea (difficulty breathing), weakness, nausea and fever (all possible symptoms during the dying experience, though rarely all experienced by the same person). They used a little creative license when Agnes (the dying sister) cries out dramatically in the last moment of her life. Of course the sudden dimming of the light from outside the window was not too subtle of a metaphor either. That detail may have been enough to let us know she'd passed without the dramatic cries.

Bergman and Nykvist creatively use silent camera shots of clocks and landscapes to convey the sense of quiet waiting that frequently fills up hours of time in the home or hospice settings.

There is definitely a lesbian subtext (which may seem more overt to some than others) between Agnes (the dying sister) and her caretaker Anna. Some reviewers refer to it instead as a "motherly" love. Their loving relationship with one another during the dying experience makes an interesting contrast to the somewhat superficial and estranged relations between the three sisters.

Towards the end of the film, there is a segment as seen through Anna's eyes. I'm uncertain as to whether it was suppose to be surrealism or a dream segment. But I was fascinated that Anna, who clearly genuinely loved Agnes, wanted to remain close to the body of the then deceased Agnes. While the two sisters spoke of how "morbid, disgusting, and meaningless" it was to hold the hand of the deceased Agnes.

The film also tells the sister's stories, the experiences of their lives that have made them who they are today. This adds depth and complexity to what otherwise might be a simply depressing, however educational, film illustrating the experience of watching a loved one die.

For a thoughtful review of this film by ROGER EBERT (who is much more familiar with Ingmar Bergman's other films) see the Chicago Sun-Times site.

1 comment:

Jennynyc said...

Sounds like a good movie. I'll have to check it out. What are your favorite movies about dying? Any that you don't like?