Why Ingmar Bergman Mattered

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The Colbert Report has an occasional segment called"Cheating Death," which is introduced by the image of Stephen facing the hooded figure of Death over a chessboard. That's a reference to the 1957 film The Seventh Seal, a medieval morality play written and directed by Ingmar Bergman. Colbert, who switches chess pieces while Death is distracted, parodies the role of a knight (Max von Sydow) who puts his soul on the line to save a few lives during a season of plague.

But Bergman wasn't kidding. Most of his 60-some films, from his 1944 screenwriting debut with the schoolroom drama Torment through his swan song Saraband, released in the U.S. in 2005, were about the plague of the modern soul ˜ the demons and doubts, secrets and lies that men and woman evaded but were forced to confront, to their peril. This agonized Swede was a surgeon who operated on himself. He cut into his own fears, analyzed his failings, perhaps sought forgiveness through art. He may never have found that expiation; he lived his last years alone on remote Faro island, speaking only rarely with his old friends and colleagues. But when he died today at 89, Bergman left behind him a worldwide colony of devotees, and a collection of spare, severe dramas unique in their intensity and impact.

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