Trilogies that Aren’t Trilogies – Spielberg’s War Trilogy and Bergman’s Faith Trilogy

Trilogies that Aren’t Trilogies

Ingmar Bergman’s Faith Trilogy and Steven Spielberg’s War Trilogy

Through a Glass Darkly (1961), Winter Light (1963), and The Silence (1963) are often referred to as Ingmar Bergman’s Faith Trilogy.  Each film addresses a different aspect of faith. As Bergman himself wrote, “Through a Glass Darkly – conquered certainty. Winter Light – penetrated certainty. The Silence – God’s silence – the negative imprint. Therefore, they constitute a trilogy.”

I don’t know how Steven Spielberg feels on the topic, but I have begun to consider Schindler’s List (1993), Saving Private Ryan (1999), and Munich (2005) to be a similar trilogy.  Their structure and plotting have more in common than Bergman’s Faith Trilogy, and each film addresses how different aspects of warfare in the twentieth century affected individuals.  Respectively, these aspects are the suffering of civilian populations, the frustrations of soldiers, and moral ambiguity of modern guerrilla warfare.

The Masterpieces – Schindler’s List and Through a Glass Darkly

Schindler’s List and Through a Glass Darkly address the most difficult subject matters in their respective trilogies: evil and mental illness.  They are also two of the great masterpieces of world cinema.  Otherwise, the films have absolutely nothing in common.

Schindler’s List explores how one individual,  Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), confronted the evils of the Holocaust.  It also explores the suffering and atrocities inflicted upon the victims, but its main focus is on Schindler’s experiences and personal struggle.  Ultimately, he recognizes the evil being perpetrated around him and decides to act against it.

Through a Glass Darkly explores the affects of mental illness, schizophrenia in particular, on a small family in Sweden.  Karin’s (Harriet Andersen) disease challenges the faith of her entire family.  Despite her certainty that God wants her to commune with Him, she hallucinates a vision of God as a terrifying monster.  The effect of her illness on her family is equally devestating, yet somehow they stay true to one another.

Explorations of Self Worth – Saving Private Ryan and Winter Light

Saving Private Ryan and Winter Light question individual worth.  After both movies, the audience is left asking the same questions on the minds of the characters in the final scenes.

Saving Private Ryan is about a group of highly skilled army rangers who, after the invasion of Normandy, are asked to go looking for one man whose brothers have been killed fighting in other theaters of the war.  The film explores themes of how foot soldiers see their own worth and the worth of their missions.  At the end, James Ryan (Matt Damon/Harrison Young) questions whether his life was worth the lives of the men who died saving him.

Winter Light begins with a Lutheran pastor, Tomas (Gunnar Bjornstrand), giving a sermon before a mostly empty church.  His churches are empty, he fails to console a suicidal man, and he is struggling with his feelings for his lover Marta (Ingrid Thulin).  Marta continues to have faith in Tomas even while Tomas loses faith in himself – but is that faith justified?  We can’t be entirely sure.

The Problematic Works – Munich and The Silence

Munich and The Silence are the odd men out of their respective trilogies.  For example, Munich is not set during World War II, and The Silence is not set in Sweden.

Munich couldn’t have been set during World War II, since a fight against tyranny doesn’t lend itself as well to an exploration of moral ambiguity.  The Israeli government sends Avner Kaufman (Eric Bana) to assassinate the men who planned the Munich Olympics Massacre.  While hunting these monsters, Avner questions whether he himself has become a monster.  While the film is probably a half an hour too long, it remains an effective exploration of the endless cycle of violence in response to violence.

The Silence is bizarre and disjointed at times.  This should be expected, however, when the central theme is a lack of emotional connection between family members and the world around them.  It is highly symbolic and difficult at times to understand, but The Silence does convey a sense of emptiness – which is what Bergman was going for.

(c) 2014 D.G. McCabe