Most of us in America never felt the recent war in Iraq in a tangible, day-to-day way. There are those of us who lost loved ones, of course, but what I refer to here is the daily, nagging toll that war takes on all of those - military and civilian - living in its midst. We do not, say, suffer interruptions in our fresh water supply, nor are we compelled to guard our speech and conduct or to stockpile food and supplies. Part of the genius of Ingmar Bergman's great 1968 film Shame (now available on DVD) is that it brings these stark, quotidian horrors - and those that these escalate into - home to the viewer. That alone would be an achievement, but Shame moves in deeper waters still: It shows, in the bleakest and most uncompromising terms, that the worst that war has to offer is the wounds it inflicts on the human mind. Together with René Clément's Forbidden Games (1952) and Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion (1937), it stands as one of the great pacifist statements of the modern day.
The plot is simplicity itself. The Rosenbergs (played by Liv Ullman and Max von Sydow) are a youngish couple enjoying average happiness on an island that's part of a larger, unnamed country. (The fact that Bergman chooses not to specify the film's setting, nor to clarify the conflict that follows, contributes to the film's surreal yet universal feel.) Both are musicians; they farm a little, too, and they drive their ailing truck into town to sell their produce. It's not an idyllic existence, exactly; the two are not above bickering, for instance, and in their discontented moments they may feel that they've settled for something. But it's essentially (and believably) a happy life.
Continue reading: Shame Review