A couple nights ago I watched Winter Light, Ingmar Bergman’s tale of unrelenting grimness in which a pregnant woman brings her suicidal husband to their pastor in hopes of getting him help, only to discover that the pastor has lost his own faith. It really is a beautiful movie, shot in a snowy black and white.
Victor Morton calls it one of the “critically-lauded” religious films he hates. I don’t entirely agree with his criticisms. I agree more with Morton’s last commenter: We do see why Pastor Ericsson loses his faith, and the “I’m a suicidal atheist because China has the A-bomb!” stuff seemed to be an obvious pretext for the underlying existential crisis. It’s not about the A-bomb, in the way that our self-destructive despair is rarely about the surface events which may have prompted it.
But I agree with Morton that the film really doesn’t work; it prompts only the most loathsome kinds of self-comfort and self-congratulation. The movie doesn’t work for me because the atheist characters are so awful, and they’re made much more callous and cruel by their atheism — Pastor Ericsson recoils in horror from the sight of physical suffering; the suicidal husband seems not to care about his wife and children at all. I think you’d have to be simultaneously a really messed-up and a really humble atheist to see yourself in this movie! And similarly Pastor Ericsson’s abandoned “spider” faith doesn’t actually remind me of my own.
I figured I’d throw this thread open for people to talk about movie portrayals of atheism, and hope or despair in the face of suffering, which really spoke to them. Everybody complains about the culture but nobody does anything about it; here are my thoughts on where we could start. In that vein, if I were an undergraduate preparing to return to campus in a couple weeks, I would start thinking about a movie series. Show The Trial – or, for the other side, Cavalier’s Therese – and have a discussion and an opportunity for prayer afterward. Which flicks would you guys include?