BU Film School

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

FT 540 Reading: Fanny and Alexander

Screenplay info
Written by: Ingmar Bergman
Film info: http://us.imdb.com/Title?0083922

Synopsis
Prologue in literary form -- talks about town (world unto itself), discusses Ekhdahls, theater. Implication that Alexander not Oscar's son. Alexander opens door between two apartments, explores (shows viewer his world). Naked white lady beckons to him. Sits on throne. Background on Isak.

Play (tradition) about birth of Christ. Ending shown. Celebration afterwards of theater folk. Gustav brings food, punch from restaurant. Carl's wife finds Carl with other men, says they'll be late, he snaps at her. Oscar make speech -- fond of little world, people who work in it. Reflects big world, gives escape. "Our theater is a small room of orderliness, routine, conscientiousness, and love." Everyone toasts.

Christmas preparations at house. In film, Helena waits, sad -- Isak arrives, they kiss. Family walks through blizzard, in high spirits, as she and Isak watch. People come in, exchange kisses and greetings. Carl and Lydia, arguing, are late.

Dinner eaten -- lots of singing, food, conversation. Gustav notices Maj. Vega, Ester uncomfortable about servants sitting with gentry. Carl, kids go off -- candles, gas.

Dancing in single file. Shows house, Gustav making suggestion to Maj, Oscar not feeling well. In screenplay, Oscar enters family events in Bible; in film, reads from Bible.

Kids, Maj have pillow fight. One pillow bursts. Maj ends up on top of Alexander. Emilie, Alma come in to calm things down, send Maj off (Emilie slaps her). Kids say prayers, settle in.

Lydia sings to piano -- song of love to Carl, who has mixed emotions.

Maj bursts into bedroom, shows Alexander Xmas present (dress). He's jealous when she says she's having a visitor.

Adults turn in.

Alexander lights magic lantern. As Fanny, then Jenny watches, Alexander tells story about slide (the poor Arabella -- mom dead, father carousing). Jenny screams, Alexander blows out lamp. Emilie comes in, shushes them, sends Oscar in. Most valuable chair in the world (even though looks ordinary) -- "you can't go by appearances." Oscar plays villain, kids giggle, he pretends to attack chair, Fanny says don't. Oscar's pleased she played along. Emilie enters -- supposed to be up in 2 hours. Kids -- be in Hamlet? Emilie eventually agrees. Alexander recites from Macbeth ("sound and fury" speech).

Helena, Isak sit and chat. He keeps falling asleep. Helena -- just wanted to cry. Oscar looked poorly. Carl asked for loan. Carl, Gustav oversexed, Oscar got nothing. Oscar and Emelie have happy marriage in spite of everything. Isak -- everything getting worse. Helena -- remembers Oscar catching them kissing. Helena: "The happy, splendid life is over, and the horrible, dirty life is engulfing us." Isak consoles, she gathers herself together, they kiss, Ester interrupts.

Guster visits Maj, promises coffee shop. They have sex, bed collapses. She says he's silly to think she wants things, he's offended. "I don't like being laughed at."

Carl, Lydia. He feels ill, depressed about debt, berates her constantly. "If you weren't so upset and anxious, you wouldn't be so cruel." "Nothing but compulsion." Carl -- calls himself shit and rotter for how he treats her, gets mad when she acts "servile". "I can't stand your love any longer." She puts up with mediocrity, but he won't.

Gustav comes down from Maj's room. Petra says good morning, is cool. Alma sends her to make breakfast, tells Gustav to get ready. He touches her breast, kisses -- they close door, end up falling on bed, making love.

Early morning coffee in silence, then sleighs make for the church.

Hamlet rehearsal. Hamlet, Ghost scene. Oscar plays Ghost, needs some prompting. Can't get up -- having stroke.

Things hushed at house. Fanny and Alexander take refuge with Vega and Ester. 2 women, 2 monologues. Amanda gets Fanny, Alexander. Go to Emilie's workroom, Oscar dying. "Nothing, nothing separates me from you all, not now, and not later." Looks at children one by one. Alexander terrified. Oscar's wishes -- Emelie to take charge of theater, simple funeral.

Fanny, Alexander comforted by relatives. See coffin. Kids share bed. Waken by sobbing -- it's Emelie.

Oscar's funeral ends up being grand event -- funeral march, students' tribute. During funeral, Alexander mutters curse words to himself. Emilie listens to bishop at funeral dinner. Fanny, Alexander retire to nursery, hear someone playing spinet. It's Oscar.

One year after husband's death. Twelfth Night -- last performance. Applause. Afterwards, meeting with Emilie. Emilie longs to get away from theater. "So we pass our lives in a wonderful self-deception."

Alexander comes home from school, summoned by Emilie. He goes to library, bishop (Edvard) is there. Emilie has turned to Edvard with worries. Bishop questions Alexander about lies (story that Alexander was to be sold to circus). Bishop slowly but relentless in questioning. Makes Alexander ask forgiveness. Bishop: "Imagination is something splendid, a mighty force, a gift from God." Emilie asks girls to come in, starts talking. Alexander sees Oscar. Bishop prays for God to take care of their little family. Alexander curses to himself.

Bishop gives tour of palace, which is cold and harsh. "Let us be grateful that we are allowed to live in an atmosphere of purity and austerity." Introduces mother, sister, aunt, cook (ratlike), helpers. Bishop and Emilie -- mentions first wife, 2 daughters that died. Bishop's wish: "I want you to leave your former life entirely." She agrees for herself, must ask children. "My life has been empty and superficial, thoughtless and comfortable. I have always longed for the life you lead." "Through you I shall learn to know God's being."

Wedding. Alexander ill, sees Oscar. Simple dark dresses, etc. Sober. Afterwards, Ekdahls hug, kiss, cry. New family walks to palace. Others wonder if it's a good thing. Helena: "I think we'll have Emilie back. Quite soon."

First supper, a gloomy affair. Children don't eat. Henrietta, bishop's sister, upbraids them -- in future no one will be able to leave without eating everything. Emilie protests, defends children: "I am the one to tell my children what to do." Henrietta: "It is not easy to realize that one has become superfluous." Henrietta -- morning prayer, make beds. "In this house punctuality, cleanliness, and order are the rule." Blenda (mother) -- will be like a game. Bishop says grace, Alexander swears, bishop reprimands.

Children taken to bed -- sparse furnishings, Biblical pictures. Alexander refuses to kiss Emilie and bishop. Bishop: "Love cannot be commanded, but we can show one another respect and consideration." He withdraws. Children complain, say maybe house is haunted. Emilie -- must give it time. She kisses daughters, Alexander rebuffs. "Don't act Hamlet, my son. I am not Queen Gertrude, your kind stepfather is not king of Denmark, and this is not Elsinore Castle, even if it does look gloomy." She leaves. Alexander, Fanny go into Amanda's bed, they fall asleep.

Ekdahl families, except Emilie and children, at summer house. Helena dozing alone. Isak calls, she wakes, tells him everyone else on boat excursion. She has foot in plaster. Asks Isak to do a little spying. "There's something wrong, Isak. I feel ill when I think of that great gloomy house with its thick walls." Maj comes -- didn't go on boat because of Lydia. She's worried about children -- wrote seven letters, only one terse postcard in response. Also Gustav has been pestering her. She cries, leaves.

Raining and thundering in town. Children and their room. Justine unlocks door, brings in gruel, coarse dark bread, jam tarts (last of which is forbidden). Children want Mama to come back. Justine: "She [Tauder, the cook] says it was the same in the first wife's day. Only worse." She talks about the poor children (daughters) -- arms had to be sawn off, because the three were frozen together. "... this house does funny things to you." Alexander says he's seen the daughters, and says that first wife had told him they were locked in, tried to escape, daughters fell, she tried to rescue them. Justine upset by story, goes out and locks door.

Alexander quotes Isak, Amanda says she doesn't understand what he's saying. Alexander tells Fanny about seeing the bishop and Emilie in bed. All three huddle together. "If a big know-all like God almighty punishes a skinny runt like Alexander for so little, then he's just the dirty bastard I suspect he is." They hear bishop playing his flute. "Die, you bastard."

Justine knocks on bishop's door, asks about supper. Had been told to listen, report children's talk, tells Alexander's story. He's enraged, dismisses her.

Helena melancholy. Talks to Oscar -- Oscar Sr. used to say she was sentimental. "For that matter everything is acting. Some parts are nice, others not so nice." After Oscar died, reality broken. Oscar looks ill -- worried.

Helena awoken when Eva, neighbor girl, comes in and asks after Fanny and Alexander. "Can't you tell them to come?" She leaves. Emilie visits -- children not well.

Alexander's trial. He said, she said. Other children back him up. Amanda reveals Justine told them about arms sawn off. Bishop has Alexander swear on Bible. Bishop -- happy here? "As happy as a snake in an anthill. Though worse." Talk about lies, Alexander's inability to distinguish them from truth.. Bishop -- don't hate you, love you, but it's a strong, harsh love. Punishment -- cane, castor oil, or bogey hole. "The punishment is to teach you a love of truth." Alexander confesses, chooses cane. Bishop -- ask forgiveness. Alexander resists at first, but bishop makes to cane him again. Alexander begs forgivenes, sent to sleep in attic.

Emilie, Helena talk. Children punished for slightest misdemeanor. "I don't know how a man can live with so much hate." Felt had been living a lie. Must go -- afraid something's happened, Alexander foolhardy. Emilie pregnant, has asked for divorce. Bishop -- unthinkable in his position, she would lose children on grounds of desertion.

Alexander in attic sleeps, wakes. Sees Pauline, hears Esmeralda. Pauline says they drowned skating, not escaping. She whispers in his ear, he screams. Emilie unlocks door, rushes in, holds him, goes out of attic, holds Fanny and Amanda too.

Helena sorting photos. People back from boat excursion. Helena, Gustav, Alma talk about Maj. He says he's not a dictator -- he and Alma both kind of Maj, he will give her firm ground to stand on. Gustav, Alma leave. Carl, Lydia coming to pay evening call. They argue -- Lydia says she won't say anything, he berates her, says must make it clear he's considering suicide. She cries, trips, he tugs at her, falls. She helps him up. They disappear.

Jenny brings wild strawberries to Helena.

Emilie, children together in children's room. Bisho comes in, acts nice. Alexander doesn't wish him good night.

Bishop reads church magazine. She sits. He talks, she doesn't answer. "In fact I am the one to reproach you." She confronts him. He says she'll be confined. "You have been living in an artificial world, entangled in artificial feelings. I must teach you and your children to live in reality. It is not my fault that reality is a hell." She curses him, their child.

Isak pays call, met by bishop's sister, who wants to turn him away. Isak -- bishop wanted to borrow money, offered to sell chest and cupboard. Isak had refused, but has changed his mind. When sister goes to get bishop, Isak finds children -- will come and get in a few minutes.

Bishop comes -- Isak shows contract, gives him money. Bishop goes, Isak tells men to come up, sister goes. Isak fetches children, puts them in chest. Bishop returns with signed contract. Men start to take out cupboard. Bishop -- you thought you could trick me. Opens chest -- it's empty. Cupboard -- empty. "That swine is trying to steal my children." Bishop tears open nursery door -- children huddled on floor. Emilie: "If you touch them, I will kill you." Chest carried out.

Isak's home. Children climb out of chest. Aron brings broth, all eat. Isak - bishop can't get them back, uncles will negotiate. Ismael has already eaten -- door must always be kept shut.

Children taken to bed. Pass puppet theater. Isak sits with them for a spell. Alexander: "We stick together. All three." Isak reads story from Hebrew. Every man bears within him hopes, fears, longings, on uncertain pilgrimage. Accumulate, transform into cloud.

Carl, Gustav try to negotiate with bishop. He wants children back, they want Emilie and children released, prepared to pay. Bishop -- divorce out of question. Gustva threatens to spread rumors, calls him contemptible blackguard. Carl tries to keep things going, bishop considers negotiations broken off, gives ultimatum (return children or will report to police). Gustav -- I've bought your promissory notes. Bishop -- some of us indifferent to money, besmirching, conscience clear before God. Goes, brings back Emilie, who pleads to bring children back.

Alexander wakes, needs to pee. Goes to look for privy. Sees Isak, Aron asleep. Alexander pees on tree, gets lost. Sees Oscar - terrible to watch them being tormented. Alexander -- why can't you go to God and tell him to kill the bishop? Oscar -- must be gentle with people. Alexander: "People are absurd and I dislike them."

Emilie sits, with broth (to help with insomnia). Tells Bishop aunt is dying. He asks for some broth, sips. They talk about situation. "I don't care about what is hopeless or not. I care only for what is right." Elsa (aunt) calls, he goes, moves lamp to bed.

Emilie on bed. Bishop drinks last of broth. "I had no idea that anyone was capable of hating me."

Alexander. God's voice behind door -- only wants to prove I exist. "God is the world and the world is God. That's all there is to it." God comes out -- gigantic figure. It falls to floor. Aron jumps down in front of Alexander, laughs. Brief scuffle. Aron takes Alexander to see mummy (which shines in dark, like Oscar's chair). "Anything unintelligble makes people angry." "Uncle Isak says we are surrounded by realities, one outside the other."

Emilie, bishop -- she gave him sleeping pills. "I am going back to my children, to the theater, to my house, and my family."

Aron opens door to Ismael's room, brings breakfast. Ismael -- leave us alone for 1/2 hour. Considered dangerous, locked in -- has "awkward talents." Ismael: "You have in mind a man's death." Alexander's evil thoughts -- burning figure.

Police superintendent relates circumstance of bishop's death to Emilie. In film, Alexander overhears in background.

Theater rehearsal -- not going great, it's piffle. Emilie, children there -- actors happy they're back.

Winter. Emilie and Maj give birth to daughters. Double christening in early summer. Spirits high. Gustav talks. "Our little world has closed round us in security, wisdom, and order after a time of horror and confusion ... We Ekdahls like our subterfuges ... It is you [actors] who are to give us our supernatural shudders and still more our mundane amusements."

Emilie warns Rosa, nursemaid, about Gustav.

Emilie goes to say good night to children -- Alexander pretends to be dying -- they're rehearsing play.

Emlie bids good night to Gustav and Alma -- friendly bickering.

Petra, Maj come to Emilie -- want to help with milliner's shop. Emlie goes to talk to Helena (they agree about shop), theater (don't worry about Gustav, it's your theater), Strindberg play. In film, Alexander eavesdrops, is kicked by bishop -- you'll never escape me.

In film, Fanny settles in with play. Alexander lies in lap. Fanny reads quote from Dream Play.

My notes
-- importance of environment -- huge change when Emilie and kids move to bishop's
-- Alexander a dreamer -- fantasy, reality
-- lot of characters introduced -- exposition handled extremely well through action, argument
-- lots of notes on characters, environment

FT 540 notes (from 06/26/03)
-- most accessible of Bergman's films. Has all the themes he writes about, comes to a conclusion.
-- 5 hr. TV series, released in shorter versions.
-- pay attention to art as theme, imagination as theme, love as theme
-- tied to specific place and time, but has universal appeal. Exist out of times, don't date themselves.
-- Isak, Aron, Ishmael magicians
-- Aron -- reality within reality
-- characters well delineated
-- making of an artist
-- ends with Helena reading quote from Strindberg's "Dream Play" as Alexander lies, head in her lap

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