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a lot of even of the most loyal bergman fans claim that they came away from this one confused and irritated, and found it lacking in meaningful symbolism. i wonder if they watched the same movie i did?? this is just about one of the most intriguing, imaginative horror movies i've ever seen, and it is indispensable for those who enjoy the occasional dip into the proverbial pool of cinematic madness and mental derangement. i'm not in uncritical praise of everything bergman made, and some of his movies are admittedly a bit heavy handed and depressing, but i see this one as an example of what he could do when he decided to go all out. johann (max von sydow) and alma (liv ullmann)are husband and wife, and sydow's character is basically a tormented artist who has moved to the deceptively serene and quiet island with his wife to collect himself and try to escape his personal demons. to say the least, it doesn't exactly pan out that way. i believe the constant darkness and atmosphere of chaos and fear in the film is a metaphor for the human condition, because when you really reflect on it, we can never tell if the impressions we get and the ideas we have are projections of our imaginations or have some basis in reality, just as johann and his loyal wife cannot tell if these superficially amiable but suspiciously odd people are really there or are illusory creations of his mind. lindhorst, 'the birdman', is a particularly chilling character, and i would venture to say that the scene in which he puts on a puppet show for the couple and the rest of the socialites/demons is the key to the film. lindhorst creates a scene from mozart's "the magic flute", and recites (during a truly haunting close up), the dialogue from a scene crucial to the meaning of the symphony. one of the crucial characters, tamino (and anyone into mozart will understand what i'm talking about)collapses in the *palace of wisdom*, that is, a terrible place where he has discovered the tragic truth about human life and it's meaninglessness, and asks desperately "when will mine eyes the daylight see?" lindhorst is quick to recite the reply:"soon, soon fair youth..or never." he then goes on to talk about how mozart was terminally ill at the time of it's composition, and i would not be surprised if this entire scene was a metaphor for the artists' struggle with the fact of death and it's crushing finality:how can the creative individual, more sensitive to the issue of ultimate meaning as regards the human condition, be content or happy with anything when he knows that the world just might be and probably is what thomas carlyle called it, "an uncaring hall of doom"? how can we be sure of our meanings, when they could be wishful projections of our own minds, when the beliefs we have about ourselves and others cannot be purely objective or subjective? if this is the case, don't we necessarily live in a shadow house of illusions and absurdities? anyone with half a brain can see that there IS existential symbolism in this film. rich, unbearably tense, masterful horror and surrealism at it's finest. buy it.
This seems to be one that divides fans of the master, but I loved it.
It's easy to see why people see this as being a bit of an odd-one-out
in Bergman's output: it's very direct in it's depiction of disturbed
states of mind, directly illustrating hallucinatory states rather than
just hinting at them. Others have pointed to references to other films
of the horror genre, which seem undeniable.
Not that you'd mistake this for a film by anyone but Bergman. It's rich in connections with other of his films and autobiographical references (such as the terrifying description of being locked in a cupboard as a child). It can be reasonably thought of as Bergman's 'horror film' but he takes on the genre very much on his own terms.
It's a film that lingers long in the mind, with many unforgettable scenes (including the amazing Magic Flute scene) aided by Sven Nykvist's wonderful chiaroscuro photography. The use of music is (as ever with Bergman, the most musical of directors) extremely intelligent: the scene with the boy is set apart from the rest as much by the music as the photography.
Given the quality of the cast, you'd expect superb performances. As ever, von Sydow and Ullmann are excellent, with equally good supporting performances.
At times I was reminded of Rilke's only novel, The Notebook of Malte Laurids Brigge. If you don't know this, I urge you to seek out a copy: there's a distinctly Bergmanesque atmosphere to the whole work, but there are specific images that seem to link to this film.
This is a film that repays repeated viewings. Despite it's extremely disturbing subject matter, to me it's not as emotionally draining as many of Bergman's other films (such as Shame or Winter Light), in spite of (or perhaps because of) the visual horrors on display. Still, I recommend it very highly.
I don't know why I'm so fascinated with Ingmar Bergman. When I was in college, I went to a film society screening of this film. I hadn't seen Wild Strawberries or The Seventh Seal at the time and this was a real mind blower. There are all those shades of darkness. There are those depressed looking people, haunted by those personal demons. There is Bergman's island, so lonely, so cold. The other inhabitants always seem so threatening. The artist, writing about affairs, assaults, murder, and we don't know whether any of it is true. I suffer through the party with all those pretentious people and their angst. This party is only eclipsed by the one in Alice in Wonderland . The people are truly beasts. Bergman is about bad dreams. The camera pulls us through our deepest fears and dumps us in that dark, evil swamp. I know this is often seen as one of his minor films, but his getting ready to meet his former lover, putting on that makeup to look younger and recapture his past virility, is so gut wrenching. This is a depressed feast for the eyes and it puts mental illness into corporeal form.
"Hour of the Wolf" (1968) is one of my favorite Bergman's films. I
place it close to "Persona" to which it is a perfect matching piece.
This impressive and disturbing movie about the loss of sanity by a
tormented artist is another magnificent work of Ingmar Bergman, the
closest to the horror genre he ever directed with his regular actors,
Max von Sydow who is amazing as Johan and his Muse Liv Ullmann who is
equally compelling as Alma, Jonah's wife. The film takes place on an
isolated, windy island where Johan and pregnant Alma moved in hope for
Johan to work on his paintings and where he is haunted by nightmares
from the past that may or may not be just his dreams. They come to
torture him during The Hour of the Wolf which Bergman describes as "the
hour between night and dawn. It is the hour when most people die, when
sleep is deepest, when nightmares are more real. It is the hour when
the sleepless are haunted by their deepest fear, when ghosts and demons
are most powerful. The Hour of the Wolf is also the hour when most
children are born."
Bergman has always been obsessed and fascinated by the inner demons that imagination can create and like no other filmmaker has explored the deepest mysteries of human soul and mind.
Surrealistic, Gothic and dark horror film, with its magnificent black and white cinematography provided by Bergman's long time friend and collaborator, Sven Nykvist, "The Hour of the Wolf" is a frightening view of the mind of a mad person.
It's been mentioned in more than one comment and I agree that David Lynch might have seen "Hour of the Wolf" more than once and was influenced by it when working on his own dark and surrealistic "Erazerhead".
Much like F.W. Murnau, or even David Lynch for that matter, Ingmar
Bergman can create horror in a film, such as his rarity in the genre of
Hour of the Wolf (no, no werewolves boys and girls, the title refers to
something else entirely regarding the middle of the night), by imposing
images that are so unbelievable as to either frighten or annoy. Bergman
is no stranger to the surreal (Persona his most notorious feat, but
surrealism lurks in many Bergman works), and Hour of the Wolf displays
his skills at it with a precision that is un-canny. We're given a
couple of characters thrust (not entirely by accident) into a strange
atmosphere of people, locations, shadows, the night. And with this
film, the audience is given images and scenes that are very new, even
for a modern audience, but most of the film brings one back to the most
chilling of the silent-film horror classics. But that's not to say this
is a relatively accessible Bergman film, unless you are very much into
Max Von Sydow and Liv Ullman give strong performances as a couple (one an artist the other his pregnant wife) who arrive on an island to have some peace, where he can get some work done. But this is not the case as Von Sydow's character goes through a kind of deconstruction in the night- he can't sleep, he's shaken to intense uncomfort by neighbors, and a particular memory haunts him all the time (and once Bergman shows what it is, it becomes one of the most horrifying scenes I may have ever seen). If there is a climax to the film it's difficult to discern- the only flaw I had with the film, that sometimes it's almost TOO bizarre- however what leads up to it is a skillful work at experimental theatricality. Everything seems real enough to draw the audience in, and everything seems un-real enough for the audience to be disconnected enough to understand the surreal nature. To put it another way, it's a good film to scare the hell out of you as a midnight movie.
Hour of the Wolf is nothing short of incredible. Certainly the scariest horror/thriller i've ever seen. Forget Psycho, forget Friday the 13th, forget everything you know about thrills and chills. Hour of the Wolf is actually scary, and in a good way (unlike foul ventures such as Urban Legend 2 or Exorcist 2). What i mean is, its a brilliantly enjoyable movie to watch. Matchless performances, gorgeous photography and a script with perfectly sustained and developed suspense, a delicious sense of the surreal which has clearly been a big influence on David Lynch, and a gradual revealing of the characters which is a marvel to watch and a lesson to filmmakers the world over. The characters in Bergman are as rich as in the best literature. I'll see Hour of the Wolf again for its surrealism, its enigma, and its depth. 9/10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Sometimes broadly categorised as a horror film, Hour of the Wolf (1966)
is in fact one of director Ingmar Bergman's most potent and interesting
examinations of the artistic psyche, with all of the usual
psychological elements and interpretations that such a subject can
present. The film was initially devised alongside the more widely
acknowledged masterpiece Persona (1966) as a secondary element of that
film's already complicated narrative design. Along the way, Bergman
presumably decided that the intense psycho-sexual relationship between
patient and nurse presented by Persona was strong enough to survive on
its own, so, took out the broader aspects of artistic breakdown, ego,
guilt and paranoia, and created this particular film around them.
The presentation of the story begins well enough; with the characters retreating to a small island off the Swedish coast and living out a quaint and idyllic honeymoon period of love and creativity. However, right away we see Bergman presenting the audience with a series of questions; questions that suggest certain unspoken elements of this couple and their shared past, with the major question being along the lines of why would these particular characters, loving and charming as they seem, want to remove themselves so completely from the outside world? Are they hiding from something? Perhaps so, and you could certainly draw parallels here with the central themes of Bergman's later, oddly inter-linked character studies Shame (1968) and A Passion (1969), in which characters haunted by the past and at odds with society retreat from certain events and further into themselves. As with those particular films, the characters of Hour of the Wolf find that the solitude they so dearly sought bring out the very demons that their escape was attempting to exorcise, creating in the process a hellish, psychological landscape where they find themselves repeating the same actions, events and mistakes, as if existing within some tortured loop.
As the film progresses, Johan and Alma, the couple at the centre of this claustrophobic drama, realise that they are not alone on the island; with the local inhabitants coming to represent the frightening, unseen abstractions presented in the artist's work. Again, we are being asked a series of questions all pointing back to the character of Johan Borg and his relationship, not only with Alma, but with the inhabitants of the island and the mysterious cipher Veronica Vogler, who will reappear towards the end of the film. The horror aspect is not only psychological, which is of course fairly common for Bergman's work, particularly of this era, but also surprisingly physical; manifested in the old dark house and bizarre characters that come to populate the island and take an interest in Johan and his heavily pregnant wife.
You could argue that the film is somewhat muddled or small in scale compared to many of Bergman's other films from this era, in particular, the aforementioned Persona, as well Shame and A Passion, which are both equally as great. Even Bergman himself admits in his memoirs that the perspective of the film was never fully developed, despite his best efforts to correct the problems in post-production; something that no doubt led to the awkward, though never less than interesting creation of the confessional framing device. Here, Bergman to some extent pre-dates a film like The Blair Witch Project (1999) by some forty or so years by creating a work that claims to be based on a true story - in this instance, the psychological breakdown and disappearance of an artist, as documented by his own wife and diary entries - despite clearly being a work of fiction. From this the film becomes weighted from the perspective of Alma, the wife of the artist, who discusses her husband's final days with an unseen film crew.
Once we cut back into the real story and begin to unravel the central mystery of Johan Borg and the terrible demons that plague him, the perspective of the narrative switches once again, this time becoming entirely focused on the man; presenting us with his own fragmented memories, dreams and nightmares. This, for me, is a much more interesting angle to follow, despite misgivings from the filmmaker himself. Though some viewers have obviously found this device problematic, or even potentially distracting, the use of this continual juxtaposition of the character's central viewpoints works in favour of the drama, fragmenting the notions of fact and fiction even further and creating a really subtle shading of Borg's complex personality. You could also say that with this particular style of structure, Bergman is obscuring - perhaps accidentally - the true fate of Borg's character so that we, the audience, are never fully aware of what exactly is going on. We can make assumption of course, and draw conclusions from the snippets of information being offered to us by the characters and by Bergman himself, but the film ultimately closes with as many questions as it does suitable answers.
The imagery of Hour of the Wolf is very much in keeping with the imagery of Persona, though perhaps lacking the Brechtian sense of narrative deconstruction and cinematic self-reference in favour of the abstract, absurd and the morbidly surreal. As other reviewers have suggested, there is a touch of the Hammer House of Horror evident here, especially in the later scenes which take place in the old, Gothic mansion and some of the more outré images of psychological torment. However, the film never crosses over, remaining true to Bergman's personal style and preoccupation with character examination and self-analysis against a landscape of pure, existentialist dread.
I can't agree with most of the comments above, and particularly find myself
taking the completely opposing view to Adrian Ekdahl. While HOUR OF THE
WOLF seems eminently worth viewing (what Bergman film isn't?), I think it's
substantially less compelling and essential than SHAME, made the same year
with the same two principal players.
It took me a long time to see VARGTIMMEN, and I've finally seen it tonight on the big screen. But while I feel it's an essential enough part of the overall Bergman canon, I'd have to place it squarely in the b-list as far as its coherence and overall effectiveness.
While it contains an unusual level of creepiness by Bergman standards (and a complete journey into surrealism, brief as it is, in the final reel that seems very un-Bergmanesque -- he loves his symbolic images, but rarely has he gone this ambiguously surreal route), the truth seems to be that many many directors have achieved more with this kind of film than this film does. Bergman seems a bit out of his element here. Because most of his films utilize his trademark techniques in the service of a subtle, finely-observed, provocative examination of some difficult aspect of human existence, VARGTIMMEN seems to lose its coherence quite a bit in pursuit of something which is admittedly unusual for Bergman.
Ultimately it seems to examine three themes: 1) Can we, if haunted by things that become inarticulable, go mad from them? 2) Can we, if we love or are attuned enough to those we love, share their demons with them? 3) Schizophrenia. (This appears to me to be what Johan Borg seems to be suffering from).
These are interesting themes, to be sure. But Bergman doesn't seem to really go very deeply into them. Instead, he's kind of skimming the surface (uncharacteristic for him) while enjoying (if that can be the right word) the ambiguity of our knowledge of what's going on. Strangely, while I rarely find Bergman emptily pretentious or needlessly arty (which he is obviously occasionally accused of), this film brought me as close to feeling that way as anything I've ever seen of his. Perhaps it's because he wasn't truly at home in these themes of supernatural/horror, etc. This film actually seems DERIVATIVE of better films, like a Franju's EYES WITHOUT A FACE or even DEAD OF NIGHT. Rarely does Bergman suffer in comparison with other filmmakers who came before him. SHAME (again, made that same year, virtually right after this film), is by contrast a deeply troubling, finely wrought examination of far more (to me) compelling, complex, essential and provocative human issues. I would return again and again to SHAME, but I feel no real need to see HOUR OF THE WOLF again.
It belongs in the canon, yes, and should be seen. But while it is a bit unusual visually, I think it winds up seeming rather minor thematically in the overall pantheon of his work.
This film is extremely delicate. It deals within that thin line between genius and madness, reality and imagination as one and the same thing. Artist Johan Borg is haunted by demons of both past and present. His wife Alma loves him so intimately that she is prepared to dive deep into his inner world, desperate to help him, shares in his hallucinations, which is great but futile in the long run to where he must go alone. To me Bergman, along with Tarkovsky and only a few others like Fellini deal so splendidly with our most inner selves, our conscious and subconscious as in 'The Hour of the Wolf'. Here as in Fellini's 'Juliet of the Spirits' that which is real and that which is not is hardly the point. What matters here is the stirrings of the soul, hence Borg's fear of the dark and lack of sleep until the day breaks and he can finally get some rest.
a man moves to a remote island with his wife. he cannot sleep at night and is tormented by inner demons. the film tracks this madness of his. excellent performances by max snydow and liv ullman. the cinematography is beautiful and precise. as is usual with bergman's films, it is not clear on first viewing what the movie is all about. why the man is tormented, is a mystery, at least to me.
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