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The Serpent's Egg (1977)

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Ingmar Bergman's The Serpent's Egg follows a week in the life of Abel Rosenberg, an out-of-work American circus acrobat living in poverty-stricken Berlin following Germany's defeat in World... See full summary »



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Title: The Serpent's Egg (1977)

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Credited cast:
Manuela Rosenberg
Inspector Bauer (as Gert Froebe)
Heinz Bennent ...
Hans Vergerus
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Girl in uniform
Toni Berger ...
Mr. Rosenberg
Richard Bohne ...
Police officer
Paula Braend ...
Mrs. Hemse
Erna Brünell ...
Mrs. Rosenberg (as Erna Bruenell)
Paul Burian ...
Experiment person
Hildegard Busse ...
Paul Bürks ...
Cabaret Comedian (as Paul Buerks)
Gaby Dohm ...
Woman with baby
Hans Eichler ...


Ingmar Bergman's The Serpent's Egg follows a week in the life of Abel Rosenberg, an out-of-work American circus acrobat living in poverty-stricken Berlin following Germany's defeat in World War I. When his brother commits suicide, Abel seeks refuge in the apartment of an old acquaintance Professor Veregus. Desperate to make ends meet in the war-ravaged city, Abel takes a job in Veregus' clinic, where he discovers the horrific truth behind the work of the strangely beneficent professor and unlocks the chilling mystery that drove his brother to kill himself. Written by Leigh Thomas

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

clinic | suicide | serpent | germany | circus | See more »


Berlin 1923! A dangerous time to be alive and stay that way! See more »


R | See all certifications »






Release Date:

15 February 1978 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

El huevo de la serpiente  »

Box Office


DEM 12,000,000 (estimated)


SEK 2,359,946 (Sweden)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Actors Dustin Hoffman, Richard Harris, Peter Falk and Robert Redford were all considered for the lead male role of Abel Rosenberg which in the end was cast with David Carradine. See more »


The Nazi-looking thugs that are beating up people are wearing Model 1943 German army caps and 1940s style clothing. This film is supposed to take place in the 1920s. See more »


Abel Rosenberg: I wake up from a nightmare and find that real life is worse than the dream.
See more »


Featured in Away from Home (2004) See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

like one of the beings in the mad doctor's experiments, this film is a tortured, deconstructive kind of movie, never too boring
6 February 2006 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

One can look at Ingmar Bergman's the Serpent's Egg as being many things, but it should not be looked at through the same prism that one looks at say Through a Glass Darkly or Scenes from a Marriage. This is Bergman being 'cinematic', and for the lone moment of a career spent with low-budget film-making and theater as his passions, a big-budget, a Hollywood star, and a sprawling canvas to work on, was at his finger-tips. It's also one of his few shots at not only an 'homage' kind of movie, but also one in English (one of only two). So it's the dark horse (no pun intended) when compared to the more one-on-one based films. This time the star, David Carradine, is not only an acrobat, but also in a city where the environment is grim, to the point of a scarcity of hope amid the post WW1 German cityscape. It's not the kind of film, in other words, that'll make money in the mass US market coming off the high of Star Wars (though it's been said that this film did make back it's money in Europe and then some). It's the kind of uncompromising vision that goes for broke, and it's a fascinating journey.

Carradine, who is at his best with a certain style and down-played quality that keeps him still cool today, is an American in Berlin, where his brother's just died in a rather grotesque fashion. This puts a certain immediate marker of doom over him and his sister in law, played by Liv Ullman (if, for no other reason to see the film, it's for her work, as usual). Over the span of a week (surprisingly so, if not for the voice over one might feel it being longer), amid the rain and nights and drunken stumbles and over-heated moments, Abel Rosenberg tries to deal with all that's going on. But there are stranger things lurking ahead with his upcoming job. This story is dealt with by Bergman in a curious way- it SEEMS a little longer at times, but it doesn't lose a certain momentum, of stripping away its character's defenses bare. Even Carradine, an actor who's mostly had a career as a larger-than-life kind of persona, gets intense with his work here.

Where Bergman gets entangled in everything he's got going on is a sense of structure to it. It's not the kind of 'soul-searching, hell if I know if God can help' film, but one more connected to the perverse, lurid qualities of the control some people could have over these people at this point of time in the world. One could say it's connected stylistically with the films of Murnau and Lang, however I would argue that more than half the time I did still feel like I was seeing a Bergman film, with his part n parcel cinematographer Sven Nykvist expressing greatly what is there in the huge set constructed of 1922 Berlin. And because of this, there's still the close-ups, and the surreality that's induced. But because there's so much to work with, with sometimes overwhelming scenes (like when Carradine walks into that bar, loaded with people, compact and tight, or whenever there's a chase or 'danger' kind of moment for Rosenberg, or just having to deal with large crowds or difficult lighting set-ups), the narrative thread gets tangled up. The opening shot of the people walking in slow-motion is brilliant, yet I didn't feel that same brilliance in the film.

Several directors hit this kind of moment in careers, where a larger-than-usual concept is provided by the appropriate budget. That it's in English is unusual, and though Bergman is functional in the language, one can tell there's not the same fluidity in the writing at times. However I don't discredit the Serpent's Egg as this horrible quagmire of a picture, as I was almost led on to believe. It still contains some extraordinary stuff, like the Cabaret scenes, as weird and compelling as some of the stuff in the Silence. Or the terror instilled when Heinz Bennent's character shows Rosenberg the 'footage' towards the end of the film. But it's also one of the more difficult films of Bergman's I've seen, that moves at a pace that's post-modern, and not too steeped in the 20's (that is one of its strong points at times in theme), while resisting going for the easy, Hollywood big-budget kind of movie-making. 7.5/10

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