Winter Light (1963) - Plot Summary Poster



Showing all 7 items
Jump to:


  • A small town priest struggles with his faith.

  • On a cold winter's Sunday, the pastor of a small rural church (Tomas Ericsson) performs service for a tiny congregation; though he is suffering from a cold and a severe crisis of faith. After the service, he attempts to console a fisherman (Jonas Persson) who is tormented by anxiety, but Tomas can only speak about his own troubled relationship with God. A school teacher (Maerta Lundberg) offers Tomas her love as consolation for his loss of faith. But Tomas resists her love as desperately as she offers it to him. This is the second in Bergman's trilogy of films dealing with man's relationship with God.

  • A widowed priest is troubled by lack of faith. The history centers around his relationship with a schoolteacher, who loves him but whom he can not love back and his bonds to a god he isn't sure he believes in. He tries to find a meaning with love and faith again, discussing his predicament both with those that has a lot of faith and those that might have lost it, in a cold winter landscape.

  • In the cold winter in the countryside of Sweden, the pastor Tomas Ericsson is a bitter man living a crisis of lack of faith in God after the death of his beloved wife two years ago. After the mass, Karin Persson seeks out the pastor with her husband, the fisherman Jonas Persson, and tells that Jonas is tormented by an existential crisis when he learns that China has an atomic bomb and intends to commit suicide. Tomas unsuccessfully attempts to comfort Jonas but he is not convincing due to his lack of faith and Jonas kills himself with a shot of rifle in his head. Meanwhile, the schoolteacher Märta Lundberg is in love with Tomas, but the widowed pastor rejects her love with bitter and tough words. In the end, Tomas discusses with the sacristan the true suffering of Jesus Christ in the Passion of Christ.

  • Starring two great Swedish film actors Gunnar Björnstrand and Max Von Sydow (Beyond Dreams, The Exorcist). Bergman explores in this film the search for redemption in a world without meaning. Through the representation of a spiritual crisis he reflects on the human anxiety to validate himself in a world apparently abandoned by God. Tomas Ericsson, a priest who doubts the existence of God, runs a small congregation in which his members also question for and against God because of the response or silence he has maintained with them. Märta doubts its existence according to what Tomas preaches, but has received an answer to his prayers. Tomas, Karin and Jonas think that the silence of God is proof that it does not exist. During their reflections, they express their demons trying to find meaning in life in relation to their divine beliefs.

  • Tomas Ericsson is the pastor at a sparsely attended church in a small, remote Swedish town. This winter Sunday, the cold or flu from which he is suffering is a physical manifestation of the internal strife has been feeling, he never having recovered emotionally from the death of his wife four years ago. He now questions his faith, which if God did not exist would answer many of the questions he has about life. His overall feeling affects how he deals with two congregants, who have their own very specific issues with which they dealing. Märta Lundberg, a substitute teacher, and Tomas, had a relationship within this past four years, partly out of circumstance. Märta knows that Tomas will never love her and she herself has never considered herself devoutly religious, but she, praying to God, has had her prayers answered in an issue dealing specifically with Tomas. And fisherman Jonas Persson has of late been feeling suicidal about a macro global issue which he believes threatens his and his wife Karin's very existence as Christians, and about which he feels powerless to do anything.



The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Ingmar Bergman's "Winter Light," also known by the more appropriate British title "The Communicants," is the second installment in a film trilogy, preceded by "Through a Glass Darkly" and followed by "The Silence." This association was not intentional when Bergman made "Winter Light." Instead, the coda of "Through a Glass Darkly," "God is Love and Love is God," forms the nucleus from which he developed the central theme of "Winter Light. " The films of the trilogy are laid out like pieces of chamber music.

    First Movement. The film opens on a gray November Sunday, at noon. Pastor Tomas Ericsson (Gunnar Bjornstrand) is celebrating the liturgy of the Eucharist in a little church at Mittsunda. In the almost empty church, only seven parishioners are in attendance. Four of them are the usual attendees, and the other three are present with ulterior motives: the village school teacher and Eriskson's mistress, Marta Lundberg (Ingrid Thulin); the fisherman, Jonas Persson (Max von Sydow) and his pregnant wife Karin (Gunnel Lindblom). All three will communicate, together with the hunchback sexton of Frostnas, Algot Frovik (Allan Edwall), and an old woman from Hol (Elsa Ebbesen). Following the end of the service, flu-ridden Tomas returns to the vestry, where Mittsunda's sexton, Knut Aronsson (Kolbjorn Knudsen), is counting the meager collection. He advises the sickly Tomas to forgo the afternoon vespers service at the nearby village of. Frostnas. Tomas contemptuously refuses: he must dutifully keep his service to the parish. Frovik comes in to talk to Tomas about a personal problem, but Tomas dismisses him somewhat summarily, advising him to come to him later in the afternoon, before the vespers. Enter Mrs. Persson with her husband in tow, wanting to discuss a very urgent and private matter with the pastor. Jonas is silent and Karin must herself explain that her husband has been extremely depressed by a recent news article he read. According to the article, the Chinese, who are raised to hate, will soon possess the atomic bomb, thus intent in destroying everybody. Tomas is unable to connect with his parishioner's anguish and can only utter few platitudes: his "we must trust in God," provokes Jonas' angry look, which Tomas cannot sustain, and forces him to lowers his eyes. The situation is so awkward that Mrs. Persson suggests that her husband drives her home, and returns immediately for a more private conversation with the pastor.

    As the Perssons leave, Marta enters the vestry, bringing Tomas a basket of food and coffee. He tells her he already has his own coffee. This is a typical "Tomas" reaction to Marta's attention: everything Marta does to near herself to Tomas seems to be wrong. They bicker briefly over her persistent harassment that Tomas should marry her. Before leaving, Marta asks him if he has read the letter she sent him the previous day, in which she explains herself, but to her chagrin, he has not.

    Second Movement. After Marta's departure, and with some hesitation, Tomas reads the letter in the interval before Persson's return to the vestry. Persson returns as promised does he?] At first, too afraid to address Jonas's philosophical issue, Tomas acts more like a social worker, asking Jonas mundane questions about his life. Realizing the superficiality of his approach, Tomas next launches into a long monologue in which he voices his own fears and doubts about God. It is obvious that Tomas's word cannot help Jonas, who leaves the vestry without uttering a word. Tomas rushes out to the chancel where Marta is waiting for him, and collapses in a coughing fit in front of the altar. At that moment, the old woman from Hol enters and says that Jonas has committed suicide with his own gun, by the river.

    Tomas, returning quickly to the reality of his clerical function, rushes to the site of the suicide, leaving Marta alone. The police are already present, and Tomas must simply stand by uselessly, as the body is taken away. Meanwhile, Marta has walked to the scene by the river. Together, they drive back to her schoolhouse, where Tomas accepts her help in the form of some aspirins and cough medicine. Marta climbs to the upstairs apartment to fetch the medicine, while Tomas waits downstairs in the classroom. A young student enters to retrieve some comic books from his desk. Tomas engages the boy in a light conversation. Marta returns, and she continues to discuss with Tomas their relationship. This is the climax of the film. The scene is without doubt the cruelest verbal assault in all of Bergman's films. Triggered by Marta's "Sometime you sound as if you hated me," Tomas lets her have it, with both barrels blazing. Tomas's attack is so cruel that, as a spectator, one cannot feel but embarrassment at being somehow a reluctant witness to such an awful scene. The vicious arguments between Taylor and Burton in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, or more relevant to Bergman, those between Ullmann and Josephson in Scenes from a Marriage, pale by comparison.

    Tomas nonetheless asks Marta if she would care to accompany him to the vespers at Frostnas. On the way, they are stopped at a train crossing. Tomas tells Marta of a terrifying childhood experience he had when he woke up frightened and could not find his father. They stop on their way at Mrs. Persson's house, so Tomas can bring her the news of her husband Jonas's death. Tomas and Marta continue on to Frostnas church.

    Third Movement. In the vestry, Frovik finally has the chance to explain his thoughts to Tomas about Christ's abandonment on the cross. At the same time, the organist, Fredrik Blom (Olof Thunberg), suggests to Marta she should leave Mittsunda and Tomas because the town is falling into despair, and because Tomas is still hopelessly in love with his dead wife. Blom says that people used to attend the church, but that Tomas's wife was Tomas's undoing.

    As there are no parishioners present for the service, Frovik comes in inquiring if the vesper should begin. Tomas tells him to go ahead regardless. As a result, the bells announcing the beginning of the ceremony are rung. Tomas emerges from the vestry, approaches the altar, and kneels. Frovik sits down in one of the rows. Marta stares toward Tomas as he rises and turns around to an empty congregation. He pronounces the final words of the film: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts. The whole earth is full of His glory." He ostensibly continues to officiate.

See also

Taglines | Synopsis | Plot Keywords | Parents Guide

Contribute to This Page

Recently Viewed