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.