Cast: Max von Sydow, Liv Ullman, Erland Josephson
Johan Borg (Sydow) is a painter who has troubles getting tosleep at night. He has hallucinations that involve four "demons".These demons plague him and his wife, Alma (Ullman), until they become a part of his reality.
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Ingmar Bergman takes another radical departure in 1968's "Hour of the Wolf". This is Bergman's first attempt at a psychological thriller. I sat down expecting to see a usual Bergman film; an ethereal meditation on a specific aspect of society or religion, but I saw something entirely different. With this film, Bergman ventures into a Polanski-esque direction.
Johan Borg is a tortured artist, which is very typical in the Bergman oeuvre. However rather then waxing poetic about his mental anguish, we get to see his anguish manifest into the real world. The demons in his mind, become tangible figures that torture Johan.
Bergman's previous films succeed because of what he shows compared to what he tells his viewers. For instance rather then flat out telling you in Persona (which is thematically very similar to this film), that Alma and Elisabeth are becoming the same person, he shows you in one extremely memorable image. But in this film, he tells you the horrors then shows you them. At first, I believed that the demons of Johan were symbolic of other things, but then Bergman showed these demons in the exact way that Johan describes them as. This is also how Polanski's psychological thrillers succeed so well, he always keepsyou guessing until the bitter end.
***Spoilers in this paragraph***
For one brilliant depiction of a gruesomely described demon, Bergman fakes out the viewers by having Johan tell us that "if one of the demons takes off her hat, then her face comes with it." In what appears to be a nod to Polanski, (Rosemary's Baby specifically, which came out in the same year). Bergman shows us just enough on screen to have our imaginations take over and truly terrify us. He could have shown the scene -with what would have been outdated special effects- but he gave us the helm and let us steer the ship.
During one very awkward scene, Johan is about to make love to his long lost mistress, but then realizes he is on display and all of the demons/friends of his are watching. A very attractive Ingrid Thulin appears as this mistress, Veronica Vogler. She is naked during this scene, and normally she is the object of desire. It is very surprising that in this context (and lighting strategy) she is horrifying.
Finally in a very surprising change of pacing, there are multiplescenes in the film where an act of violence takes place, and they are very quickly edited. This is yet another departure from Bergman's usual pacing, which is lethargic and -i'll go ahead and admit- sleep inducing. There are very quick edits and some very quick flashes of light indicating this violence.
This is definitely a change for Bergman, and all fans might not love it, but I'd say it is a worthy experiment. It has been said that this is Bergman's most personal film... his own horrors on display for our viewing pleasure.