Film / Hour of the Wolf
A darkly minimalistic, surrealistic ghost story by Swedish
director Ingmar Bergman
from 1968 (original title Vargtimmen), starring Max von Sydow
and Liv Ullmann
. The former plays Johan, a painter with a torrid romantic life behind him and Ullman plays his doting wife, Alma. They live together in solitude on a deserted island when their bleak, windswept domestic bliss is intruded upon by a coterie of very crass, totally realistic looking, upper-middle-class spirits with a taste for fine art. On the whole, the film relies on subverting common visual storytelling conventions to craft a rather complex Psychological Thriller
with little to no special effects. To give some idea what's going on here, take the upper-middle-class spirits: On one level, they could be read as pointing to Johan's contempt for the shallow consumers of his art. They care only for the social currency it imparts. Being in society with these people saps Johan's artistic energy (metaphorically.) Or, you might see the beings as supernatural beings that nevertheless are as physical as Johan and Alma. In which case, they are ghosts there to suck his life force. The film leaves both interpretations open for not only the viewer but also the characters. Johan and Alma are as terrified of their inability to fully discern between reality and figments of their imagination as the viewer unsure of what's going on. What's more, at one point, we're also wondering whether Alma, who finally begins to see the characters her husband sees, might even suffer from a shared delusion arising from her being too wrapped up in his strong-willed, charismatic artistic world. That adds a pretty heavy relationship dynamic to the whole thing, which touches somewhat on ideas about women's self-definition (such as in Henrik Ibsen
's A Doll's House
- Creepy Child: A creepy child stalks Johan on the rocks near the sea.
- Haunted Castle: Much of the interaction with the ghosts takes place in the castle.
- Love Makes You Crazy: Johan's sexual longing for a former lover is exploited by the ghosts to ensnare him.
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Are the ghosts real or not? The audience cannot know definitively one way or the other.
- Medium Awareness: The frame story is an interview with Alma from the film director in which she tells Johan's story. However, we never see him and he doesn't speak. He wants the audience to think we're seeing Alma through his eyes.
- Painting the Medium: The audio running during the title credits contains dialog from the actual film set, reminding the viewer that they are seeing a film.
- Psychological Torment Zone: Many of the interactions with the spirits seem to be elaborate attempts on their part to torment and consume Johan psychologically.
- Surreal Horror
- Through the Eyes of Madness: Johan or Alma both could be hallucinating or they might be completely lucid.
- Unreliable Narrator: We're seeing everything through Johan's and Alma's perspective, but it's implied that Alma has started to believe in his hallucinations, so Alma's account of Johan's story is difficult for us to believe. Finally, because The Director has written him — or herself into the story, we're faced with another unreliable narrator.
- Woman in White: A beautiful woman in white seduces Johan.
- Would Hurt a Child: Johan kills a small child who he thinks is a specter haunting him.