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Film / Fanny and Alexander

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"Everything can happen. Everything is possible and probable. Time and space do not exist. On a flimsy framework of reality, the imagination spins, weaving new patterns."

Fanny and Alexander is a 1982 film by Ingmar Bergman. The story centers around the filthy rich Ekhdahl family in Sweden, from 1907 to 1909. Matriarch Helena Ekhdahl is a widow, who has maintained a long term relationship with Jewish shopkeeper Isak Jacobi. Helena's son Carl is unhappily married and deeply in debt. Her son Gustav is in a happy open marriage with Alma and is also seeing Maj the maid. Helena's son Oscar has the simplest home life, married to the lovely Emelie, with two children, Fanny and Alexander (the film is from Alexander's point-of-view). Unfortunately Oscar and Emelie's happiness is cut short, when Oscar suddenly dies from a stroke. Emelie winds up marrying the local Protestant bishop, Edvard Vergerus — a marriage that both she and her children quickly regret.

Fanny and Alexander was the last theatrical film of Bergman's career, although he wrote and directed for television for another 20 years. In fact, it was originally conceived as a television mini series, and exists as both a 188 minute theatrical cut (the first to be released), and a 312 minute television cut. It is commonly regarded as one of his masterpieces.



  • Actually Pretty Funny: When Alexander won't say "good night" to Edvard, he asks him why. Alexander says he doesn't want Edvard to have a good night. Edvard chastises him, but as he leaves he starts laughing.
  • All There in the Manual: Or rather, all there in the television cut. In the theatrical version, it's not clear if Alexander is making up the story of seeing the ghosts of Edvard's wife and children. The television version includes a scene where the ghosts of the mother and daughters appear, and yell at Alexander for making things up.
  • Author Avatar: Alexander for the young Bergman, though he denied this:
    It has been suggested ... that 12-year-old Alexander is my alter-ego. But this is not quite true. Fanny and Alexander is a story, the chronicle of a middle-class, perhaps upper-middle-class family sticking closely together...There's a lot of me in the Bishop, rather than in Alexander. He is haunted by his own devils
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  • Beta Couple: Several. The affair between Gustav and Maj is the primary subplot (played for laughs), while Carl and Lydia's marriage is the secondary (tragic) one. Helena and Isak is a background couple.
  • Big Fancy House: The Ekhdahls live in an absurdly ornate mansion filled with fancy furniture, art, and statuary. If Scenery Porn is possible in an indoor drama, this is it.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Bishop Vergerus, a pillar of his community — he's the bishop, for cripes's sake — is revealed to be a cruel, domineering sadist. He locks the kids up in their room, viciously canes Alexander, and apparently was indirectly responsible for the death of his first wife and children, when they drowned in the river while trying to escape his tyranny.
  • Childish Pillow Fight: Played straight, with Fanny, Alexander, some other kids, and the maid engage in a standard pillow fight on Christmas, including feathers from exploding pillows.
  • Corporal Punishment: The Bishop flogs Alexander on the buttocks with a carpet beater—in front of the whole household.
  • Cross-Cast Role: For no obvious reason, but possibly to make the character even more creepy, the role of Mr. Jacobi's disturbed young son Ismael is played by a woman.
  • Family Theme Naming: The Ekdahl brothers are named after Swedish kings (which was a common naming practice).
  • Farts on Fire: Averted. All Carl does when he farts at a candelabra is put out the candles.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Edvard Vergérus often appears as very polite and sophisticated, but it becomes clear that his politeness is only a facade that masks the true abuser that he is.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: Carl and Gustav when negotiating with the bishop. It doesn't work.
  • Greedy Jew: Deconstructed with Isak, to the point of being a Stereotype Flip. Though outwardly he has all of the classical attributes, he is not portrayed as greedy or selfish, however it is clear that most of the other characters see him this way. The sequence where he saves the children from the bishop's house shows, that he usually plays along with it to confuse his opponents.
  • Gray Rain of Depression: Opens the second part, as Emilie and her children are trapped in the grim Vergerus home, while Helena sits at home alone, depressed.
  • Guess Who I'm Marrying?: Bishop Vergerus practically radiates "evil" from his first scene, in which he grills Alexander about the fanciful stories Alexander tells at school. This trope is played with, however, in that their mother realizes pretty quickly what a monster she married, and the kids do not save themselves (they are spirited out in a trunk by Mr. Jacobi).
  • Hollywood Atheist: The children suffer quite a bit in Bishop Vergerus's prison like home. After they finally escape, Alexander muses: "If there is a God, then he's a shit, and I'd like to kick him in the butt."
  • Intermission: "Fanny and Alexander will continue in a moment."
  • Magic Realism: Mostly a realistic setting, but with fairy tale aspects. Alexander sees a statue move, and sees ghosts. A mummy somehow breathes. Mr. Jacobi casts a spell to make images of Fanny and Alexander appear, when smuggling them out of the Vergerus home. Mr. Jacobi's disturbed son Ismael seems to bring about the death of Edvard and his aunt, by some sort of psychic link, with the events transpiring in Real Life, just as Ismael describes them to Alexander.
  • Man on Fire: Edvard's aunt after she knocks over an oil lamp.
  • Match Cut: From a shot of the weird breathing mummy in Aron Jacobi's puppet show, turning his head, to Edvard's creepy bedridden aunt, turning her head in the exact same way.
  • Mathematician's Answer: Alexander tries this when being grilled by Bishop Vergerus.
    Edvard: Can you explain to me why one lies?
    Alexander: Because you don't want to tell the truth.
  • The Mistress: Maj is this to Gustav. Alma is perfectly OK with it, even going so far as to have a pleasant conversation with Gustav and Helena, about what to do with Maj after Gustav knocks her up.
  • Name and Name: Although somewhat of an odd example of this trope, since the whole film is from Alexander's point of view, and his sister Fanny is insignificant.
  • One-Book Author: After playing Alexander, Bertil Guve decided not to pursue a career in acting. He is now a doctor of economics.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: They seem content to just hang around. Oscar's ghost appears periodically in the Ekhdahl mansion, and talks to both his mother and his son. Edvard's ghost appears at the end, knocks Alexander down, and promises to haunt him.
  • Polyamory: Gustav's wife Alma is aware that Gustav is having regular sex with Maj the maid, and Alma is perfectly OK with it.
  • Sinister Minister: Emilie's alarm bells do not go off when Edvard demands that she and the children rid themselves of all their possessions before coming to his household. Sure enough, Edvard is a monstrous sadist whose home is very much like a prison, complete with bars on the windows, and solitary confinement in the attic for Alexander after Edvard beats him.
  • Slipping a Mickey: How Emilie escapes Edvard's house, by dumping some sleeping pills in his drink.
  • Table Space: Used for a gag. As the extended Ekhdahl clan is having dinner, Helena beckons to a maid and says: "Tell the children they may leave the table." The maid then walks down the long, long table to a second maid, and delivers the message. That maid then walks down to a third maid, who goes to the other end of the table (which may be in Finland), and tells Fanny and Alexander they may leave.
  • A Taste of the Lash: Edvard canes Alexander after Alexander makes up that story about seeing the ghosts of Edvard's first family.
  • Wedding Day: An appropriately ominous one between Edvard and Emilie, right before the intermission.


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