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Film / Torment

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Torment is a 1944 film from Sweden, directed by Alf Sjöberg.

The setting is a boys' school in Stockholm, which seems to have students ranging from small boys to young men in their late teens. The story centers on those boys in their late teens, and specifically Jan-Erik, the scion of a wealthy family. The bane of Jan-Erik's existence is the cruel, nasty Latin teacher, known only by his nickname "Caligula". Caligula delights in tormenting and humiliating his students. Sometimes it's Jan-Erik, and sometimes another student is the target of Caligula's bullying, but they all hate him.

One day after school Jan-Erik stops in the nearby tobacconist's shop, and chats in an innocent way with Bertha, the beautiful young cashier. Later, as Jan-Erik is walking along the banks of the river, he sees a young woman staggering down the steps, so drunk she can barely stand. It's Bertha. Bertha has been driven to drink by another man in her life, an older man who torments her in unspecified but apparently horrible ways. Bertha begs Jan-Erik from protection from the man. Predictably, Jan-Erik and Bertha become lovers.


Three guesses who the other man is.

The screenplay for Torment was written by a 26-year-old new hire to the film studio named Ingmar Bergman. It was his first film credit.


  • Author Tract: The doctor who attends Jan-Erik after his collapse gives a spiel straight from the pen of Ingmar Bergman about how awful Swedish schools are and how they terrorize the kids within.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Bertha's dead. Caligula has gotten Jan-Erik expelled, and Jan-Erik is estranged from his parents. But the headmaster tells Jan-Erik he'll help Jan-Erik get a job. And in the last meeting between them Caligula comes off as pathetic, begging for mercy, engaging in Inelegant Blubbering about how he has no one. Jan-Erik leaves his teacher behind forever and strides away with new hope.
  • Captain Obvious: Everyone gets a good laugh out of the awful opening to Petersson's essay.
    "The nomadic Laplanders never stay in one place for very long."
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  • Chiaroscuro: Some stark black-and-white photography in this film, like the scene where Jan-Erik runs into a plastered Bertha by the river. A single streetlight throws dramatic shadows as he escorts her up the stairs.
  • Disposable Woman: Really the only purpose for Bertha in the story is to be a source of conflict, and then die.
  • Dream Sequence: Jan-Erik has a freaky dream where Caligula shows up and asks him Latin questions, followed by Bertha appearing and begging him for help.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: It's not clear just what Caligula does to Bertha, although physical abuse is certainly part of it. But she has to drink herself blind drunk every time after he leaves. She's never shown drinking when she's with Jan-Erik.
  • Lady Drunk: Bertha is an unusually young version, but she hits the right notes, drinking herself into a bourbon-soaked stupor every time Caligula comes around. She drinks herself to death.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: Jan-Erik striding off to downtown Stockholm, leaving the school and Caligula and everything behind.
  • One-Gender School: Nothing but boys in Jan-Erik's school.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Presumably Caligula must have a real name, but we never learn it.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The headmaster goes on an angry rant against Caligula, calling him unfit to be a teacher and stating that terrifying students is no way to get them to learn. He does not do the logical thing and fire Caligula, however.
  • Sadist Teacher: Caligula is a monstrous tyrant—the students call him "Caligula", after all—who delights in mocking and humiliating the boys in his classes. Everyone hates him. The word "sadist" is actually used more than once.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Jan-Erik and Bertha kiss, they lower themselves down to the bed, and the camera pans over to the side table, showing Bertha's hand as she reaches out to turn off the lamp.
  • Shout-Out: Bertha has a picture of Errol Flynn on the wall in her little room.
  • Teachers Out of School: A particularly unpleasant version of this trope, when Jan-Erik runs into Caligula at the tobacconist's.
  • Title Drop: The headmaster calls Caligula "a tormentor of human beings."