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Film / Tystnaden

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Tystnaden (The Silence) is a 1963 film by Ingmar Bergman featuring his household stars Ingrid Thulin and Gunnel Lindblom as sisters Ester and Anna, with Jörgen Lindström as Anna's son Johan, who is the point-of-view character for much of the film.

The three relatives are returning home from a summer holiday by night train, but Ester is seriously ill, so they stop at Timoka, a Central European town in an unnamed nation implied to be on the brink of war, despite neither of them speaking the local language. The sexually active, free-spirited Anna is uninterested in ministering to Ester and instead goes into town, where she hooks up with a cafe waiter, while Johan is left with his aunt, who makes awkward attempts to bond with him. Anna later tells Ester that she resents her attempts to impose her morality on her, despite Ester's pleas that she was acting out of sisterly love. The next morning, Anna and Johan board another train home while Ester, whose health has deteriorated rapidly, is left behind to die.

Provides examples of:

  • Abandoned Area: The hotel is enormous but seems to have hardly anyone in it except Anna, Ester, Johan, and a troupe of Spanish little people.
  • The Alcoholic: Ester.
  • Bad Vibrations: The tank that shows up on the street below causes first a teacup and then the entire room to shake.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Ester has tried to serve as a protective role model for Anna even though both are clearly adult, and Ester's illness has pushed Anna into a more maternal role toward her older sister.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Although most of the characters in the film speak the fictional Timokan language, the circus performers speak Spanish. The one complete line of dialogue their leader speaks (while breaking up the party with Johan) roughly translates to, "What is it in here, a mad house?"
  • Conlang: The unidentified language spoken and written in the film was created by Bergman's ex-wife, Gun Grut, a professional translator herself.
  • Cunning Linguist: Ester is a translator, and tries communicating with the waiter in English, French and German before resorting to Body Language. She starts trying to figure out the Foreign Language, but is soon too sick/drunk/sad to bother.
  • The Disease That Shall Not Be Named: Ester is terminally ill from an unnamed disease (implied to be a form of cancer) and experiences agonizing pains. She survives until the end.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Ester and Anna's discussion of the death of their father comes across as a rather thinly-veiled metaphor for faith.
    Anna: When Father died, you said "I don't want to live anymore." Why are you alive, anyway? For me? For Johan? Maybe for your work? Or for nothing in particular?
  • Dying Alone: A very ill Ester is left behind by her sister and nephew at the end. Having only a man who doesn't speak a language she can understand for company, dying alone is most likely her final fate.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Ester is clearly older and suffers from some unnamed disease, so there are causes for her to be responsible. Anna is flirtatious and light-spirited in comparison.
  • Heat Wave: The tension between the two sisters is emphasized by the high temperatures. The heat prompts Anna to go back home, leaving Ester to die alone.
  • Hell Hotel: Possibly a literal case.
  • Hiding Behind the Language Barrier: Anna uses the fact that her lover doesn't understand a word of what she's saying to open up about her feelings about her sister.
  • Hotter and Sexier: This film has quite a few more graphic sex scenes than your average Bergman.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: Timoka, the name of the city the characters stop at, means "pertaining to the executioner" in Estonian. It may be a hint to Ester's fate at the end.
  • Incest Subtext: The way Ester begs Anna not to go see her lover and how she kisses her on the cheek suggests that Ester's feelings for her younger sister are of a more sordid nature.
  • Language Barrier: The only word Ester and the waiter have in common is "music".
  • Little People Are Surreal: Indeed the dwarves who appear in the film render it a surreal mood.
  • Luke, I Might Be Your Father: Ester's speech near the end about how semen made her stink like a rotten fish and how she could not take on "the role" strongly suggests that Johan may actually be her son, not Anna's, but her speech still uses vague enough wording that it might not be the case. As usual with Bergman, there are no clear answers.
  • Oddball in the Series: Unlike the first two films in the "silence of God trilogy", this one features no instance whatsoever of the characters discussing God, but the title is supposed to be an allusion to God's absence anyway.
  • One-Word Title: The film is the third part of the "Silence of God Trilogy" alongside Through a Glass Darkly and Winter Light.
  • Ontological Mystery: Played with. While they do know how they got there and how to leave, they don't seem to know (or care) where they are, or make much of an attempt at working it out.
  • Reality Has No Subtitles: Neither the fictional language of the unnamed country the sisters stay in nor the Spanish spoken by the dwarf performers is subtitled.
  • Ruritania: Timoka appears to be set here. The characters don't even seem to know what country they're in, simply calling the language "the foreign language".
  • Tanks for Nothing: Suddenly a tank can be seen in the street. Justified because it appears once and does not have any effect on the plot.
  • Uncertain Doom: At the end, Ester is left behind at the hotel while Anna and Johan go back home. Ester is in very poor condition due to her disease, but whether she dies or not is up to interpretation.