Monday, August 22, 2011

Hour of the Wolf (Bergman. 1968)

"The Hour of the Wolf is the hour between night and dawn. It is the hour when most people die."


Sometimes a filmmaker does not feel the need to do anything conventional with his/her art. From the surrealist movement to expressionist horror, some plot lines are just better left unexamined. This is how I feel about Ingmar Bergman's lesser known work, Hour of the Wolf.

When it comes to film making, it is hard to deny the technical brilliance of Bergman. His filmography reads off like a well prepared list of the greatest movies ever made. Wild Strawberries, The Seventh Seal (1957), Cries and Whispers (1972) and Persona (1966) have all been deemed significant for the film snob due to their interesting shooting styles and oft-thought pretentious symbolism. Hour of the Wolf is, to me, drastically different from anything that Bergman had made before or after.

The biggest difference is the lack of direction in the plot. There is no real hero, villain or relatable figure in the story. Instead, we get a tortured and mentally slipping painter named Johan. This is a character that gives the audience almost nothing to work with to create a mythos. He is haunted by horribly frightening dreams that force him to sit up in all hours of the night. He explains the horrors of what he sees to his loving wife, but her support goes unnoticed. An unhappy ending seems inevitable for Johan. But, then again, we never really know if what he is seeing/saying exists.

I would not say that Hour of the Wolf does not make sense. It does. Bergman just decides to have the film make sense to only him. In a surreal method of plot-devising, the great director never flinches enough to give the audience reality. Everything that happens is the beginning of a new mystery, even though no mystery ever gets solved.

From a conventional standpoint, this is a film about a man going mad. But I almost wonder if Bergman wanted the audience to think conventionally. Is the action on the screen really happening? If so, what does it mean? Should it mean anything? Why should I care? No question is answered. It is as if only Bergman gets to know the methods behind the madness.

With that being the case, Hour of the Wolf is a slow and challenging film to get through. I enjoyed the level of surrealism that Bergman implemented, but it was still a sparsely enjoyable experience in viewing. Maybe I am lacking the maturity that allows a viewer to become a part of Johan's world. Maybe I was begging to have the ending explained to me like in any other cookie-cutter piece. Either way, this film was moderately impressive, but mainly forgettable due to the lack of urgent plot involvement.

Hour of the Wolf: C

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