The Outsides of Ourselves

The scene I’d like to talk about is not the one that surrounds the still above, though it’s similar, for it too is a moment of tenderness amidst terror, a moment of true and truly listening, and so a truth.

The scene I’d like to talk about in Bergman’s Shame (1968) is the one in which Jan and Eva’s farm, surrounded by the shared solitude of trees, had just come under attack, the relentless sounds of planesbombsguns* finally subsides, and as they stare out in disbelief at something they’ve believed for years, birdsong returns.

The birds are important to this film, even though they are never seen. So too soundlessness, despite this being the loudest of the Bergman films I’ve seen. And you can see the sound: there is a lot of covering of the ears, so as to dull the planesbombsguns or one’s own crying. But can you see the soundlessness? In Eva’s eyes, yes—she’s always listening.

(Often reflecting a helpful flame, her eyes, here, are forced to listen to fire turned fury, a light no longer able to be held, a quite literally unbearable brightness. If a candle brings calm, planesbombsguns brings a darkness, a need to cover not just one’s ears but also one’s eyes.)

Back to our scene, in which the birdsong returns—I began to wonder, was this really a return, or were the birds still singing while planesbombsguns was happening? And if so, if their singing is incessant, what hope is there for us if even the birds can’t drown us out from the sounds of ourselves?

And if not, in those rare moments of our silence, what if the birdsong is speaking sense? What if in these silences we found, like we find in Eva’s eyes, the space to contemplate our loudness? What if we were able, in this space and with such sight, to listen more loudly to the outsides of our selves?

 

*I am increasingly interested in elongating words that obscure, words like “war.” Imagine a word that ran on with all the words that make up war. What difference might such a word make?