By Henning Mankell, a Swedish crime novelist and son-in-law of Ingmar Bergman (THE GUARDIAN, 06/08/07):
For those who lived close to him, Ingmar Bergman’s passing last week was no great surprise. He had just turned 89; he was a very old man. His tired heart stopped beating in the early hours of the morning, in this rainy summer season, at his home on the Swedish island of Faro. The rabbits that used to sit motionless on the beach and listen to him playing Mahler will now wonder where the old man has gone. But he is gone. The hourglass has run empty.
Ingmar found the meaning of life in creativity. If he did have a God, then that was it: the creative force that gave purpose to an otherwise highly troubled life. When he, around a year ago, noticed that his creative capability had started to wane, I could see that he was already leaving us. Without that power to create, there was nothing left. He tried so hard towards the end, sitting at his desk with the yellow, lined papers in front of him, but nothing would come. Where it always had before.
His sight deteriorated. Towards the end he could not watch films, or television, or read. The only thing left was the music.
Even if Ingmar was a theatre director, dramatist and film-maker in his professional life, I can’t stop thinking that it really was the music that meant most. He had never dreamt of becoming a musician – he said so firmly. But probably he had toyed with the thought that in another life he could have become a conductor.
The music was fundamental. He often spoke of sheet music instead of typescript. He used musical terms to describe his films and theatre. To himself and to those who participated, he talked of the works, for example, as sonatas, and he was forever searching for the distinctly musical elements in his films and productions.
The music was both beginning and end. He saw in music’s most lenient moment a sort of gateway to other realities, different from those that we can immediately perceive with our senses. Perhaps it was in music that that bridge to other realities, which most of us search for, could be found.
But we must not make the mistake of imagining Ingmar to be a superstitious man. Most certainly he was not. If he had religious convictions, they were beyond my knowledge.
But he did try to grasp that mysticism that is always a part of reality. Something like when the Swedish author he admired most, August Strindberg, counted cobblestones and studied the shape of clouds. In other words, a curiosity for those things that inhabit reality’s outskirts.
Music, I believe, was always one of his main sources. The other I understand to be his childhood. Or, rather, his childlikeness. To me this is a highly positive quality. I believe that the true artist is the child. When we grow up, before school starts reproaching us if we show too much trust in imagination and fantasy, when reality’s letters and mathematical formulas must rule, we lose a lot of what we had by nature before. We lose that unfettered faith in the forces of fantasy and imagination. But not only because it could help us in building inventive wooden huts or rafts, or making pirate ships out of pieces of bark. We need fantasy and imagination to deal with the difficulty that so often comes with life.
Swedish literature is enriched with many illustrations of children who have used fantasy to avoid being swallowed up by a complicated, depraved and dangerous world of grown-ups. If, later in life, having – hopefully – made it through school, you wish to become an artist, then you must recapture what you had as a child. Humanity would not have had access to fantasy and imagination unless we needed it to survive. We are rational beings; fantasy and imagination are in our genes. I have met many significant artists in my life, and not one has denied that it is precisely in the exploits of childhood that the cornerstones for all future creation are to be found. Later in life, that becomes supported by experience, acquired knowledge and political or moralistic convictions.
And now Ingmar has passed away. When he died, he had completed a tremendous body of work. One of the hardest working men in art, he handed down innumerable films, screenplays, theatrical productions, plays and books.
He is one of the few who will survive from last century’s Swedish/Nordic/European/global cultural life into the future. Precisely how, we can’t say.
Only that it will happen.