The nature of art is the whisper at the edge of reason, the utterance of the eternal grave as we struggle with the self-awareness of our own mortality. The film begins as a documentary interview with Alma, the wife of Johan Borg, an artist who went mad and vanished without a trace. As the opening credits roll, we hear the camera crew setting up and preparing the interview; Alma then breaks the fourth wall and addresses not the interviewer (whose questions we never hear) but the audience directly. The film is then told mainly from Johan’s perspective whose insight was gained through Alma’s symbiotic experience and his diary entries.
Shortly after returning to their secluded island home, Johan’s sleeplessness profoundly impacts his sanity: he must stay alert in the monotonous darkness, just before the night surrenders to the grace of dawn. His artwork is riddled with grotesque hidden images: the insect-like beings who scrabble over sun-dried rocks, the birdman and his sharp beak, the woman whose face will disappear if she removes her hat. As Alma tries to understand this odd behavior, these awful spirits seemingly visit them. But it’s unclear whether they are flesh and blood people, or disgusting figments of Johan’s fragmented perceptions, ghosts summoned from the murky depths of his subconscious.
Alma’s love and perspicacity keeps her attuned to Johan’s mind and she enters this foreboding playground, this mockery of self-indulgent nihilism. Johan becomes a puppet, an aberration to be toyed with and discarded. Soon, the very madness that contributes to Johan’s art devours him. Ingmar Bergman breathes the fumes of dementia and exhales the ether of creativity; every shot reveals the suppressed demon within and wipes away the surface scum of reality. The mystery’s resolution is like a young boys corpse that bobs in the briny deep…forever out of reach.
Final Cut: (A)