Bergman’s film depicts the psychological condition of an attractive and intelligent person (Liv Ullmann) who in spite of being successfully married is suffering from the consequences of having been chronically neglected as a child and adolescent by her mother (Ingrid Bergman). The film is dedicated to analysis of the emotional encounter between the two of them when the mother after years of separation visits her daughter and her husband in their idyllic country residence.

Bergman presents to the viewers a rare form of psychotherapy when the psychotherapist is absent, when two people connected by the painful private relationship are able by opening up to each other through personal confessions to one another – to expose their psychological wounds from the past and heal themselves with the help of the partner in the relationship. In this Existential Confession psychotherapy the real people with real problems become psychotherapists of themselves and other person(s) involved. Experiencing Bergman’s film can be considered as a preparation necessary for developing the ability to create and go through this therapeutic process with ourselves and those dear to us.

Because Charlotte, the mother of the main character of the film, Eva, is a successful and an internationally known pianist, Bergman analyzes the connection between her neglect of her two daughters and what can be called ontological rivalry between sophisticated art and life, when each of these two “monarchs” ruling over human desires try to dominate one another by recruiting the human loyalty to its side at the cost of sacrificing human happiness. Bergman brings the viewers to the point when people feel the necessity to change relations between existential and artistic sides of being human to be able to understand better the psychological nature of life and art, the depth of human need in and dependence on both of them, and to use life and art more productively, harmoniously and happily.

In his depiction of the psychology of the two women, mother and daughter Bergman uses descriptive stylization strategies like, for example, the “puppets pantomime episodes” when the protagonists are reduced to, as if, marionettes able only to illustrate Eva’s voice-over when she is trying to explain to her mother the painful experiences of her childhood and youth. Another example of descriptive stylization narrative device is Charlotte’s particular manner of imaginary talk with people who are important to her, as if they are present in front of her (this naïve psychological trick allows Charlotte to avoid contact with her deeper experiences and emotions by projecting them outside herself, transforming them into external reality and by this quickly getting rid of them).

The incredible acting of the two actresses of international fame and appreciation creates an emotionally symphonic performances (music of emotional life) which make viewers “hypnotically” return to the memory of the film again and again.

Bergman’s intention, it seems, is to help us to become more contemplative and introspective about our motivations and desires and more intelligent in relation to our emotional life.

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Bergman discusses with Ingrid Bergman (Charlotte) the tormenting dichotomy between existential and artistic dedications.

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Bergman with the help of Liv Ullmann (Eva) tries to help Ingrid Bergman to find the proper emotional tonality for the scene

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Bergman mediates between the mother (Ingrid Bergman, not seen in this shot) and daughter (Liv Ullmann) by helping both actresses to find a proper rapport in a very difficult scene.

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Eva, during her pre-adolescence (played by Ullmann and Bergman’s daughter, Linn) feeling herself “ugly” before the mirror of her severe self-judgment that just reflects the contrast between mother’s perfection and daughter’s ontological misery.

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Eva (Liv Ullmann) and her dead son who is forever a precious part of her

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Eva has grown into adulthood from her tears, while her mother only now, under the influence of her daughter’s frankness, starts to suffer for neglecting Eva and her other daughter, Helena, for so long.

Posted on Feb 23, 2013 –   Ingmar Bergman’s “Autumn Sonata” (1978) – A Session of Existential Psychotherapy (Psychotherapy without Psychotherapist) by Acting-Out Politics