“Hour of the Wolf” is the story of a talented and famous painter Johan Borg who is losing the ability to control his inner objects which in his case of a creator of the works of art are his figurative images as the creative instruments for his work as an artist. But Bergman wouldn’t be Bergman if it could be all that he was pursuing in this film. While working on the material he discerns in the psychological depth of his exceptional characters the ordinary people who are losing their environment and stability, and also our culture in general which is going berserk in the midst of anomie, precarity and chaos and then create in people justified and irrational fears and by this arouses in them impulsive, risky and marginal behavior we see in Johan Borg, and all sorts of addictive obsessions and violent outbursts and reactions. While watching the film we start to understand that the usual and comfortable perception of Bergman as a dark eccentric of an artist constructing horror movies out of imagination dressed in everyday reality, doesn’t correspond to the truth.

The phantoms which began to dominate Johan Borg‘s psyche, populate the unconscious of today’s Americans – it is this type of internal demons drive people to buy one high-tech machine-gun after another, make government conjure up one war after another to secure domination over the world and allow people with criminal record and mentally deranged to own dangerous arms, and it is the same phantoms fixate people on consumerism and entertainment instead of thinking soberly about human life and the world and demanding help and guidance from serious education. The film depicts Johan Borg’s desperate fight with his demonic internal objects projecting and incarnating themselves into real people.

Bergman shows us how Johan step by step started to lose the feeling that his wife is an actual alive person and not incarnation of demonic essence as his neighbors – the inhabitants of Baron von Merkens’ castle. In this film we observe two types of intimate love – one with human being as a whole personality, as a psychological wholeness (Johan’s wife Alma), not shattered into partial impulses and fragmentary desires as ghosts-vampires of the castle (personifications of Johan Borg’s internal objects and, simultaneously, real people suffering from depersonalization and impersonalization, as Johan Borg himself is), and obsessive love when to love means losing of one’s personality – letting it become emptied and soon after taken over by the ontologically hungry ghosts (as a Johan’s wavering mistress – irresistible Veronica Vogler).

The most horrifying scene in the film is the one where Johan Borg kills his son whom he started to perceive as a demonic figure (the same catastrophic degradation of perception takes place in his son, the adolescent boy who in a certain moment starts to perceive father as a creature outside human bonds – as an object of suspicion and hate). Similar thing happens when people perceive others not as friends, collaborators and rational opponents or as other human beings (as human as we are – just with interests which can be not identical with ours), but instead – as enemies from whom we expect everything bad and whom we target with lethal intentions – when fighting to death and war to the end are the only option – the posture which today once again becomes the dominant principle of international politics. The scene of sudden transformation of innocent family fishing trip into a nightmarish situation of shattering of the relations between the father and his child – again, something similar we see today in a phenomenon of domestic violence and when children run away from their homes and live on the streets, is the most unbearable scene of the film.

Before the collapse of his psyche, Johan Borg was rather a modernist painter who preferred not to ignore and not to beautify reality but address it in his work critically. He had a democratic, not a traditional – idealizing or phobic concepts of the world. The sad similarity between Borg’s predicament (who ends by trying to kill his wife and infanticide) and our own country’s degradation into weapon-worshiping, growing statistics of mass murders and development of war-and austerity-ideology is very hard to ignore.

Disintegration and degradation of human psyche goes together with losing of our society’s soul. Bergman helps us to go through the film by adding to our grief of observing the truth – the grace of understanding, the spirituality of meaning.

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Alma is helpless in trying to understand what torments her husband, why can’t he live as one with the world, as one with his life.

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That’s how Alma looks at Johan – as an astonished life itself ready to tremble in front of a mad (exaggerated and twisted) sensitivity of a creative person

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Not to abandon Johan during his horrifying night hours of sleeplessness, Alma is trying to stay awake with him.

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Baroness von Merkens, the first, Johan (behind her) and Alma look astoundingly at Johan’s portrait of Veronica Vogler. What is it about the portrait that attracts Corinne von Merkens? Is it the fact that Veronica with a masochistic pride was bragging in front of Johan about being physically hurt by her other, besides Johan, lover?

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Johan exhausted by his internal battles with the personages of his art which going out of his creative control, unconsciously invokes the demonic Veronica Vogler as a consolation

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Veronica Vogler’s apocalyptic warnings ties Johan to her even stronger. The power of compulsive love in the area of private relations and of despotic totalitarian leaders in the public realm cannot realize itself and be successful in manipulating people if their souls aren’t broken by fears and helplessness.

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The demonic phantoms are praising the genius of the artist as American movie-viewers – their super-stars.

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When Johan and Alma were returning home after the dinner party at the castle, they lost their togetherness – they kept only a common direction – a conscious orientation on their marital ties. Their destiny is in the hands of the sunset.

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By mobilizing the logic of visual images, Bergman explains the reason, why Johan’s son became irritated with his father’s fishing and tried to make him to leave earlier – by children’s sexual curiosity mixed with envy. The fishing pole, the very procedure of fishing and, finally, getting the fish have, according to Bergman, a concrete unconscious sexual meaning. The son wants to understand, “how does the father do it?” It is interesting that the prototypical sexual situation triggering the boy’s curiosity is not the “primal scene” of sexual intercourse between the parents, but rather a masturbatory situation. The boy’s curiosity is typically colored by the emotional rage against the father’s social and sexual status and confidence connected to it. Sexual curiosity itself is not the problem, of course, but the inability of the adults to rationally handle its existence is. And the destruction of human psychological wholeness by the people’s existential frustrations contributes to a growing level of mass anxiety.

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The son attacks the father with the intention to subdue and dominate him

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While defending himself the father instead of containing and neutralizing the son’s aggression, introjects and intensifies it – the summation of their two hates and aggressions leads to escalation. The father starts to view his son as a demonic figure, a persecuting object. That’s how we, humans, come to wars.

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Lindhorst (the bird-man Baron’s archivist) – has a privilege of coup de grace – of striking Borg with the final blow.

Posted on Sep 23, 2015 –   Ingmar Bergman’s “Hour of the Wolf/Vargtimmen” (1968) – When People Cannot Differentiate Between Internal and External Worlds And Then Take One For Another by Acting-Out Politics