The Unexpected Similarity between The Characters Of “From the Life of the Marionettes” And Bergman’s Conclusions About Human Condition Registered In His “The Serpent’s Eggs” (1976)

During my second year in Munich (in 1977) I had begun writing a story I called “Love with No Lovers”. It was heavy and formally fragmented…
Ingmar Bergman, “Images (My Life in Film), Arcade Pub. New York 1990, p. 209 – 210

From “Love with No Lovers” I carved a steak that became a film for television “From the Life of the Marionettes”. It was not liked, but it is among my best films.
Ingmar Bergman, “The Magic Lantern (An Autobiography)”, Penguin Books 1989, p. 264

In “From the Life of the Marionettes”, Bergman evokes the attempt to escape from the world of desiccated conventions into the “nearness of violence” – possession of a reality synonymous with destruction.
Paisley Livingston, “Ingmar Bergman and the Rituals of Art”, Cornell Univ. Pr., 1982, p. 162

Why don’t we shatter a society that is so dead, so inhuman, so crazy, so humiliating, so poisoned? People try to cry out, but we stuff up their mouths with verbiage. The bombs explode, children are torn to pieces, and the terrorists are punished… But they are victims like their own victims, just as we are.
Katarina in the script of “From the Life of Marionettes” (1980)

In the very beginning of “From the Life of Marionettes” the color comes to the screen, because the human passion to live (in the main character and in his perception of the world) can come to unity and unison: because his passion becomes the world and world – human passion. But at this point the human being is already so frustrated that his passion is mixed with aggressiveness (the color of the screen turning red – mixture of eroticism and aggressiveness, instead of the main color in the film we’ll see soon – gloomily depressed black-and-white). Frustration and aggressiveness is consequences of the fact that a human being is not free and not human – he is robotic and subdued by necessities or seduced by becoming a rewarded marionette of the politico-economic system and its decision-makers. When human being is limited by survival-success (in our time combined with compensation in a form of super-consumption) he becomes more and more uncontrollably greedy, and greed is a facet of aggressiveness and twin of hate. The very organization of society blindly creates sociopaths and criminals inside citizens, while the decision-makers and financial elites are “too busy” and intentionally indifferent to this issue.

For people whose intuition is sensitive to the conflict between intimately loving someone and losing self-centeredness – dominant position over the person one loves (whose intuition is able to notice this conflict which is universal and tragic) – to love is truly torture. The stronger your love is – the stronger your conflict with your love becomes, because your need for self-centeredness and self-assertion grows stronger and stronger as a psychological compensation for dedication to your beloved (which loves implies). The more you are dedicated to the other – the more you feel that you’re losing yourself and become an appendix to your beloved, the less protected and more vulnerable you feel yourself. Your irrational fear is growing together with your aggressiveness.

Ch.1 – Ingmar Bergman on the set of “From the Life of Marionettes”

Ch.2 – The psychiatrist as a specialist in domination, through technical knowledge, over human souls (today’s version of such an agent of domination would be medical representative of Big Pharma)

Ch.3 – Regular life is crawling on…

Ch.4 – Katarina and Peter Egermanns as genuine and helpless beloveds (when love is truly present in intimate togetherness it is very difficult to avoid its incompatibility with self-centeredness)

Ch.5 – Peter and Ka (Katherine Craft) “locked” in the brothel with hygiene posters and photos of Hollywood stars on the walls

Ch.6 – Investigation of murder

Ch.7 – Meeting on the “sea-bottom” (Katarina and Peter’s mother, Cordelia Egermann)

Ch.8 – Silent Asylum of the prosperous slum

Ingmar Bergman on the set of “From the Life of Marionettes”

Bergman is trying to convey to the actors playing the main characters, Katarina and Peter Egermanns (Christina Buchegger and Robert Atzorn), the proper psychological modality for a demanding scene (actualizing Peter’s imagination)

Bergman is psychologically positioning Rita Russek (playing the prostitute Katharina Kraft) and Robert Atzorn (Peter). On the far left we see the legendary cameraman Sven Nykvist.

Psychiatrist as an agent of Domination over the human souls through technical knowledge

Professor Mogens Jensen (internationally famous psychiatrist) thinks about the imperfection of the human nature. For him the phenomenon of intimate love (with its irrational passions) often triggering violent reactions, can be considered as a proof of human emotional primitivism – a lack of rationality in human emotional life.

Peter Egermann, a sensitive and socially very successful young man visited Dr. Jensen because his relationship with a beautiful and an intelligent woman who already for several years been his wife, produces in him a horrifying recurrent desire to… kill her. And this is in spite of obvious amorous mutuality which both have expressed to each other many times and proved it again and again. Peter is in panic of not being able to shake this obsession off and appeals to the psychiatrist – he can’t understand how this monstrous impulse to hurt the very person you are in love with, can exist.

Mogens Jensen is also shocked by Peter’s confession (and he is disappointed in these prosperous and successful couple about which people think as an exemplary). By his visit Peter reinforced Professor Jensen‘s general suspicion about human love as a feeling rooted in irrationality. Of course, Jensen also doesn’t really believe that Peter is completely serious and sincere when he is talking about his obsession. He is not sure that violent impulses in a person as civilized as Peter Egermann can end up in actual violent behavior. From the one side, Mogens Jensen always suspects the presence of violence inside love, but from another, in Peter he doesn’t expect the possibility of surrendering to such a primitive level of feelings. It seems that as a psychologist Prof. Jensen is quite a superficial observer of humanity because for him dedicated love on irrationally deep roots is rather a façade, a courteous superstructure, pretentious makeup of prosperously living people, a kind of upper middle class theatrics.

Jensen’s (Martin Beurath) skepticism about Peter’s ability to… kill his wife, Katarina, is reflected in his barely hidden manner of ironic questioning of Peter about his obsession and in his sarcastic explanations to him how monstrously ridiculous the act of murder can look.

After Peter has left, Mogens Jensen immediately called Peter’s wife to delicately alert her (he was a kind of a social friend of this glamorous couple popular in society because of their professional achievements)

But we would underestimate Mogens Jensen’s calculative-manipulative mind, if we could think that his rush to alert Katarina was motivated just by his care about the couple. May be, professor wanted to show Katarina the path to liberation from the burden of love (this sticky and predatory feeling), and may be, he even wanted to show her a more “elegant” way to be intimate – without love connected to it, and therefore, without the danger right in the midst of which Katarina has stuck with Peter, but his proposal to her was to start an affair with him, Mogens Jensen, which he made in a business-like, very modern form – to make double-amorous intercourse, without postponement, directly in his office, “right now”.

On the level of denotative storytelling – the psychiatrist didn’t know that Peter didn’t leave, as he thought, before Katarina’s arrival. So, whole professor’s conversation with her was available to Peter’s knowledge. But Peter is intelligent enough to imagine the verbal exchange between Mogens and his wife (he and his wife knew him well). It is knowledge of his wife influenced his decision to save Katarina from his destructive compulsion. In the still above we see how Peter, while hiding is listening to their conversation. Bergman uses the traditional idea of theatrical mise en scene in order to help the viewers of his film to understand its semantic essence through conventional depiction – to get the point why Peter has to use a substitute object in order to actualize the nightmarish push from his unconscious which he wasn’t able to resist – his murderous drive.

Professor Mogens Jensen (Martin Beurath) is giving information to the investigator concerning the prostitute Katharina Kraft’s murder.

Regular life is crawling along…

Peter is dictating to his secretary a letter to his firm’s client – another firm, as a part of an important financial renegotiations. And, as usual he is asking her to make copies of it for the management of their firm, for the main file, for him, for her and for the archive.

Katarina (Christine Buchegger) and her business partner and friend Tim Mandelbaum (Walter Schmidinger) are preparing the show of new fashions by their company).

Katarina and Tim’s more than decade long friendship was not typical – it allowed and encouraged sharing the truth about their personal problems (of course, besides chatting about everyday emotional trash everybody cares in dusty corners of their intuition). Today the accent was on Katarina’s family life and Tim’s disharmonious destiny of wandering gay man.

Peter as a “good son” was always visiting his mother on “her special dates”. But the role of a “grateful son” is not easy for somebody like Peter who feels, understands and accepts the differences between the perceptions of the reality of an aging mother and adult son (when both for decades carry self-centeredness as a part of their relationship). In this situation it’s difficult to avoid a bit of pretension. Pay attention to – how hard Peter is trying to be unconditionally nice with his mother and play her emotional games. But with some attention we can detect the terrifying grimace on his face which shows itself through his loving smile that went unnoticed by his mother who lives inside her blind ego-supportive self-myths.

The text on this still doesn’t belong to the character we see here – Arthur Brenner (Heinz Bennet), but to Katarina during a scandalous exchange between her and her husband, Peter. Arthur is a family friend of the Egermanns and an authority figure, alternative to Professor Mogens Jensen. He is present during this scandal between Peter and Katarina to prevent farther deterioration in their relations.

After an exhausting working day Katarina has decided to have a couple of drinks instead joining Peter in visiting his mother’s place. So, sulking Peter has to go there alone.

Katarina and Peter Egermann as genuine and helpless beloveds

Several stills in this chapter have been taken from Peter Egermann’s visual letter to Prof. Mogens Jensen

Peter and Katarina seen through Peter’s imagination – we see not only a loving couple, but two human beings thinking together and also analyzing themselves. Pay attention to reflective positions of Peter’s hands.

Here, we see that Katarina unconditionally trusts Peter, she intuitively resists the understanding that he is becoming obsessed with killing her.

Here, we see that Katarina unconditionally trusts Peter, she intuitively resists the understanding that he is becoming obsessed with killing her.

Katarina could see how tired and exhausted Peter is, and she took him to the bed to sleep another two or three hours.

Peter has an interesting “mystical” experiences

When Mogens Jensen, an old friend of both, Peter and Katarina, offered her his “erotic attention”, she, to his surprise, took some time to explain to him, how really close she and her husband are in spite of mutual sexual freedom they have given to each other.

Katarina and Peter were really happy, many times they were holding eternity in their hands

There were moments of mutual irritation and infuriation…

…the moments, when tender and caring Katarina was becoming somebody else…

And her animus started to clash with Peter, and this could continue for a while.

In such moments the couple played their battles through, but everything eventually developed into cessions of mutual thinking about what happened, and mutual regrets and reciprocal forgiving.

Peter Egerman and Ka “locked” in the brothel with hygiene posters and photos of Hollywood stars on the walls

Peter is not able to bring harm to his wife even if he wants to – he is in love with Katarina and always wants the best for her. At the same time they’re a couple with liberal sexual mores. He loves women and for him it means that he also loves to make love to women, even if temporarily, but dedicatedly. Of course, to appropriate, to possess a woman was for Peter delicate, tender passion, but what sex and what kind of love is possible without the feeling that the woman you want is yours in body and soul. Peter never was a consumerist, as we, Americans, today – in social and economic sense, but Peter consumed women as amorous and sexual precious beings. May be, he just loved domination through appropriation and possession. Was it just phase of his slow development of misogynous unconscious? Peter felt being in a kind of amorous trap in his marriage – it is his love for Katarina made him to feel desire to hurt her – to get rid of his dedication to her forcing him to melt, to feel himself as just an appendix to her body, as a kind of amorous shadow of his wife.

Peephole movies at the brothel reminded him of his youth

Twosome nude dance kindle his sexual desire

Nude sexual dance on the stage intensifies his fury against the power of female body that can transform a man into a crawling worm

Ka (Katherine Craft), the prostitute, for the first time sees Peter – the consumer of sex at the whore-house where she was responsible to help to sustain smooth functioning operations.

This still of Katherine Craft (Rita Russek) emphasizes the tragedy of her destiny (to be part of men’s sexual desires and their psychological ambivalence)

Chatting between Katherine and Peter was about her job at the brothel, the condition of the place, and how good or not money it is possible to make). Everything was o.k..

Ka professionally prepares herself for the acts of her job, while Peter hoped that he will not do anything he doesn’t want to. He found her “attractive”. Ka was “a good kid”.

Peter tries to overcome his hesitations to continue his rendezvous with Ka

Ka feels Peter’s emotional turmoil and tries to pacify him – she tries to close his eyes to what is tormenting him. Colored light surrounding his sexual need and his ambivalence to it, intensified

She was trying to quiet his head, to make it relaxed

The first bout of impulsive fury in Peter frightened her

She ran away to the stage, still with hope that he’ll get tired and become normal. The red light (eroticism and blood) intensified.

But Peter followed – to use her conventionally or in a particular way?

She hides behind the pompous bed on the stage for sexual performances

He attacked from behind, quickly suffocated her, put her in proper position.

He had anal intercourse with her body. The dense red light transformed back into the usual foggy black and white of Peter’s life and Bergman’s film.

Katarina and Peter’s mother

After the catastrophe and police and legal procedures followed it, Peter’s two women – Katarina and his mother, Cordelia Egermann (Lola Muthel) met in Cordelia’s “old house”.

In the beginning both women felt united in feeling screaming emptiness not because of Peter‘s physical absence from their world (he was committed to prison‘s mental asylum), but because of his radical psychological destruction of their lives and identities. It is as if you become somebody else you don’t know whom.

But soon Peter’s mother started to concentrate on her own tragic solitude – on the difficulty of suffering injustice which has ripped her destiny apart. “Can somebody tell me – what did I wrong?” Like most people she never thought about how society is organized and what influence this organization of life has on human behavior. Cordelia took life as a roles offered to the actors – as something given – take it or turn it down. She tried to play her role of mother well. Katarina pointed out that right now she is just trying to understand what happened with Peter and with that “poor woman” who was killed.

What is this morbid process of transformation of an impish angel into a demonic monster? What is behind it? How could it all have happened?

Silent asylum

In the hospital’s atmosphere of colored sterility Peter finds mental immobility instead of peace. What is he looking at in this still? At the chess board – he is playing chess with an electronic opponent. His thinking now, like that of the technical sciences specialists doesn’t include human life. His thinking now is as clean as the light at the hospital, as the colors of the rooms and corridors. There is no erotic and aggressive red of bursting/blasting moments of Peter’s life anymore, and there is no depressive foggy BW (black-and-white) of his depressive mood, which Bergman used for in the largest part of the film. Now, Peter is a perfect marionette-robot.

The prison pretending to be a hospital is like hell stylized as paradise. Peter’s mind surrendered to his criminal impulses and deeds, and now he is rewarded for not even trying during his life to find a third way, between a mindless conformism and criminal outburst – rewarded by a humane society sparing his life. Trilogy of his destiny is conformism, criminality and silly and silent asylum. But in the middle of his life he still was vital, alive (tragically and perversely), but human.

The super-relaxed atmosphere of Peter’s new life kept him beyond his irrational psychological impulses, but also outside the ability and the need to brood about what happened with him.

Peter never was a complete philistine, but now he was learning how to live like the majority of people do outside psychiatric hospital – people who are not able to express and even feel genuine reaction on the world.

Philistines (in mass-cultural societies) work like a fork, eat like meat, sleep like clip, copulate and mechanically follow society’s rules including semi-legal and semi-illegal ones. Plus they’re generously rewarded by consumerism, entertainment and all sorts of electronic toys. Peter plays chess with an electronic gross-master – alt-rival, and he likes to keep a little teddy bear in his hand – himself like teddy bear in the hand of society

Katarina regularly visits the hospital, where her husband is getting an exemplary treatment. She learns to accept Peter without the need for a deep and vibrant intimate relationship, without passion in sex, without any interest in the world, without any interest towards her personality. His mother is not able to visit him – still cannot see him – she can’t confront her own failure.


“From the Life of Marionettes” starts as a color film about a colored life. A brothel client expecting a pleasant bodily exchange suddenly, in the middle of the preambulary embrace is producing a bout of fury looking like a reaction on strong pain. His aggression is directed against the very object who was to satisfy him – a prostitute – his outburst is mixed with sexual excitement (Thanatos reacts against Eros). Bergman intentionally misleads us here – he wants us to take Peter Egermann’s (the main character of the film) condition as being beyond explanation (in order to make his point by creating in viewers a cognitive dissonance and by this stimulate in them the effort to overcome it by finally finding explanation to Peter’s behavior). In other words, the director puts us in position we’re today in our society where we are prone to take bizarrely aggressive actions (we encounter on a daily basis in TV news) as unpredictable, without objective determinations. We prefer not to connect human rage or criminality with the very organization of our society and way of life.

Unfortunately, when in our everyday life we try to improve our ability for intimate love with our intelligence (occupied, mainly, with strengthening our psychological power to become socially and financially successful individuals able to climb up to the social hierarchy’s rocky mountains) – we develop in ourselves the ability to be dominant and then lose our tunes with love. Our fighting/competing skills necessary for achieving social and financial success become the most argent goal – the more complicated and stressful becomes socio-economic life and the higher the standards of success the more under-attended becomes our amorous life. The very logic of love contradicts the logic of socio-economic achievements. Bergman’s “From the Life of Marionettes” analyzes what happens with human soul when our ability for intimate love is not supported and nurtured by a person’s scrupulous attention and understanding that the ability to love another human being demands much more education than putting food on the table and roof over the head.

In the first segment of the film we see that regular colors of life abruptly change into amorous/aggressive red color and later, not less unexpectedly – into a sad foggy and blueish black-and-white of everyday life. Spontaneous intuitive intelligence of the two main characters – Katarina (Christine Buchegger) and Peter (Robert Atzorn) is impressive, but it’s obviously not enough to prevent the murder of Catherine Craft (Rita Russek), a prostitute and a substitute object (used by Peter in place of his wife Katarina as a victim of Peter’s inability to tolerate his love for her). Their internal world and genuine love is melodiously interpreted by the director and the actors. We see their souls sharing with us their vibrations and tribulations with a frankness of confessions. It’s very difficult to witness that these smart, attractive and responsible people full of initiative and self-reflection are… abandoned by a society, in which people’s personal problems are considered private matter and the responsibility of parties involved.

For the society working for technology, economy and business log-logic, there is no time to learn, how to play the amorous strings of human soul and study its partituras. In our country especially there is no culture of private love, if not consider as such culture the classroom lessons of how to put properly condom on man’s tribal attribute. It’s very often love as a private matter becomes in our society a detective story. Proper promiscuity (taken as sexual freedom) is trying to compensate for the absence of secularly spiritual amorous education as a kind of sex-relaxation after the stress of our jobs, looking for jobs and our careers. Sexuality as recreational drug didn’t help Peter and Katarina, to the surprise of the psychiatrist and psychotherapist Professor Mogens Jensen (Martin Beurath). Conversely it became part of the crime scene.

The very ability to love in a context of intimacy – in a condition of modern life is devastated on a psychological level by the splintering of holistic personality. Sex and the inflated need for sexual victories are taking the place of love. Violent crimes proliferate like fleurs du mal. The action of Bergman’s “The Serpent’s Egg” (a film the director made several years before “From the Life of the Marionettes”) takes place in the late 20s when the mental soil of German life was in a process of warming up for a Nazi style of social and personal life. Similarities between these two films socio-psychologically symptomatic and this can help to understand better “From the Life of the Marionettes”.

In “The Serpent’s Egg” human intelligence in 20-30’s Germany, besides being dedicated to techno-scientific research focused on elaboration of new weapon systems, also covered medical research in order to control and manipulate the very human nature for the purpose of using it according to the needs of the “New Germany”. The film shows us a number of such experiments. In “From the Life of the Marionettes” depicting our times this kind of experimentation is not addressed. But the scrupulosity of control over human life by the very intensity of social dynamism and corporate hunting for profit is a giant experiment with the whole population, which includes the intensity of consumption and overstimulation of human nervous system by and through entertainment. Stress of living and the always awakened need to prove one’s successfulness plus the burden of recreational drug use, and also the necessity of permanent upgrading one’s professional level, and shame of failure, etc. makes modern life alienated and unnatural. We, today are going through a pseudo-existential experiment, with a result of permanent exhaustion from tireless risk-taking. All this hell exists to provide money to a minority of elite profiteers and decision-makers which doesn’t want people to live but instead to overwork and overconsume. In this context what happened between Peter and Katarina Egermann and how cynically Prof. Mogens Jensen treats them are consequences of an absolutely impossible way of life.

To live like this means that the best resources of human intelligence and vitality are wasted on alienated ways of living, on satisfying artificial needs (created in people through their manipulation by the very locking them in the kingdom of overachieving according to artificial dreams). Our very values are volumes of absurd phantasms put into action by those who are accumulating trillions on our childish ambitions based on our unconscious desire to be worshipped by other people and nations. The financial elite of decision-makers seduce us into “greatness” and “exceptionalism” by the price of losing our humanity.

Intimate love suffers especially radically from this kind of organization of things as the area where body meets soul and where human spiritual potential either wins human destiny or fails in this mission. Peter and Katarina Egermann didn’t succeed in their love for one another not because of their “weaknesses” – defects in their humanity, but because despite their intelligence they were too existentially exhausted to resist the conditions of their life which were created not by them, but by the rulers of politico-economic system that transforms human beings into self-aggrandizing marionettes and worshippers of wealth. Instead of orienting people on humility and wisdom these manipulators teach people how to fight with one another and to brag in front of the sun-beams and clouds about how strong and superior they’re in comparison with the less successful. The same decision-makers torture people with austerity measures to castigate their victims as criminals. And they use self-aggrandizing ideologies which humanistically not-educated people easily surrender to while feeling themselves heroes of the planet earth. Only the development of emotional intelligence – spirituality of feelings as a psychological “agency” able to balance the capacity for loving and the desperate need for self-assertion stimulated by pervert social and international relations as abodes of calculations, manipulations, fight for domination, for enrichment, etc.

Instead of developing the ability to love, we’re taught to be occupied with “sexual relations”. Obsession with sexuality includes the so called liberalization of sex and creates similar disastrous consequences in the realm of human love as “neo-liberalization” of economy in the realm of economic relations, as genius of human sciences became perverted by the greed and arrogance of those who are in charge of the application of technical sciences to life.

People don’t develop enough the capacity for intimate love – and this deprivation expresses itself in a vacuum in the soul.

Peter and Katarina Egermann, Katherine Craft, Prof. Mogens Jensen, Cordelia Egermann and Tim Mandelbaum are martyrs of incompatibility between today’s society and human need for intimate love. Peter Egermann is its psychological victim, Katarina Egermann – its amorous victim, Katherine Craft – its physical victim, Mogens Jensen – its intellectual one, while Cordelia Egermann is the ontological victim of such a pathological incompatibility, and Tim Mandelbaum is its philosophical victim. Bergman himself, who, probably knew very well personally all these types of victimization of human beings by the organization of society (which formed them in a twisted and distorted fashion), was able to overcome them – not empirically, of course, but through their meticulous studying, knowledge and understanding in his art.

Posted on 7/26/2018 –   “From The Life Of The Marionettes” By Ingmar Bergman (1979-1980) – When Frustrations, Indifference And Stress Of The Socio-economic Life Is Externalized/ “Privatized” Into The Realm Of Human Intimate Relationships by Acting-Out Politics