When Sexuality Is Not a Tool For Gaining Social Status, and Obsession Trying To Dominate the Human Soul – But Love As a Pedagogy of Ontological Equality

When sexuality is completely ontologically rooted and for this reason sublime without losing its vitality

When Eros doesn’t contradict Agape but is triggered by it and then becomes an amorously meaningful experience

Bergman existentializes religious concept of Immaculate Conception with his own idea (immanent in the film) of disinterested an affair: mésalliance as an existentially spiritual touch

The Touch/Beroringen” (1971)

Bergman, Bibi Andersson, Elliott Gould and Sven Nykvist
Bergman and Bibi Andersson are discussing how to understand Karin’s feelings for David without mythologizing/absolutizing her into a kind of a saint, but maintaining a realistic assessment of what happened to this happily married woman with two teenage children, when she met this stranger hungry for attention.

Bergman is trying to explain to Elliott Gould that the situation is not that David is “just using” Karin – self-asserting himself with her, but that he is sincerely in love with her, in love as he is able to feel by being himself – childish, capricious, and demanding. He is a kind of adopted child of Western civilization, although every adolescent feels that the adult world is not appreciated him and doesn’t understand his feelings. On the right of the photo, behind Bergman, we see Sven Nykvist trying to find a proper position for the camera gaze, which could correspond the tonality of the intimate moment between Karin and David.

Bergman is using photo-album of his family in the scene where David (Elliott Gould) is showing to Karin photos of his mother and father while explaining to her what’s happened with his relatives in Nazi Germany

Because David desperately needs Karin (Bibi Andersson) to accept his love – to recognize that he deserves amorous mutuality, he pretends that he, contrary to his premature confession, is not in love with her. He cannot refrain from irrationally insulting and humiliating her. He feels that he as a personality is nothing in comparison with her (he is afraid she thinks so) and he needs to put her down to be somehow equal to her.

Bergman wants Elliott Gould to be more than just an actor playing his part. He wants him to contribute to building David’s internal character.

Preparation of a very difficult scene of the first sexual intercourse between Karin and David

Preparation of the scene when David decides to cut with Karin, what he already tried to do before, but this time in a finalized terms. David needs to be in a stronger position, to make a point to her that he doesn’t need her as much as she needs him. Those who are not sure of themselves and fear rejection often use preventive rejection of the other person’s love to keep their self-image.

Amorous Bonds
Karin with her mother who just died at the hospital. Soon, crying in the tiny hospital cloak room she by chance will meet David who just survived his suicide attempt. When they looked at each other something happened with them which needed some time to ripe. What is it? – Love from the first glance? – Suddenly erupted volcanic passion? – Magical attunement of their beings? – Nothing like that. Romantically elevated tonality of understanding human love distorts its nature. In Karin and David it is a subtle recognition between a person who desperately needs to be loved and the one who wants and able to disinterestedly love and nurture.

The representation on the stone-wall near a church (hosting the wooden statue of Madonna and Child), is transformed by Bergman into the symbolism of umbilical cord as the archetype of a mother-child bond, modified by the director to describe Karin’s unconscious feelings for David after the death of her mother (stimulated Karin’s identification with her which created the beautiful excess of emotional generosity towards the world). In the semantics of the film’s imagery the umbilical cord is transformed into the very amorous ties between Karin and David. It is, as though, Karin got the unconscious yearning to resurrect her mother and herself in relations with mother in her own love with David.

Andreas is depicted by Bergman and Max von Sydow as the personification of a democratic man – a modest, rational, positive and caring about the world and other people. Andreas, may be, a bit dry, but without being alienated from others or loosing emotional sensitivity. He befriended David without any reservations, never allowed himself to backbite him and always was objective with Karin in a situation of her affair with David.

Karin and Andreas sometimes make love in “an objectivized manner” – before going to the bed they like to look at themselves in the big floor mirror: they want to see how they look at one another. Is it possible to even imagine that Andreas didn’t notice that Karin is having an affair with David? If so, does it mean that he with all his love for Karin, a love which is healthy and confident while never imposing and full of humility, could agree to accept her amorous “obsession” without reproach? If love can be not obsessive and transparent as water in the torrent of a stream or air in a fresh sunny day, it is love between Andreas and Karin. But tolerance or even respect for a love that is an obsession, makes the non-obsessive love win.

Symbolism of the Madonna and Child and symbolism of umbilical cord are not only important for our understanding of the psychological determination of Karin’s feelings for David but David’s need for Karin as well. These images function like sublime aesthetic containers of the meaning, like the film’s stylistic womb warming the viewers’ feelings – making it not rigid and more humane. Like a visual music they prepare our perception to feel reverentially for human personal love as a precious feature of humanity. Openness of Western democracies to refugees, emigrants and temporary workers is a variant of Madonna’s love for those who are traumatized by their homelands.

Acquaintance preceded by the two psychological traumas (in two human beings – Karin and David), which rejuvenated them into a painful amorous improvisation – a relationship which for them functions like a kind of PTSD in relation to their traumas but includes a healthy core allowing Karin to become psychologically stronger and even help David to become psychologically adult.

The door of Andreas/Karin’s home was opened to David as to a friend, with benevolence and hospitality although the straightness of his verbalizations, sometimes, in a bad taste, was met with polite but firm restriction. Democratic rationality is supposed to be like this – a combination of welcoming openness and, if necessary, frank limitations. Freedom is not limitless. But look at Karin (Bibi Andersson) – her appearance changes, she begins to look virginal.

Mysterious emotional processes (connected with death of Karin’s mother and, perhaps, with her guilt for not being grateful enough to her, and David‘s attempt at suicide, with a background of barely surviving during Nazism) already influence Karin and David. But it is important that their psychological traumas are so different – it prevents their symbiotic mutual identification, it makes their togetherness non-symbiotic (like it happens in totalitarian communities including amorous unity between two persons).

Karin is ready for, metaphorically speaking, Immaculate Conception – for a love affair which is innocent and superfluous according to earthly standards, and look absurd for all the conformists/philistines of the world.

Male sexual function in David/Karin and Andreas/Karin relationships is different
David has, without being conscious of the powers which motivate him, to put Karin through emotional hell in order to psychologically feel able to make love to her. Deeply in his soul he feels so humiliated – thrown away and abandoned that to love he needs to artificially aggrandize himself to feel big and mighty enough to be with a woman whom he loves.

Karin’s intuition as a disinterestedly loving woman feels David’s complexes and accepts humiliation as an inevitable path to a healthy mutual love. She feels that his behavior, as impossible as it is, is sincere rhetoric played out by his mental traumas, and that these dark moments will pass exorcised by her positive – motherly/feminine power. But this way to psychological health through not punishing/retaliating for transgression is very difficult for a person in a position of a pedagogue. Karin has to go through the boiling hell to make David more psychologically confident – the one who deserves being loved. It is necessary to be Karin/Bibi Andersson (helped by Bergman) to be able to achieve some results in these circumstances.

Scene of coitus between Karin and David is a unique and exceptional in the history of cinema representation of human physical amorous encounter.

To be a lover who is an intuitive psychotherapist – it is to be enriched by being a psychotherapist. But to incorporate psychotherapeutic knowledge into one’s own amorous experience, to eroticize understanding, is a unique ordeal Karin dares to put herself through. The incredible performance of Bibi Andersson stays as an unbelievable achievement in and of intellectual cinema. The power of the soul grows in Karin and in Bibi Andersson with the suffering inflicted on her by the very experience of performing Karin’s ordeals.

Andreas (Max von Sydow) was rushing to help, but it’s too difficult even for him to be objective – to care simultaneously about Karin’s freedom and her happiness.

Andreas and Karin are together amorously and sexually, in Eros and Agape, in love and friendship through their ordeals.

Love in spite of everything
Emotional fragility of David strikes Karin. His social vulnerability armed with caustic ideological criticisms, made him in her eyes a person in special need for love because of his tendency to righteously hate

Love as a psychological modality is not easy for David – it sometimes demands the ability not to defend oneself – not to pretend that you are always in charge and even in understanding what’s going on between beloveds. Competitive emotional posture contradicts love as much as it does peace, justice or equality.

Karin felt guilty in front of Andreas, their children, her own conscience, and was permanently afraid of David’s calling her at improper times.

In love David was sensitive and tender. But leading a “double“ life was tearing and shattering Karin’s soul

What was meant to be a triumphant abandoning on part of David
Karin’s and Andreas’ children weren’t hateful of David. Maria was especially suffering for her father. In this shot we see her ability to sublimate simple reaction of animosity towards “David-the intruder” into trying to understand – what can happen in life to good, remarkable people like her parents.

While so many layers of psychologically defensive structures loosened their hold and even melted in David’s soul since his relationship with Karin, he is not able to share his “mistress” with “another man” and finally he made a decision to abandon her as a protest against her “inability to choose” and be with him rather than with Andreas.

Their final separation was still an attempt on both sides to stay with each other forever

The final words between them were still an appeal to each other to stay together

Love that makes the beloveds more equal, freer and passionate in a disinterested way
David unexpectedly reappeared (barged back into Karin’s life) with a solemn marriage proposal (including having her children live with them in Britain). Name “Andreas” was not even mentioned by him. Now, he got a stable position and felt more confident.

Karin’s final decision is the rarest example of positive amorous separation, separation as an act of love. This new love envisioned by Bergman in “The Touch” is comparable with Alain Resnais’ concept of a new love in his “Hiroshima mon amour”.


As a diver gives his destiny to the bottomless water we give ourselves to love, as flowers to wind. But love is not sea nor air. And it’s not a miracle from a fairytale challenging the laws of life. It’s “organic” and not superhuman. It crystallizes in our unconscious step by step or sometimes swift as magic speed. Love is a psychological structure. It feels shy but has despotic power, and with its logical chain which we don’t understand. We imply that love is an emotion whose awakening is not determined, without a cause, as an enigmatic message from the sky.

But Bergman cannot just address love in a commercial framing – as a tail of a peacock which our soul suddenly opens as its own to surprise the world. Bergman cannot create without meaning which resists dissolution into cliché. His soul needs thinking which becomes an aspect of his visual imagery. For him love without thinking is like a Homo sapiens with serpent but without sapientality.

Why does Karin who is in love with her loving husband and enjoys their two vibrant teenage kids “fell in love” with their casual guest – with an “alien”, who is prone to over drink and then becomes vulgar, a stranger in their country, a person who is as far from her and her husband’s world as cannot be easily imagined? Bergman doesn’t want to force himself to represent love as an extraordinary thing that happens to ordinary people, or as a bad thing that happened with good people or a good thing – with bad people, which make them better, or as any of such combinations which like fast food making people salivate in advance. Bergman is too ambitious of a director not to try to answer in front of himself to this question “why does Karin…?” in a thoughtful and elaborate way.

Bergman not only depicts Karin/David relationship in psycho-social and historical context but analyzes it without being afraid that his narration (besides its rich realistic and paradoxical details) includes not less rich symbolic coding where visual images serve as directorial comments about the events of the plot and the characters’ reactions on one another. For Bergman human love is never a matter of fact. It comes with its own existential and imaginary context challenging our attention and concentration.

Karin sees David for the first time right after her mother’s death – in the same hospital where her mother died minutes before. Walking along the corridor like in fog she steps into the cloak room, and while sitting there crying she saw David for several seconds. In the room where mother passed away, we see her wedding ring, still on her finger – the image without any particular accent, just a momentary middle close-up, and we understand that the mother has a Jewish ethnic background. When Karin entered the hospital, horrified by the telephone call, the physician addressed her with “good afternoon”, (that emphasizes the fact that with her mother’s death Karin enters the afternoon of her life – now psychologically she comes to occupy mother’s place in life, as if, it’s not enough to have two children to be really mother not by intra-family position, but inside, psycho-existentially). When Karin was crying in the cloakroom her tears were pouring out, as if she was a child – it was tears of losing childhood: of losing the protection of the mother’s presence in the world.

But is it really important that Karin and David met right after Karin’s loss of her mother? Could their love happen if it wasn’t the case? And could the fact that their first although ephemeral encounter took place in a tiny anonymous “cargo” place – define something important in their future relationship? Could Bergman already here give us a premonition of what will happen later? But could it be that after the mother’s death Karin started to unconsciously feel the appearance in her the additional psychological energy to emotionally nurture, to care about the emotionally hungry and the abandoned. In their short and rather ordinary exchange David, this awkward beardy passerby asked her what he could do for her. Can it be, that in those very moments – the arrow of sublime Eros carried by a wave of Agape struck the space between the two of them? It is, as if, mutual compassion became the magic ferment that connected two human beings. Of course, compassion as each of them can feel it, is very different in its psychological nature, when it started to express itself in David/Karin relationship. For David, the impulse of compassion in relation to Karin could only be based on his narcissistic self-compassion (by the logic – “Poor Karin, she has lost her mother like I almost lost my whole family to Nazi concentration camps.”) It can only be based on his identification with Karin based on some similarity with him, while Karin’s compassion was focused on his particular deprivations – on him being poor, lonely, not-attended, marginal, existentially and psychologically not confident, lost.

When Karin found that David is in love with her she didn’t know what to say – her heart was silent. Period of gestation (symbolic pregnancy) was needed for their affair to begin. We even don’t know how long time had passed before our heroes came to the contact again after brief encounter in the hospital (when David was invited to Karin’s husband’s place as a guest). Again, we don’t know what period passed after David‘s confession. Without these “breaks” the idea of love could be too essentialized – when love develops as a mountain brook becomes a river – as an unstoppable power the viewers like love to be – like a powerful sovereign to whose will on the screen it is pleasant to surrender. When Karin met David for the first time she felt in him some vulnerability, some humility behind his brave posture, but this was all she felt.

The film starts with a melody representing, it seems, the steps of a child who is learning how to walk with the mother’s help. This music is supported by the footages of Swedish provincial town (where Karin and Andreas live), with its clean streets, miniature houses and harmonious natural light. This musical theme is a leitmotif of David and Karin – David who is nurtured by his new country not only socially but emotionally and amorously – by Karin’s disinterested love, which has to go through the ordeals of his abusive mistreatment of her. To learn to be equal to her (in a position of loving) he had to feel himself superior, to be able to make love he needed to insult her. In his life he, at best, was object of condescension and now, with Karin, he got the chance to feel superior to be able to express love.

The first sexual intercourse between Karin and David is extraordinary representation of physical love between a man and a woman. This shocking, even shaking scene creates an emotional image of physical lovemaking – with its irrational fears, psychological defloration and defensive posture of sexual domination, with its violence human souls use to protect itself in front of its sisters in another human beings.

Karin’s ordeals were continuing, and when David became capable of loving and stopped to be afraid of emotional and physical tenderness – when he became equal to the other person as a human being, he also became… greedy for “more equality”. He wanted to “bathe” in it, to play with it to be sure that it‘s real, that it will not be taken away. He turned into a tireless lover, unstoppable wit, he became a fawn, an irresistible talker. He was attractive. Karin was really in love. But he started to demand more than equality and more than love.

Love already was not enough for him. Physical intimacy didn’t satisfy him anymore. He needed social victories. Karin’s hesitations put David into deep sulk. But existentially spiritual touch Karin taught him, saved him from despair. He will be able to live. What more can a woman do for the man she loves? He insisted on less than life – just marriage. And she refused to give him less. Separation can be a supreme act of love.

“The Touch” is about the possibility of de-robotized, completely humane personal love, when two persons’ souls are capable of touching each other in the deepest – the sacred layers of their beings, when love becomes stronger than not only social license, but geographical togetherness and physical proximity.

Posted on Feb/7/’16 –   “The Touch” (1971) by Ingmar Bergman And The Existing Split Between The American Democrats and Neocons by Acting-Out Politics