The Psychological Dynamics of A Young Or Even An Older Person’s Resistance To A Repressive Or An Oppressive Society Is Similar To That Of A Child’s Resistance To The Despotism Of An Adult Family Member

Alexander (Bertil Guve) (in the part of the film, dedicated to his confrontation with the Bishop Edvard Vergerus – Jan Malmsjo) personifies not only a child abused by an adult and not only a human being abused by another person, but any citizen abused by a totalitarian or a neo-totalitarian political system.

Bergman and Bertil Guve (Alexander) on the set of “Fanny and Alexander”

“Jag Hatar inte dig, Alexander. Jag alskar dig.” (“I don’t hate you, Alexander. I love you” (Bishop Vergerus)

We see here what can be called the first phase of resistance to a despotic adult family member (here to the step-father, who just married Alexander’s mother after the death of his father). Alexander knows that he, in the eyes of “this new father” is on the wrong side, but he cannot accept this man’s authoritarian ideas about forced obedience (that it’s natural and normal to force obedience). Alexander’s heart resists – why has a person either surrender or be defeated? Why between people or sides cannot be other way? Alexander going through the first phase of resistance, is, as if, hiding his disagreement with his mistreatment by “hiding his eyes under his lids”. Pay attention to how close stepfather‘s fist to Alexander’s face – it’s not only the warning, but step-father defense against his step-son’s resistance. The curious thing is, that Bishop feels that the child’s resistance is the real menace to him, that Alexander is an attacking side, not resisting one.

Alexander doesn’t want to follow this stranger’s will, but the gaze of the “dominant man” was pressing him, as if, trying to squeeze from him surrender to the authority of the new-paternal will.

And here it is happened like a stubborn sun-beam from the child’s will – the power grows with resistance.

Alexander’s gaze at Bishop Vergerus is not just challenging and not only resisting. It’s asking the question how an elder man can treat him – a child, from the position of power armed with righteousness. Alexander wants to understand how this radical injustice can exist – that an adult puts his power to brake the will of a child.

The bishop intensifies his crushing gaze, but the silent resistance of Alexander’s eyes, already as strong as the wall made of stone, is intensifying too. Human will is not supposed to be attacked and broken. It supposed to be addressed with emotional equality and rational argumentation. The second phase of resistance is reaction on abusive behavior triggered by the demanding and forcing manly hands which can spank, beat and suffocate the “vicious child” who resists. Step-father, as if, warns to deform Alexander’s neck, as if, suggesting that their physical closeness is of the bond to death. Here we see the closeness of child abuse to the bodily molestation. But the child resists now openly, eye to eye, will to will.

The stepfather’s sadistic excitement is instinctively changing the target – now instead of Alexander’s eyes it’s his mouth. And he continues to violate Alexander’s flesh – he is pressing his palms to Alexander’s head-and-face. But what intention the man has toward Alexander’s mouth? The abuser simultaneously wants the child’s mouth be closed – not to express any disagreements, and yet opened with verbal admiration for his stepfather’s words, actions and wisdom. In both cases, with opened or closed mouth Alexander feels himself outside of “moral law” – and he is resisting the ferocious spiritual and physical power of this new father-priest and his religious and secular credentials.

Father’s sadistic caress of Alexander’s head-face combined with his hypnotizing gaze at Alexander’s mouth is so unbearable that the boy’s eyes, as if, close again by the very bodily disgust towards the physical closeness of the alien despotic power. This is the third phase of resistance in a situation of enormously unequal power, be it between a child, adolescent or youth in relation to an adult male or a person resisting to a totalitarian/authoritarian regime. The stepfather-the Bishop becomes… almost ecstatic, and this symbiotic familiarity is especially unbearable (when the violator projects his intimate desire to force the weaker one into social, emotional and bodily obedience. In this moment abuse through physical molestation starts to remind the photos of physical torture of prisoners by the American soldiers, which we all saw during and after the war in Iraq.

Among the results of the Bishop’s righteous pedagogy by violent means, typical of fathers with conservative sensibility in many countries under various dominant religions, was lost belief in Alexander’s soul – belief in a world based on collaboration and positivity. Alexander was resisting stepfather’s violent pressure with closed or with open eyes (in phases 1, 2 and 3), but the price for it was his traumatized soul which started to become blindly and painfully aggressive. Here we see Alexander in company of his sister Fanny (to his right), their grandmother (between him and Fanny) and their uncles (on the far left and to the right) leaving the church and we hear how he pronouncing the dirty words expressing his frustration and hate for the world as it is – rude, manipulative, not deserving his love anymore. It will be not easy for those who love him to restore his belief in the basic benevolence of people and life and his ability to continue to live meaningfully. In our country – US, the equivalents of Bishop Vergerus in ruling elite today put many American citizens and children into despair comparable with that Alexander went through in Bergman’s film. Many Americans today are losing their belief in their country as really democratic one.

Bergman rehearsing with Alexander how to act in front of the camera fear of the doll-mommies and simultaneously is teaching Bertil Guve (playing Alexander) how not to be motivated by the fear of what seems frightening.