The film depicts the clash between the liberating energies of intellectual art and the controlling power of the authoritarian system (reinforced by legalistic logic) which is personified by Justice Abramson (Erik Hell), an old functionary who (under the sincere mask of a disinterested servant of law and order) enjoys intimidating and humiliating people including artists (who, according to his judgment, “are full of arrogance”) with his interrogating/investigating and censoring initiatives, enthusiasm and righteousness.

Intellectual art’s revolutionary potentials are personified by a trio of actors, each of them incarnating a special aspect of artistic creativity (the viewers are challenged by Bergman to grasp which aspect is represented by which character). The clash of art with repressive legalism and moralism defines the plot and orients the semantic overtones and the stylistic complications of the film.

Bergman’s criticism of authoritarian legal system is based politically on his democratic stance of expecting a permanent democratization and humanization of the existing power relations in society, and psychologically on his knowledge of how detrimental for the human emotional health is obsessive search for power and advantage as tools for manipulating/controlling other human beings, nature and life in general.

The acting is not situational (and not extroversive and socio-morphic) like in today’s Hollywood movies, but is oriented on sculpting the emotional personalities of the characters as a background of their worldviews. Bergman’s films and “The Rite” particularly try to return us to life through authentic aesthetic contemplation. “The Rite” is also about the artist as a revolutionary via artistic transcendence of rigid reality of everyday life of “survival” and entertainment, conformism and consumerism.

Ultimately Bergman’s film is about human orientation on existential genuineness – about spontaneous human desire to live our humanity in full according to our potentials. To learn about ourselves through Bergman’s art helps us to be more in tune with the best – less corrupted side of ourselves.

Bergman depicts the main characters-actors – Hans Winkelmann (Gunnar Bjornstrand), Sebastian Fisher (Anders Ek) and Thea (Ingrid Thulin) as people trained by their profession not to impress audience but to feel genuinely, and as fighters (each in his/her own way) with the established powers, but they are outside of narrowly understood political dedications because their fight is much more radical – existential and spiritual. They deploy their revolutionary energies against the repressive/conformist establishment installed by different political systems based on inequality of their hierarchical nature.

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Ingmar Bergman (1918 – 2007)

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Bergman and the actors as protagonists – Winkelmann (on the left), his wife Thea and Sebastian (stands near Bergman) preparing for shooting

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Thea (Ingrid Thulin) and her lover Sebastian and their desperate, disbalanced, over-sexualized and… beautiful relationship

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Sebastian’s pyromaniac-suicidal complex is that of a person whose sensibility was formed under a punitive moral code and carries an overwhelming rebellious intensity. He lives in such a way as if he had survived an apocalypse which for him continues as the everyday conventional reality.

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Thea’s emotional appeal to the Judge is an appeal to power on part of a person who since childhood was abused by parental authorities, later by the males’ power of gonads deployed as a psychological weapon, and by situations which demanded violence and submission in order to survive.

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Hans (to the right), Thea, and Sebastian (on the left) are presenting to the judge their theatrical number.

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The same trio closer to the final moment of their act

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Will judge Abramson be able to learn from serious art? Or, will his reaction be identical to his self-destruction?

Posted on 26 Nov 2011 –   Ingmar Bergman’s “The Rite”/“The Ritual” (1969) – Punitive Morals of the Barbarians and Spiritual People Who Don’t Need It by Acting-Out Politics