SE is Bergman’s social-psychological study of fascist sensibility (regardless of its ideological masks) – through mobilization of intellectual and aesthetic resources of cinematic art. With a precision of a historian of culture and the daring intuition of an artist Bergman uses a number of dizzying substituting analogies, first of all, the one between Hitler’s failed Munich putsch in 1923 and full blown German Nazism (1933 – 1945), and secondly, between this realized Nazism and hypothetical American fascist future. From the conditions in Germany of early twenties where SE locates its narrative, Bergman looks ahead into the dystopian American future as if he looks at the coming of German Nazism. The film was released in 1977 – at the height of American democracy, and this adds the third Bergman’s analogy to the previous two: American democracy of late 70s precedes an intense totalitarization of US at the end of 90s–the beginning of 21st century (Bergman predicted in this film), like failed Munich putsch had preceded the coming of Nazism of 1933 – 1945.

The film addresses us, Americans of the 21st century – we today, according to Bergman’s tormenting prediction, are going through the same processes Germany was going in twenties (invention of wars, economic collapses, militarization of economy, growing aggressiveness and brutality of right-wing propaganda, contempt towards American workers, pauperization of population, conservative attacks on helping the elderly and needy, defunding public education and social security, proud proclamation of use of torture, surveillance of American citizens without a Court order, etc.) In short, SE while narrating the story of two Americans trapped in pre-Nazi Germany, paradoxically talks to the viewers about their world and their life today.

It’s of no surprise that in SE Bergman has several American movie stars – David Carradine as the main protagonist, Glynn Turman (as a man humiliated and traumatized by being put into a situation of the necessity to prove his heterosexuality) and James Whitmore (as honest and helpless priest). Liv Ullmann’s semantic control over the widest scope of emotional self-expressiveness makes her performance in SE an object for studying by future film directors and actors. The film traces in detail the destruction of human soul under the survivalist pressures and a collapsing democratic values of tolerance, compromise and mutual care.

Among the particular topics analyzed by Bergman – the fall of Christianity into official state religion, sexual humiliation as a fascist fun, growth of suspiciousness and scapegoating, the omnipresence of a mass culture of forgetfulness, militarization of entertainment, de-existentialization of thinking into a calculation, and separation of science from humanism.

Ingmar Bergman’s SERPENT’S EGG is an important film about fascization of human soul. Every American should watch it to understand better what’s going on in our country today.

In the very beginning of the film and close to the ending Bergman uses stylized symbolic footages characterizing people’s muted and shattered psychological wholeness (souls) as a precondition for acceptance of fascist norms of living and perceiving other people. Without monitoring one’ behavior by psychological wholeness human being becomes a victim of the split between the silence of one’s soul and then the need for extreme social activity and over-agitated emotions Bergman expresses by the hysterically intense and impersonalized pop-music.

Only at the end of the film we learn that these footages are materials of lab experiments with human psychology (which investigate human proclivity for violence), made under the scientific authority of professor Vergerus, the head of Santa Ana clinic.

Fascism (as a certain way of perceiving the world and treating other people) is not only a gigantic socio-political apparatus mobilizing people as particles of destructive crowds, but as marking and instantly isolating those whom it defines as licensed scapegoats for mass-people’s anger.

Here we see the main protagonist of the film Able Rosenberg, an American of Jewish ethnicity (David Carradine), trapped by the circumstances in Berlin of late 20s, when fascism of the Nazism was intensely fermenting in Germany, in a moment when he understood what it means to be scapegoated by fascist anger. Before he thought that Jews get into trouble because they are “stupidly not careful” and provide the Nazis with plenty of excuses to target them, but only in this very moment he got it that regardless of how “properly” you behave – if you are in the scapegoating focus your very existence is crossed out.

Inspector Bauer shows to Able what Bauer thinks Able has done while dead drunk and/or on drugs.

Professor Vergerus explains to Able his psychological experiments which according to Bergman, demonstrate that fascist science is completely instrumental, that, like business, it’s mainly oriented on efficiency, and humanism is outside its concern. It treats human psyche like engineer the engines, as something completely different from humanistic aspirations even and especially when it asserts the opposite in its propaganda.

Separation of sexuality from love during fascist epochs functions in the same way as separation of scientific research from humanistic dedications.

Eventually, Able Rosenberg came to the feeling that he is ready for fascism, when he understood that fascism is inevitable because it is in tune with human psychology when human soul is made silent by severe conditions of life, by entertainment as a goal in itself and by pursuing money and power over others considered as the only realistic way to live. Able became a fascist not because of ideological passion but by adaptation, like the majority of people.

Entertainment, like science and sexuality, became a consumerist item, a form of efficiency – completely separated and isolated from moral, existential, intellectual and aesthetic (as independent feeling and not in search for getting an advantage over others in a form of success) aspirations. It is this separation from life with other human beings considered as equals, makes entertainment a new space to appropriate/consume and exploit like settlers do with wilderness and technical scientists – with technology and technical sciences.

Posted on Jan 25 2011 –   Ingmar Bergman’s “The Serpent’s Egg” (1977) – From (the Alive) Human Soul into a Compulsive Socio-Political Action – Bergman’s Analysis of the Fascization of Human being  by Acting-Out Politics