Ingmar Bergman’s Face to Face was created for me. Suffering from troubling thoughts of bodily siege and experiencing two near traumatic encounters of a sexual kind, I was intrinsically drawn to the psychological depth that Liv Ullman brought to her part here. Ullman plays a woman who is professionally a successful psychiatrist. During a summer when her immediate family members are out of town, she relocates to her grandparents’ apartment where she grew up, unravelling. Childhood trauma involving her parents’ untimely death and the emotional abuse at the hands of her grandmother finally catch up with her. A near sexual assault by two miscreants at her under-construction house further trigger her.
Dream sequences invoke the depths of a lifetime’s burden. She breaks down mentally, unable to bear that toll. Especially striking is when she imagines being physically mired by her patients, mirroring her anxieties regarding the job, and when she encounters her parents’ ghosts and the darkness of being silenced by her authoritative grandmother. This sequence and her visual of being clad in a crimson dress ala The Handmaid’s Tale is very striking, eerily reminding me of the suffocating nature of our subconscious finding an outlet in dreams.
The way her experience with the two men acutely makes her shudder and yet seek an almost counteracting interest in being sexually aroused brings out the manner in which tears and horrid laughter mingle in her unravelling in the presence of another colleague. A tragic experience, when piled on top of an irreconcilable past, can break the symmetry of one’s understanding of evading or wanting the forbidden. I can absolutely identify with that inexplicable feeling. It’s like the body reacts to danger sometimes as an incoming challenge. As if fear as an entity is being traded for a bold moral compass, seeking to identify the depths of one’s threshold for pain by calling the perpetrators towards its easy target. It has happened to me over the past year especially, consonant with a deluge of daily verbal and sometimes physical abuse, dynamics within the home that I’ve faced as a young man over the most extended period, making me often run towards a point where I want to be defiled in some way. As an asexual person, I have been able to evade absolute danger, perhaps owing to that trait of my personality and my innate faith.
The reality then of being naturally aromantic, asexual and being almost at the receiving end of sexual advances and threats to the body from members of my own gender (and no, I’m not calling out any orientation here at all, just individual responses and actions) hence was the most debilitating blow to me. Face to Face was the first time I felt seen. It felt natural to finally write down aspects about myself that I wouldn’t ever speak openly among mortals. By being visually stirred by a respectable and dignified, no holds barred take on mental horrors invading one’s adult personality, I could air my thoughts. So I want to accord Ms. Ullman the highest regard because the way she handles the final stretch of her confessions, imploding within and exploding emotionally in her body and spirit, illustrates the most accurate representation of how I feel. Only I haven’t found a personal agent or friend to lend an ear to my ordeal, which bears scars of a lifetime, as she does with her patient colleague.
Face to Face is a realistic portrayal of how mental health professionals go through dangerous motions. Maybe that’s why they can possess the ability to treat their patients effectively, or maybe it’s a reverse form of therapy for their own unfinished pasts and experiences. Bless Mr. Bergman for always probing the human mind with such empathy and tact.
Of course, the pain never goes away. But the feeling of sharing one’s life script lessens the pull of the psychological noose.
by Prithvijeet Sinha
Prithvijeet Sinha is from Lucknow, India. A regular contributor to Screen Queens, he lives for the beauty of poetry in moving images and translates them into stirring writings in verse and prose. He is also a dedicated cinephile.
Categories: Anything and Everything