Winter Light (1963)

winter light poster 1963 movie nattvardsgasterna ingmar bergman
8.5 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 8/10

Solid character study

Dark movie if a person wasn't expecting it

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Winter Light

Studio:  Svensk Filmindustri (SF)

Genre(s):  Drama

Release Date(s):  February 9, 1963 (Premiere)/February 11, 1963 (Sweden)/April 5, 1963 (US)

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

winter light gunnar bjornstrand ending

Hey guys…I’m dead inside

Pastor Tomas Ericsson (Gunnar Björnstrand) is in free fall.  The widowed holy man is questioning his own faith and on a winter afternoon his doubts have taken over his life.  A parishioner Jonas (Max von Sydow) seeks help about his own crisis and Ericsson also finds his lover Märta (Ingrid Thulin) requesting Tomas make decisions about the future.  As Ericsson makes dangerous decisions about what he must do and how he shall do it, his crisis of faith could come to a head.

Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, Winter Light (Nattvardsgästerna aka The Communicants) is a Swedish film and loosely part of a thematic trilogy made up of Bergman’s previous film Through a Glass Darkly (1961) and The Silence (1963).  The Criterion Collection released a box set A Film Trilogy by Ingmar Bergman (Criterion #208) with an individually numbered remastered version of the film (Criterion #210).  The film Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie (1963) by Vilgot Sjöman was made during the production of the film.

Bergman was kind of lukewarm on calling the three movies a trilogy.  He talked about thematic similarities but also considered them individual movies.  Despite the very dark feel of Winter Light, Bergman often cited the film as his favorite of the films he made.

winter light gunnar bjornstrand ingrid thulin

You’re a real chum…now get out of my life

The story is a downer (but many of Bergman’s film have that tone).  You have a man just broken by the death of his wife, lashing out those trying to help him, pushing them away, and his doubt driving another person to suicide.  He can’t even lie to Jonas about his questions of faith and his growing belief there is no God.  The end sees him continuing to preach but you don’t know if he’s just dead inside.

Gunnar Björnstrand is solid as the doubtful priest.  He is able to play both cruel (when he’s telling Märta that she’ll never live up to his wife), honest (when admitting to Jonas that he doesn’t know if there is a God), and stoic (being able to continue to preach with all the doubt).  He slides between his personal traits easily and realistically.  Ingrid Thulin also feels like a bit of a sad sack in that he’s quite cold to her despite all her attempts to help him…and she keeps coming back to him because of her love.  Bergman regular Max von Sydow gets the brunt of Tomas doubt, and the results are tragic for not just Tomas but his whole family.

winter light max von sydow priest gunnar bjornstrand

Worst…Pep Talk…Ever

The movie is rather simply shot, but has a real clarity to it.  Though it was made in the ’60s, the quality of the film holds up for today and could easily be a “new” film (a benefit of shooting it in black-and-white).  It isn’t flashy but the framing and style of the shooting gives it a lot of power.  One long scene involves Ingrid Thulin addressing the camera directly as Tomas reads her letter…it is honest but unnerving.

Winter Light might not be a “fun” movie but it is a smart and thinking film.  The questions that Tomas has are legitimate and his actions that result from them are a good character and morality study.  Should a man whose job is based on honesty lie about his convictions?  Does he have to keep a strong face for his parishioners if it is lie?  Is preaching words instead of the meaning and feeling of scripture really preaching?  Is Tomas a projector of God’s emotions or simply a tool?  Winter Light raises many of those questions and allowing the viewer to try to answer them is part of the power of the film.  Bergman followed Winter Light with The Silence also in 1963.

Related Links:

Through a Glass Darkly (1961)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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