Nattvardsgästerna (1963) (aka Winter Light)
Ingmar Bergman

“God, my God! Why hast thou forsaken me?”

Winter LightFaith and doubt in God have always been a critical theme in most Bergman films, especially the ones in the so-called “Faith Trilogy“. Nattvardsgästerna (1963) is the second installment in this trilogy following Såsom I En Spegel (1961). Having established the concepts of God as love and God as a monstrous spider that can be simplified as “Godlessness” in the first part of the trilogy, Nattvardsgästerna puts these two concepts into test.

Tomas is a pastor who has lost his wife few years ago. As a result of this he has created, for himself, a Utopian world where nothing is deadly and God is always benign. He ignores the harsh realities of the world such as the Spanish Civil War and the nuclear race. Hence, He is unable to impart faith to people who come for help. There is Märta, an agnostic who loves him and desperately seeks to snap him out of his facade of belief and fantasy. Märta’s belief will depend on Tomas’ reciprocation of love which does not seem plausible yet. After a spiritual conversation with a believer about causes of suffering, Tomas realizes that his apathetic attitude towards love has cost him more than the cruel reality itself. Having recognized his isolation from society and hence love and communication (also addressed in the sequel), Tomas proceeds towards the pulpit with what seems to be a “revitalized belief”, thus providing a reinforcement for Märta’s faith, if not his own.

The film can be viewed as a bridge between absolute faith in God (as love) suggested in Såsom I En Spegel and absolute disbelief (as absence of love) as will be shown in its sequel. Symbols and metaphors galore, Nattvardsgästerna boasts of fantastic performances by Gunnar Björnstrand as Tomas and Ingrid Thulin as Märta. Nattvardsgästerna was followed by Tystnaden (1961), the final film in the trilogy that describes a colder and more apocalyptic premise of the “belief theory”.