I can't stop myself from believing that I am employing an instrument which is so refined that it makes it possible for us to shed light on the human soul.
Ingmar Bergman's work, regardless of its location in time and space, has a universally applicable psychological quotient unique in the art of film. According to his vision of humanity, each of us is an island of consciousness and that truth is the root of our aloneness. Sex is one of the major metaphysical arenas where we play out the basic drama of our existence. These two premises provide the backdrop of Bergman's new film From the Life of the Marionettes.
In the first scene, Peter Egerman murders a prostitute who has the same name as his wife Katarina (Christine Buchegger). The movie then zigzags back and forth in time in order to provide an overview of the events leading up to the murder and following it. We learn that he is the son of an actress (Lola Muethel), a very possessive woman, and that his wife is a domineering person who has a successful career in fashion.
Prior to his visit to the prostitute, Peter sees a psychiatrist (Martin Benrath) and tells him of a disturbing dream in which he murders Katarina by cutting her throat. The psychiatrist writes it off as a bad case of the blues. Hiding in the office, Peter watches his wife rebuff the therapist's attempts to seduce her. She speaks of her relationship with Peter as one in which the are "each other's children."
The knowledge of his wife's feelings does nothing to dispel Peter's confusion. He is angered by Katarina's laughter at his efforts to have anal intercourse with her. Peter attempts suicide but is saved by a friend of the family. All of his repressed fury surfaces in the encounter with the prostitute when she becomes sexually aggressive with him.
One of the key characters in From the Life of the Marionettes is Tim (Walter Schmidinger), a middle-aged homosexual who is Katarina's business partner. In a very moving scene, he serves her lunch at his place and describes his futile search for a love relationship of intimacy. Tim notes that reality is "brutality and beastliness closeness is just a dream." It turns out that he sent Peter to the prostitute in hopes of winning his friendship and then his love. In one of the last scenes in the film, the psychiatrist sums up the case in rigid Freudian terms: Peter's problem was his latent homosexuality and the act of murder, "an emotional short-circuit" wherein his repressed hatred of strong women exploded into violence.
Bergman's love of the human face provides the aesthetic power of From the Life of the Marionettes. We read their expressions and learn more than the dialogue tells us. Although the film zeroes in on one troubled marriage, the thematic arc goes far beyond that to cover the ambiguities of human sexuality. The questions Bergman presents are worth considering: Are we not all marionettes dangling from the strings of our fluctuating libidos? Do any of us escape childhood ways? What secrets fester inside us? Can childish adults ever find happiness?