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The Five-Hour Motion Picture: Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander (1982)

This is a review of the 5-hour television cut of Fanny and Alexander. Yep, I watched all 312 minutes of the film and it was totally worth it! 

Just from the first act of Ingmar Bergman’s desired-to-be final feature, we are already conferred with a hysterically hefty juxtaposition between the inquisitive youth, the hectic middle-aged, and the strung-up elderly. The voluminous opening presents an epic-long dissection of an enormous early-1900s family of wives, husbands, grandmas, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, sons, daughters, cousins, and siblings—pertaining to the convoluted details of what emotionally and psychologically goes on behind the scenes of a money-driven, depressed clan of lineage.

Yet, Fanny and Alexander doesn’t stop there. At its roots, the 5-act presentation is a diabolical autopsy on how the conjoining of two household lineages (the Ekdahls and the Vergeruses) provoked one, wrathful, unhealthy family. Where love should be guaranteed with such a gathering of soon to be, non-blood related relatives, Bergman epitomizes just how toxic it can be when you attempt to drag and disregard those around you for your own happiness. Specifically, the movie focuses on the children, nevertheless, and how the most important people in your life can mentally slip away just like that due to an initial comatose of parental egotism and delusional suspicions of your fictional loneliness. But in a series of unexpected events, Bergman does the impossible and transforms such a calamitous situation into one that can only lead to an unforeseen light, where terror has finally hit its utmost maximum, manufacturing the Ekdahls’ new-founded strength that was always needed to enhance the family. 

So inevitably, yes, Bergman’s dramatic chronicle does cover such stereotyped concepts as the saying “happiness always comes with the suffering of others” or formulates its trail amongst such timeworn stories as the “child’s battle between a wretchedly evil stepfather” with Jan Malmsjö playing the Hans Landa (from Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds) of stepfathers—like sheesh, give the man an Oscar. The time-jumping, on top of that, results in a lot of necessity for exposition, and even for a five-hour movie, it hurts the believability of some of the character arcs. With that being said, Ingmar Bergman’s craft is so idiomatically intense that these moderate clichés somehow still come off as shocking within the film’s visually special execution of them.

Alexander Ekdahl’s “kids see ghosts” characteristic is definitely the inspirational creator of M Night Shyamalan’s premise for The Sixth Sense, except, unlike Shyamalan’s cult classic, the conversation of whether Alexander is actually seeing spirits or not is handled more cryptically than determinedly. Bergman’s motion picture utilizes quite the brain-ingraining depiction of the supernatural and Alexander’s “superpower” to spark up thematic conversations. From what I’ve withdrawn, the movie has a load to say when it comes to our distrust in higher powers, the existence and role of the dead, the pitiful philosophical extents of our self duties, why we give into belief so effortlessly, and the reasons why we choose to accept our reality out of unconscious fear. In a finale that implements some of the greatest binary editing between different events of all-time, the movie really throws out these themes considerably. They are oddly satisfying and partially perplexing moral conclusions as they are penetrating to our eternal psyches. 

And, I guess it was during the 1900s, but Emelie “simped” hard towards her questionable fiancée in this movie. Weirdly enough, between this and Night of the Hunter (1955), classics seem to be keen on sliding in underlying messages on why you shouldn’t marry priests or bishops. Hmmm…

Verdict: A

Ingmar Bergman Ranked

“Fanny and Alexander” is now available to stream on Amazon Prime, iTunes, and The Criterion Channel. 

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