Scenes From A Marriage was Ingmar Bergman’s first successful attempt to work in the medium of serialised television. It signposts many of the changes that the director would make during his work in the decade of the 1970s from an aesthetic and a thematic position. Though a later cut was edited down and sold as a whole, cinematic artefact for American audiences, several changes to the drama were made in order to accommodate a suitable running time. Though this article is not to be a list of the many changes and the negative impact that losing many of these elements has on the drama, it is, however, about one particular aspect lost in the edit over the transatlantic; an aspect that seems to be vital in structuring the emotional relationship of the drama in its entirety.
The drama follows the turmoil and emotional complexity of a marriage in gradual disarray. A full decade’s worth of “scenes” are shown from the matrimonial pairing of Marianne (Liv Ullmann) and Johan (Erland Josephson) as they continue to meet on and off for various reasons after an affair leads to a messy separation. Whilst much of the drama remains largely intact in the film edit, it loses a key motif and structural, landscape-infused pillar from the television original: that of the end credits.
At first, losing the credits of a television show may not seem too big a deal. Yet, it is what Bergman actually does them, hiding much that is relevant to the drama in between a strange collection of aesthetic practices, that makes their loss greatly undermine the film edition, to the point where it resembles little more than a curio than anything else. At the end of each episode, the credits do not appear in full but are read by Bergman himself. He lists the performers and the technical staff, the name of the episode and the production and its location on the island of Fårö. Already, this can be seen as an unusual practice, especially because Bergman’s name actually does not appear on the product itself.
More importantly, however, are the images which accompany this reading of the titles. All six episodes of the series end with specific footage of the landscape of Fårö with Bergman even inviting the viewers to look upon such images whilst he reads the credit names; like so many of his films, the landscape of island plays an important role. All of this is lost in the film version and, for a narrative often moving between claustrophobic spaces where great emotional trauma and turmoil is allowed to freely and chaotically flow, it seems a vital cleanser of some of the darker episodes in particular as well as often offering general comments upon the drama so far.
In the first episode, Innocence and Panic, the viewer is shown Marianne and Johan being interviewed by a lifestyle magazine on their 10th anniversary. The journalist wants to know about what makes a successful marriage and her questions prove to dislodge some of the problems that are clearly brewing in their relationship. They are later witness to their friend’s bickering which turns deeply spiteful, showing the married couple what a supposed “bad” relationship is like; they are shown what appears to be a different world but really it is just a foreshadowing of their own to come.
To end this episode, Bergman opts for a zoom back shot of the Fårö landscape at sunset. This is one of three landscape shots that involve some sort of zoom back and it seems an important aesthetic tool. Here and in the next episode, the track back over the landscape allows the perspective of the initial focus of the shot to be contextualised and the first two episodes do the same thing for the pair’s relationship (to more chaotic effects) but within the drama. It also features in the last episode, after everything has happened and the decade that has taken up the series is itself put into focus.
Back to the first landscape shot, it shows a sun setting; the landscape is approaching dusk and there is a gentle fog developing on the ground. The reflection of the sunlight in the water could easily be read as highlighting the reflection that the pair have been witness to in the failings of their friends’ marriage (that of Katrina and Peter played by Bibi Andersson and Jan Malmsjö). It is a gentle moment but one that suggests that the sun is setting upon the marriage as a smooth running arrangement (and one which further builds as the landscape shots are clearly in some form of chronological order).
The second landscape is the same as the first but further in land. The episode, The Art of Sweeping Things Under the Rug, sees Marianne begin to question herself as she succumbs to the domineering presence of parents. The credit begins with a close up of a frost-covered stone which zooms out to reveal a wall in the landscape that was hidden from the first set of credits by being further out of land. The wall seems to separate the two characters; one who is increasingly fragile, the other who is confident enough to flirt with a co-worker at the university.
Similar visual themes begin to build as the marriage disintegrates. In the next episode, Paula, Johan’s affair is revealed (along with the fact that he is leaving her and their children to go and live with his mistress). The landscape shown is clearly at night but now removed to a beach where a lonely, rusted boat sits upon the shore and a pathetic lighthouse fails to give proper light to signal danger. These two objects paired together seem to reflect the state of Marianne who had no warning as to the intentions of her husband when he walked in to their holiday cottage that night; Marianne had no warning light and crashed violently against the shoreline, left to rust and decay.
Other themes seem even more literal though less effective. For example, in the episode, The Vale Of Tears, the credits reflect the title by being a very simple close-up of rain falling upon water whilst the following episode’s climactic violent encounter emphasises a dead tree after the pair have eventually agreed to sign the divorce papers. Again both shots are static and reflect the lack of emotional progress apparent when the two people are in each other’s company.
The final episode shows the ironic pairing of the two characters well after they have both remarried. In “In The Middle of the Night in a Dark House Somewhere in the World“, they decide to spend the night together for their 20th anniversary and end up at a friend’s lodge. Marianne has a nightmare and wakes up, with Johan comforting her that it was only a nightmare. In some ways, it almost seems that the last five episodes could have been playing over in the character’s dreams. The landscape in the final episode shows an ambiguous time-frame (it could be dawn or dusk) and in this sense, it reflects the ambiguity of their relationship.
Bergman gives the viewer one more shot of contextualisation, showing two separate houses reflected in the water with the sun between the two. There seems to be a huge lake, creating an almost indivisible sense of landscape. The sun could be rising or it could be falling but, either way, the characters are left within the landscape; strong in its indifference but emotionally reflective in its terrain.