«Then we say to him, “Friend Homer, if you are only in the second remove from truth in what you say of virtue, and not in the third – not an image maker or imitator – and if you are able to discern what pursuits make men better or worse in private or public life, tell us which State was ever better governed by your help? […] but who says that you have been a good legislator to them and have done them any good? Italy and Sicily boast of Charondas, and there is Solon who is renowned among us; but what city has anything to say about you?” Is there any city which he might name?»
(Plato, The Republic, 380 BC ca.)
There are six centuries between Homer and Plato when the last one speaks to the epic poet to define the reason why art is harmful because it exists in the representation, because it’s based on perceptions, it’s subjective and so it originates unstable, changeable opinions, far away from the true being (the what it is of reality). So Plato talks to his brother Glaucon to point out the supposed uselessness of poetry and also of the other imitative arts which, reproducing the image of a reality that is just a copy of the idea subtended to real, throw the individual out of the absolute, away from the being as being knowledge.
In Plato’s theory, senses and perceptions deviate from the intelligible, from the ideas that are the reality’s being; the allegory of the cave (The Republic, Book VII) is based on this conception. Plato images the existence of a dark underground cave where a group of chained men is forced to look at the deep back wall, without the chance of turning the head around, neither to look at their back nor to talk to each other. In this reclusion condition, the group constantly watches the transit of silhouettes projected on the cave’s wall. Outside the cave, the artifice: the shadows, considered reality by the prisoners, come from a fire put on a small wall, in front of which several persons come holding in hands various objects reproducing elements of reality. So, the projected silhouettes are reproductions of reproductions. Plato also supposes that one of the prisoners can get free out of the cave. He’s the philosopher the only one who can detach himself from the group to start a research about the absolute (epistéme). Once outside, the projective mechanism is revealed. When the philosopher goes back to the cavern to tell about the external world to his former fellows, he his derided by them because the sun light damaged his eyes and now he cannot discern anything in the reclusive darkness .
What Plato doesn’t say is what the philosopher tells about the cave to whom lives in the city, to whom doesn’t know what the projection is and perceives reality in its mere factive and chronological carrying out, with no clue about the world of ideas.
Going back and forth from the cave and the outside world, dividing the universe of things in three parts (ideas, simulacral reality and the representation of reality – to which Plato refers as imitation of a copy), the wise, the philosopher, the artist (as a researcher) is a median figure between who can’t understand reality because can’t get its text and doesn’t know how to speculate on it, and who is lost in front of representation because can’t see its reality referent.
Searching the universal (the unity) in the multiplicity, Plato divides everything by two: the things of the intellect and the things of the perception, the things of the body and the things of the soul; and he also divides the things of the world by three, as previously said: ideas, reality, representation. Searching for the one, he crumbles everything, showing the impossibility of a complete knowledge approach to the existence. An ontological contradiction occurs in his separations: Plato defines the what it is of reality including it in the intelligibility dimension, but it calls it idea or eidos, words properly referred to the aspect, the form, the image of a thing. It’s actually impossible to indicate the matter of thought outside the sensory; the metaphor of viewing is used to speak about the conceptual knowledge: the cognizable being is given as a form.
Unlike platonic theory, art proceeds searching for the multiplicity in the unity.
Cinema captures reality as reflected light, it dematerializes reality in the light of projection, transforming it in the medium itself, keeping a strong connection between representation and referent; cinema, arts’ Armageddon, includes on the same surface the word, the writing, the image, the sound, the performance. It’s a cave based on a system inversion: the light reaches the screen in the darkness and brings a speculation and a revealing moment on the essence of reality.
Twenty centuries later, I want to imagine Ingmar Bergman as a critical interlocutor of Plato’s dialogues, with the director being more than an expedient to present a dissertation in the way Glaucon figure acts in The Republic.
Plato identifies in the contemplative soul the medium to reach the knowledge of being «with a consequent removal of the body as expression of the particular and the unstable on which is impossible to base something universal and immutable». Bergman’s conception is diametrically opposed: he leads the soul back to the corporal dimension, describing it as a light blue dragon with a red internal body, an image coming from his childhood.
Red are also all the room walls in Cries and Whispers (1972): Karin and Maria, two sisters, come back to their parental home where the other sister Agnes lives. She’s affected by a degenerative illness that is consuming her, among clarity of thought and torment.
The illness condition stucks Agnes and it’s the symbol of the distance from the things of the world that is necessary to understand the things of the world, as if it could not be possible to live and understand life at the same time. At the edge of life, with a body painful and sore, Agnes observes her sisters and reconstructs a family identity and the memory of a shared life through the writing. Karin and Maria, forced to meet again in the dramatic event, face each other and define themselves in their relationship. Jealousy, envy, frustration, offense swallowed in the past, as well as the affectivity, emerge in the inability to listen to each other and to listen to themselves, to talk to each other and to have a self-talk.
In a photography alternatively bright and clear or crepuscular and boxed, the terribly lack in communications and comprehension blows up in the angry face-off between the two women, hunted and cut by the uterine and organic red that overfloods the home walls.
Among meaningful close-ups, objects fill up the scene, fall down, are picked up, get broken, become symbols of identity; life happens on Karin and Maria, they both undergo life itself, till it inescapable occurs with Agnes’ illness getting worse. The woman’s suffering screams and cries began the only noise that can be heard in the huge rooms of the high-bourgeoisie house, rooms hyperbolized and compressed going along with the obsessive states of mind in which the sisters and the governess slowly drift.
Sarcastically, if the first cause of death is life, Agnes is so deeply inside the pain of living that she can take herself out of it through the intimate literary practice of writing a diary. In her diary, life get fragmented in words and then is re-structured in sentences, searching for an epiphanic and earthly significance, with no contradiction, a total, synthetic and resolved existence meaning. She interprets and comprehends life writing the story of it, converting it in representation. Agnes is the philosopher that goes back and forth from the cave, in her coming and going from the bedroom to the writing lines. She’s the third level which solves the reality and the idea.
In a Western culture where the masculine is the symbol of the generic and the general, even in the linguistic level, Bergman defines the woman figure as the symbol of the particular that gives access to the universal.
The scenography is full of several details, postures and gestures are exactly directed, the mis-en-scene and the direction embrace domestic and private dynamics; representation unwraps reality like a package and satisfies the achievement of an absolute significance.
Bergman finds the whole range of the human matter in the woman’s figure: the feeling/perceiving, the acting, the thinking. Bergman’s point of view is not a gender concept, it’s an ontological choice: the prismatic aspect of the artistic, hermeneutical gaze, subjective and representative, finds its correspondence in the prismatic shape of affectivity, in the little things of everyday life, where the body is a relational interface. Bergman doesn’t search for the unique and the general, indistinct and not discernible, he chases the multiplicity and the individual, cognizable because the measure and the identification can only be found in the difference.
There is where the existence owns its meaning and, next to it, it’s possible to reach the absolute, the universal, that is nothing else than the sum of particular.
“[…] filming for me is an illusion planned in detail, the reflection of a reality which the longer I live seems to me more and more illusory.”
(Ingmar Bergman, The Magic Lantern, 1988)
I. Bergman, Immagini, Garzanti Libri, Milano 200
I. Bergman, La Lanterna magica, Garzanti Libri, Milano, 200
U. Galimberti, Psiche e Techne, L’uomo dell’età nella tecnica, Feltrinelli editore, Milano 2011
J. Lacan, Scritti, Einaudi editore, Torino 2002
J. Lacan, Altri scritti, Einaudi editore, Torino 2013
Platone, La Repubblica, Editori Laterza, Roma-Bari, 2011
E. Severino, La Filosofia dai Greci al nostro tempo – La filosofia antica e medievale, RCS Libri, Milano 2004
E. Wind, Arte e Anarchia, Adelphi, Milano 1997
 «Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes», Plato, The Republic, 360 B.C. ca., Book VII, transalted by Benjamin Jowett, free online source: www.classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.8.vii.html
 U. Galimberti, Psiche e Techne, L’uomo dell’età nella tecnica, Feltrinelli editore, Milano 2011, p 125, tr. a.
 I. Bergman, Images, My life in film, Arcade Publishing, NY, USA, 2011.
 Cries and Whispers director of photography is Sven Nykvist