Max von Sydow And What He And Ingmar Bergman Mean To Me

One is a young actor who got his big break making penis jokes.

The other became an internationally renowned star by way of Ingmar Bergman masterpieces.

Now they’re both nominated for the same award.

Yes, the (I don’t know how to describe him) Jonah Hill and the illustrious and often classical Max von Sydow are two of the five nominees for this year’s best supporting actor category at the Academy Awards.

Hill tweeted his reaction:

Von Sydow hand wrote his:

Now I haven’t actually seen either performance these two were nominated for (Hill’s Moneyball and von Sydow’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) so I won’t at all comment on the merit of this recognition. I will just talk about how strange it is to see and likely turn this into yet another Michael Walsh-led Bergman/Von Sydow love fest and less of a reaction to the rest of the Academy Award nominations (Which, to be honest, are underwhelming this year. Where’s Drive? Melanchoilia anyone? Same old). Join me for a moment as I explain.

No film has shaped my feelings on cinema, life, love, religion and death more than Bergman’s The Seventh Seal has. It’s become the most important film to me ever since I first saw it sometime around the start of my college career (I think?). I’ve written a number of papers on Bergman and his films (all of which impact me in one way or another) but none have left a stronger imprint on my life than The Seventh Seal.

Von Sydow plays the film’s main character with a bizarre concoction of eloquence and terror. While Bergman’s ideas, writing and filmmaking is really the heart and soul of all his films, he also paired himself with a number of amazing actors to bolster those ideas with stunning and powerful performances. Von Sydow is just one of many who Bergman called on again and again and as you can tell, my favorite. In The Seventh Seal, von Sydow is the face and image associated with Bergman’s story about god’s existence, god’s silence, the fear of death and more. He plays Antonius Block, a knight returning home for the first time after fighting in the Crusades for years. During his journey through the Black Plague-ridden countryside villages that make up Bergman’s mostly gloom-and-doom film, a sense of fear and terror about god, death and his life invade as he’s met with images of Death himself – a fully engaging and personified Death who challenges him to a game of chess for his life and deep conversations about everything substantial. Every shot Bergman makes matters and every moment von Sydow acts matters.

Von Sydow is the representative function of all that is magical and mysterious about some of Bergman’s greatest films. Through a Glass Darkly, Hour of the Wolf, The Virgin Spring, The Magician, The Passion of Anna and Winter Light are some of his greatest career moments, all under the direction of one brilliant auteur. While he wasn’t the lead in all of those films – in some cases he had a minor role reserved for spare moments of the film – he is still one icon of Bergman’s screen fame.

But von Sydow’s career spanned past what Bergman gave him. He became an international star using his learned knowledge of the English language to his advantage, making it all the more funny that this nomination, his second for an Oscar, was apparently for a non-speaking role.

Von Sydow is possibly best known in mainstream Hollywood circles for his performance as Father Merrin from The Exorcist and more lately for his roles in Shutter Island and Robin Hood. But he’s also remembered for his role in cult films like Intacto and Flash Gordon, his role as Jesus in The Greatest Story Ever Told and his almost strange appearances in Dreamscape and Conan the Barbarian.

At age 82, this Swedish cinema staple could finally win his first Oscar he’s deserved since The Seventh Seal. But whether he takes home a shiny award that night or not, he’s already acted his way into the hearts and minds of many, an unseeable accomplishment that should be proudly displayed on a mantle somewhere, somehow. Congrats Max.

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3 thoughts on “Max von Sydow And What He And Ingmar Bergman Mean To Me

  1. Love Max and Bergman but find the Seventh Seal to be one of the most over-rated films. I thought it was great in college but Bergman has made at least half a dozen superior films. Wild Strawberries is far, far better. Persona, Cries and Whispers, Fanny and Alexander, The Silence, Through a Glass Darkly. The 7th Seal is like Dali’s The Persistence of Memory, its the one piece of art people are familiar with. I hope Max gets the Oscar.

    • I hear you there. The Seventh Seal just happens to mean a lot more to me than the rest. Not even sure what I would say his “best” film is. Cries and Whispers is probably my second favorite though. Thanks for the comment!

  2. Nice writeup! If you’re the type that places a lot of importance on awards shows (and there’s nothing right or wrong about that), doesn’t it seem like a pity that he’d be nominated for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close? I’m not as familiar with his filmography as you are, so maybe he’s okay with taking on roles in films that might not be of the same caliber as the Bergman films that we all know and love, but man, I just don’t know about EL&IC. Admittedly, I still have not seen it, but I have read the book.

    Also, I think right now he is considered the major spoiler for Christopher Plummer who is probably the most overwhelming favorite for any category, outside of The Artist for best picture.

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