Room 23

A gathering place for those who love the ABC TV show Lost. This blog was started by a group of Fans who kept the Season 3 finale talkback at Ain't It going all the way until the première of the 4th season as a way to share images, news, spoilers, artwork, fan fiction and much more. Please come back often and become part of our community.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Third of Michael Emerson's Five Creepiest Characters of All Time: Johan Borg in Hour of the Wolf

Written by Cindy Collins Smith
Published July 21, 2008

Another great one is, if you watch Ingmar Bergman movies... Max von Sydow did a movie for Bergman called The Hour of the Wolf, where he plays a sort of standard tortured Swedish artist who just can't stop killing young people. It's kind of awful. Most people don't go looking to Ingmar Bergman for their "creepy fix." But obviously they should — and Michael Emerson (almost apologetically) does. It would be hard to come up with a better pick. Hour of the Wolf, Bergman's lone "horror" movie, practically defines "creepy."

The film shows the disintegration of an artist's mind as strange phenomena occur on the remote and isolated island he inhabits with his wife. We never know quite whether the phenomena are objective supernatural disturbances or subjective mental ones. (sound familiar?) But demonic figures (alternately referred to as "cannibals" and "ghosts") do interact with the couple either objectively or subjectively, and seek to "claim" the man as their own — driving him toward murder and madness, and most likely to his own death.

Stephen King, obviously, ran with this concept in The Shining. But Stanley Kubrick's film version of that novel relies on a visual style nearly opposite Bergman's. Kubrick's Overlook Hotel is full of light and color, a stunning contrast to the dark drama surrounding Jack Torrence. Hour of the Wolf (shot by legendary cinematographer Sven Nykvist in black and white) uses chiaroscuro techniques to bring the faces of the characters out of the surrounding darkness (and to darken their faces when surrounded by light).

Not to belabor the point (such lighting has become so commonplace), but compare the shadows on Von Sydow's face with the shadows often used to frame Emerson's character, Ben Linus (see below).

It's easy, of course, to make superficial comparisons with Lost. After all, Bergman's film is set on a remote island where we don't always know what's real and what's not, while Von Sydow's artist, Johan Borg, is almost always shot in partial shadow. But Hour of the Wolf is really more like what would happen if the unutterable humiliations found in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf were visited upon an insomniac already on the verge of a mental breakdown... and visited upon him by supernatural monsters. All I can say is that, psychologically, Bergman must have been having a pretty bad year.

As a filmmaker, Ingmar Bergman dealt with his personal anxieties and demons by turning them into movies. So Hour of the Wolf is not merely a brooding meditation on the theme of madness. It is actually a very personal film. Von Sydow is largely standing in for Bergman, who had himself suffered (and been hospitalized for) a significant mental breakdown only couple of years earlier. While Bergman grappled with the darkness, Von Sydow (a frequent Bergman actor) had been playing Jesus in The Greatest Story Ever Told, one of the last all-star biblical epics.
Okay, so now I'll 'fess up before I bore you with an endless stream of Bergman and Von Sydow trivia. I "found" Bergman during the requisite "post mortem" viewing of what I assumed would be a medicinal dose of just one or two of the director's films. I'd been avoiding his work my entire adult life because of the whole "tortured Swedish artist" thing that Emerson mentions. But with his death, I decided it was time to see at least one Bergman film.

And so I saw The Seventh Seal. And then I watched Virgin Spring. And then I watched Wild Strawberries... and Persona... and Through a Glass Darkly... and Winter Light... and The Silence... and Shame... and Hour of the Wolf. I just couldn't get enough. Bergman was nothing like what I expected. Yes, he was full-on art house and full-on tortured, but man was he compelling!
For me, finding Bergman was actually refreshing. Here was somebody making well-crafted movies that asked the big questions, and asked them honestly — not as a chance to pontificate but as an opportunity to explore. It was exciting to see films this courageous and probing—a cinema of ideas. And oddly, Bergman's exploration of the darkness was not nihilistic, but often strangely hopeful.

But there's not much hopefulness in Hour of the Wolf. The darkness of the title (the hour between night and dawn) permeates the fabric of the film. Von Sydow delivers a magnificently tormented performance as the doomed artist, and Liv Ullmann is spectacular in her part of the grief-stricken wife. You could say that this is a "creepy" favorite of mine. And I'm delighted to find that it's also a favorite of Michael Emerson's.

Oh, and congratulations, Mr. Emerson, on your well-deserved Emmy nomination!

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