Where Mao II presents us with a vision of a place and time where the act of self-discovery and confession are literally blocked by images of others, The Passion of Anna finds its impossibility of disclosure in the limits of the human mind to fully know and give itself away.
Mao II and The Passion of Anna each delve beneath the surface of consciousness to explore desires and drive best described as Jungian.
In this film, as in many of his films, Ingmar Bergman looks to express and even exercise a stick of torment that has long been stuck in his craw. His characters are presented loosely, ad libbing over dinner, given elucidation by the actors who play them, yet despite this fluidity of presentation each character is captured in the past – as in a photo – with a historic, static image of themselves standing perfectly still in their mind, and providing them with definition.
Anna cannot overcome her dead love affair and the loss of her child and husband. She lives in memory. For her, it is almost as if the world that continues to live, with her in it, is less real than the old agony of the final image of her life with her husband, a time years removed from the story of the film.
Anna and the lover she takes on, played by Max von Sydow, both hold fixations like this which ruin them. They choke and spew on the past because they cannot swallow it and cannot break it down. The historic image of themselves is indissoluble.
This point is at the heart of Mao II as well. The image is indissoluble. Not only will it remain fixed, it can be reproduced. It will give comfort because it will remain familiar and can be seen on every street corner.
Only the dark forces, terrorism in this novel, only the dark forces are frightening because we cannot capture them on film. They drive us, against our wills, like subconscious urges. We take pills because a voice tells us to take pills. We leave our friends and wives and children because the voice from the darkness tells us to leave.
It says, “nothing lasts.”
Terrorism takes the place of the Id in the modern psyche of Mao II, with the superego dominated by repetition and replication of images as in the central image of the text: Andy Warhol’s Chairman Mao series of silkscreen pieces.
This art exhibit is referred to throughout the novel and stands as the most lasting representation of the notion of the loss of authenticity in the modern world. Mao’s face is everywhere present, with a meaning gathered like grain from a field, useless if not repeated nearly to infinity.
Where Mao II presents us with a vision of a place and time where the act of self-discovery and confession are literally blocked by images of others, The Passion of Anna finds its impossibility of disclosure in the limits of the human mind to fully know itself and to give itself away.
A final anxiety keeps Anna from admitting that she was the murderer of her son and husband. This anxiety is deeply rooted in her mind, a wall which she cannot break through.
The writer in Mao II, runs and runs and runs from people so that he might run around a wall of images that is far less deeply seated in his mind. His effort is to find the source again, to “write his way back” to pure imagination. His faculty in this regard is retarded by the chain of brand names and images that beset him and which terrorize him.
For the writer, this is a fascination for which he is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.
The Passion of Anna is a film of false profession, false confession. The characters tell one another their deepest secrets. And those secrets are lies.
Toward the middle of the movie, the two male characters have a brief discussion on the revelatory nature of photography, suggesting that the photo is limited to a single moment. Indeed, it can reveal the psychological material of the moment depicted in the picture, the moment being a split-second confluence of circumstances. These circumstances are both interior to the person in the photo and exterior.
The photo then, in the context of the discussion, is defined as almost a novel privy to complete exploration of a single moment of a man or woman’s consciousness.
According to this conversation in ThePassion of Anna, the power of the photograph is only limited then in its narrative scope, but not in its truthfulness.
Mao II is a rather un-novelistic novel that explores ideas of the photo in various pop contexts, pursuing various lines of thought in depth in the form of inter-character discussion. Don Delillo’s book and Bergman’s film end up having quite a large number of shared traits and interests.
Formally speaking, each of these narratives sets aside time to interview each character. This was a bold move on Bergman’s part – to insert interviews with the actors as they actively and extemporaneously on the nature of the part they are playing in the film. As a viewer this is rather jarring, and compelling. Additionally, each character is given scenes within the narrative of the film where the character speaks from the heart, as it were, and divulges her or his deepest truths, anxieties, and dreams.
In a subtle contradiction to the photography discussion, The Passion of Anna goes on to treat conversations as photographs that demonstrate two things. First: the things people say about themselves which supposedly refer to deep truth, are often more revealing in what they conceal than they are in what they convey. Two: fixations on painful relationships are crippling to the principles of honesty and compassion.
The film presents us with two female characters. One is a widow who mourns at a pitch near insanity even years after the death of her husband and son. She often confesses to have had a great and abiding love in her relationship with her husband. However, this idea is belied by a letter discovered by her new lover; a letter from the dead husband stating his intention to leave her because if they were to stay together terrible things would happen: “physical and psychological violence”.
This statement of impending violence becomes a refrain in the film with a special resonance at the films conclusion.
What is hidden at first – the woman’s violent relationship with her former husband – comes to light on several levels. The facts, the truth, of the dead relationship are revealed in waves, the last arriving in a fit of mutual physical and psychological violence.
Mao II sets its characters in positions where there once may have been passion, but where their world now will not allow it. Two men and two women very dryly and thoughtfully exist, variously overcoming and succumbing to tensions, fixations, and subconscious desires. These people live in the age of the medicinal pill, in the age of terror, under the thumb of rampant entertainment.
Set during the 1980’s when Beirut was a warzone this novel follows four characters in their movements from the Eastern seaboard of the United States into Europe and the Middle East, with a special focus on New York city. However, this is not a novel of place – it is a novel of era, of time, and of culture.
A reclusive writer invites a photographer (who exclusively takes pictures of writers) to his home, where she is taken in secret. He poses for pictures that will mark his first public appearance in decades. The photographer, a woman of indiscriminate age, engages in conversation with the novelist, his male assistant and almost with his female assistant. (She is a Caucasian refugee from a Maoist spiritual cult and has trouble conversing normally.)
The photographer’s presence in the house, sets the writer into motion and he departs, in clandestine fashion, into the wide world without telling his assistants what he is up to. He becomes vaguely enmeshed in a terrorist hostage situation and more-or-less passively seeks out his more-or-less probable mortal end by pursuing the terrorism thread to its end. The other characters are left behind to talk.
Image is the central theme in this novel. Discussions abound relating to the still image, the idea of product names becoming detached from the products they describe, and also, especially, the pop art images of Andy Warhol.
Quite a bit of thought is put into the power behind the image of Mao Tze Tung. A set of Andy Warhol images depicting Chairman Mao is discussed as well as notions of the potency of the still image of this man as it was used in the Chinese Communist Revolution.
The Passion of Anna