A master of dialogue
Scenes now stands as one of Bergman’s most affecting works, revealing that he was as much a master of dialogue and direction as he was staging and visuals. With Scenes, Bergman deliberately inverted the ‘show, don’t tell’ adage taught in English classes. What it lacks in singular iconic images, it more than makes up for in poignant dialogue, as we witness the disintegration of Johan and Marianne’s marriage represented through a decade of conversations.
“It took two and a half months to write these scenes. It took a whole life as an adult to experience them”, Bergman says of his script. There’s an authenticity to Scenes, as Bergman strips away all the vanities of film — secondary characters, complicated sets, fancy camerawork — instead focusing entirely on his protagonists, perched on couches or lying on beds, trying to understand each other or themselves.
Bergman has a unique way with words. His dialogue in the series, particularly Marianne’s, is poetic yet somehow also naturalistic and funny: “We had sex a few times, but it was no good…so we devote ourselves to my soul”, she says of her therapist. Johan, by comparison, is blunt and manipulative. While Roger Ebert once called Scenes “one of the truest, most luminous love stories ever made”, it feels today like more of a tragedy, or at least an indictment of the psychological entrapment of heterosexual marriage. Johan uses his words as weapons; he presumes to know his wife’s every thought, and dismisses emotion when he confesses his adultery: “Facts are facts, nothing can be done”.