8 May 2012

Egerman, Vogler & Co.

Many Bergman characters have the same name. Why? Well, who knows. But here's at least the full list!

”In Bergman, character names fulfil the same role as the images in Fellini or the place names in Proust.”
Jacques Aumont

Egerman, Vogler & Co.

In Ingmar Bergman's cinematic universe there are a number of first and family names that constantly recur. In fact, this repetition has been so consistent that many interpreters have attempted to investigate and decode these names. Some of them have been seen as allegorical, biblical names such as Isak and Tomas, for example. Others have been interpreted from their etymological origins: Alma, the Latin for "soul", for example. This has prompted many to regard Nurse Alma in Persona as a symbol for the psyche or inner human condition.

Annandreas

Manuscript to The Lie (1968), first called 'Annandreas' which is a word based on the protagonists' names: Anna and Andreas. Furthermore, 'annan' means 'someone else'. 'Annandreas' thus suggests that the two characters are in fact they same, but also, perhaps, someone else.

© Stiftelsen Ingmar Bergman

The name Vogler, which is unusual but not exactly rare in Germanic language-based communities (statistics revealed that in 2004 there were 34 Voglers in Sweden), derives from the German word for Bird (Vogel, Swedish: fågel), and since Bergman by his own admission has a fear of birds, his Vogler characters have often been regarded as implicitly threatening. Others in the extensive corpus of Bergman scholars have tried to find keys to the names in Bergman's own life. In his later works, particularly of the literary variety, much of his subject matter has been unashamedly autobiographical, and the names have either been lightly disguised or completely authentic. In The Best Intentions, for example, the main characters are Henrik Bergman and Anna Åkerblom, whereas their true forerunners (i.e. Bergman's parents) were called Erik Bergman and Karin Åkerblom. In Sunday's Children on the other hand, the characters have their "correct" names. These stylistic devices of authenticity have added to the notion that names in Bergman's earlier works can also be interpreted in biographical terms.

But the use of names in Bergman is a complex area. Henrik and Anna are common names in Bergman's earlier fictitious films. So should they be actually interpreted as portraits of his parents? Take Henrik Egerman in Smiles of a Summer Night, for example, a young man preparing to enter the clergy. Is he an early version of Bergman's father, who was also a clergyman? Or the motherly Anna in Cries and Whispers: is she actually Karin? Why then in that film is there another character whose name is Karin? Reference to Bergman's autobiography The Magic Lantern does not exactly clarify the issue. There, for example, we find an Andrea Vogler (said to be the piano teacher of his former wife Käbi Laretei). This is not actually true, but this fact is not immediately obvious. Following the same line of thought, there must surely have been a highly unpleasant Mr Vergérus somewhere in Bergman's past – a despised teacher, perhaps?

Alexander's stepfather, Bishop Edward Vergérus, disciplines the eponmymous hero of Fanny and Alexander (1982).

Alexander's stepfather, Bishop Edward Vergérus, disciplines the eponmymous hero of Fanny and Alexander (1982).

Photo: Arne Carlsson. © AB Svensk Filmindustri.

Even though there may be something in these more or less erudite interpretations, they may not be more than coincidences in some cases. Taking as an example Bergman's first workbook notes for Cries and Whispers: "Anna. That's a good name. Admittedly I've used it many times before, but it's so good." There is reason to be sceptical of the notion that the recurring names all have a symbolic value. On the other hand, they do serve a purpose: they set out the territory for the viewer, rather like the familiar faces of the actors Bergman used time and time again. Jacques Aumont has claimed that the character names in Bergman fulfil the same role as the images in Fellini or the place names in Proust: a dogged determination to repeat something that appears to be irrelevant yet which strengthens the power of the narrative.

Henrik Vogler and Anna Egerman in After the Rehearsal (1984).

Henrik Vogler and Anna Egerman in After the Rehearsal (1984).

Photo: Arne Carlsson. © AB Svensk Filmindustri.

In Bergman scholarship the interpretation of names is almost an industry in its own right. Another popular form of investigation concerns the types of characters who bear the same name. Voglers are often artists of some kind (a travelling performer in The Magician, an actress in Persona). The Vergérus characters are often authoritarian, sometimes scientifically minded (the health official in The Magician, the stern bishop in Fanny and Alexander). The subject is a fruitful one, but for our own part we would urge anyone interested in Bergman simply to compare the characters who share the same names in the various films. Relate them to the actors playing the parts and compare their appearances, gestures, etc. It may be wisest to draw one's own conclusions as to the names' significance. To help your analysis a short guide is provided below.

 

Sources

  • The Ingmar Bergman Archives
  • Jacques Aumont, Ingmar Bergman: "Mes films sont l’explication de mes images" (Paris: Cahiers du cinema, 2003).
  • Frank Gado, The Passion of Ingmar Bergman (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1986).