Feature Film, 1958

The Magician

An itinerant magician is confronted by a sceptical audience in this drama about the privations of being an artist.

'In every way the film became a little crueller, a little blacker, a little more brutal that I'd meant it to be.'
Ingmar Bergman

About the film

The shooting, which took place exclusively in Filmstaden's studios, began on June 30 and terminated on August 27, 1958. The film was awarded the jury's special prize at Venice Film Festival in 1959.

Contemporary critics interpreted the film in different ways, ranging from one extreme: that it was faithfully based on a pre-Christian legend, to another: that it was scurrilous yet accurate portrayal of the setup at the Malmö City Theatre during Bergman's time there. Others noted that the film was remarkably similar to G K Chesterton's play Magic, which Bergman had staged at the Gothenburg City Theatre in 1947.

In Bergman on Bergman: 

'I tried to sell the idea to Carl-Anders Dymling, but he was extreamly dubious. So I said: 'You understand, this is an erotic play, the whole thing's one big erotic game. When the entertainers arrive at the country house everyone becomes confused and sensually excited and crazy, and the result is a wild erotic explosion.' That wasn't just a pack of lies of course, it ws also a bit like what I'd imagined. But then during the filming I suppose I must have gone rancid.'

Sources of inspiration 

Bergman in Images: My Life in Film:

I directed stage plays at Malmö City Theater from 1952 to the beginning of 1959. Consequently, The Magician, born during the summer of 1958, mirrors the experiences from that period [...]. In comparison, we had remarkably pale relation with the city's inhabitants and very little contact with outsiders. When I was managing director for the theater in Helsingborg, things were completely different. The people in Helsingborg thought it was great fun to have actors in town [...]. We were invited to castles and mansions if we in turn would sing, read, or act. We felt enmeshed and fully involved in the life of the city. The hospitality and ambiance were great. Malmö, however, was a different kind of city [...], and people displayed a friendly interest in what we were doing, but we kept mostly to ourselves.

The audience to whom we played but with whom we spent mo time is represented in The Magician by the consul Egerman's family. The consul is an amiable, dogged enthusiast who wants to keep his distance and formulate rules, and who, for understandable reasons, panics when he discovers that his wife has become involved with the rabble. In the theater profession we often suffer from the delusion that we are attractive as long as we are masked. The public belives that it loves us when it sees us in light of our work and our public persona. But if we are seen without masks, we are instantly transformed into less than nothing. [...] As I remember it, the police chief in The Magician is a consciously calculated target. He represent my critics. I was a rather good-natured jest with everyone who wanted to keep me in line and master me. [...]

The health official [...] was born out of an irresistable desire to take a small revenge on Harry Schein. Schein was the movie critic at Bonniers litterära magasin, which at the time was a heavyweight cultural organ. Schein is intelligent and arrogant, and what he wrote was echoed in the inner circles. I felt that he treated me in an exceedingly humilating manner, which he later insisted that he did not do.

But the actual focal point of the story is, of course, the androgynous Aman/Manda. It is around her and her enigmatic personality that everything rotates. Manda represent the belief in the holiness of human beings. Vogler, on the other hand, has given up. He is involved in the cheapest kind of theater, and she knows it [...]. If Vogler is a magician, who, even thought he is tired to death, keeps repeating his by now meaningless hocus-pocus, Tubal is the exploiter, the salesman of art. Tubal is Bergman, the director, trying to convince Dymling, the head of the studio, of the usefulness and quality of his latest film [...].


  • The Ingmar Bergman Archives.
  • Ingmar Bergman, Images: My Life in Film.
  • Stig Björkman, Torsten Manns and Jonas Sima, Bergman on Berg­man, (New York: Da Capo P., 1993).