Archive for June, 2009


Ingrid the Outsider

ingrid-bergman-stromboliStromboli (1950), the film during which Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini initiated an extramarital affair that led to her pregnancy, finds Bergman’s status as Hollywood outsider, as well as her character Karin’s place as cultural outsider, as its most profound. Karin, a Lithuanian woman displaced by World War II and interned in an Italian refugee camp, marries an Italian villager she hardly knows in order to leave the camp. However, she soon finds herself in a new kind of prison, that of the island of Stromboli. Although the barbed wires are gone, other barriers to Karin’s ability to connect with her husband and others are apparent, such as language (the film doesn’t use subtitles), differing cultural standards, and rigid gender roles. The island’s surrounding sea and open land might seem to denote freedom, but they serve more as symbols of Karin’s isolation and a contrast to her inner feelings of claustrophobia. The rocky terrain, especially the volcano, mirrors her husband’s emotional volatility as well as her own inner turmoil. In one aerial shot, Karin wanders the streets like a rat in a maze as a baby cries offscreen.

The villagers’ (mis)perceptions of Karin’s immodesty and adultery lead to her becoming a pariah, a fallen woman, just like Bergman herself and some of her other roles. In Casablanca (1942), Bergman’s Ilsa is surrounded by foreigners, refugees, criminals, and moral outcasts, all wishing to leave, in one cramped space. Notorious (1946) finds her a fallen woman, marrying a Nazi in order to spy on him for the U.S. government. In both these Hollywood instances, as well as in Stomboli, Bergman’s characters eventually do find redemption (but at what expense?): Ilsa by chosing Laszlo, Alicia by sacrificing her own pleasure for a greater cause, Karin by imploring God’s help as she and her unborn child escape Stromboli, and Bergman herself by facing moral exile and persecution.