In this scene from Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light, the pastor Tomas (Gunnar Björnstrand) is speaking to Jonas (Max von Sydow), who came to see the pastor because he was having suicidal thoughts.
“In reality, hope is the worst of all evils, because it prolongs the torments of man.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All-too-Human
The novel Sátántangó by László Krasznahorkai shares many of the same themes as Eugene O’Neill’s play The Iceman Cometh. Hope and deception are central to both stories. The film versions of each reinforce their similarities. Neither clearly resolves the issue of deception in the end. Instead, they both offer the question, “Is false hope better than no hope at all?”
John Frankenheimer’s 1973 production of The Iceman Cometh for the American Film Theater is a near word-for-word adaptation of the play, while Bela Tarr’s 1994 adaptation of the novel Sátántangó is an extended yet faithful meditation on the work, carried out in collaboration with the novelist. The remainder of this essay will refer only to these film adaptations of the source material, unless otherwise noted.
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“Over the past few decades, endless rounds of privatization and austerity, not to mention widespread environmental degradation, have already deprived us of a future. The world of our hopes and dreams has in fact already ended: our day-to-day existence just needs to catch up with this fact. And so our only chance for release from the continuing soft disaster of our lives is for this disaster to become truly universal. If the world ends, then at least we will be freed from the rapacity of financial institutions, and from our ever-increasing burdens of debt. The cinematic spectacle of disaster is in itself intensely gratifying, as well: we see destroyed, before our very eyes, that “immense collection of commodities” after which we have always striven, upon which we have focused all our desires, and which has always ended up disappointing us.” (Steven Shaviro)
“The quest for meaning on earth is futile. Man is unable to feel that he belongs on this planet, which is his home. And yet the mind continues to thirst after God as the symbol of ultimate meaning, regardless of the fact that objectively no hint of purpose could be discerned. Man seeks to control his fate but his unconscious pulls him in different directions and frustrates his effort to impose order upon the chaotic flux of experience. There, in the unconscious, slumber the archetypal images of the gods, the gods who foil all attempts at the conscious governance of human destiny.” (Charles Glicksberg, The Tragic Vision in Twentieth Century Literature, SIU Press, 1963, p. 93)