Friday, January 21, 2011

Hour of the Wolf and "The Magic Flute"

            In Hour of the Wolf, director Ingmar Bergman often alludes to Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute.” Having recently watched a friend perform as the title role of Pamina in the opera, I took notice and sought after a reasonable explanation of its relationship to Wolf. If you remember, Johan describes to Alma the demons he is seeing and says that the scariest one reminds him of Papageno, not knowing whether or not he was wearing a mask or if he really had a beak. Also, when Johan and Alma are at the castle the puppet show that is performed is of “The Magic Flute.”
            Basically, “The Magic Flute” is about a young man named Tamino who is trying to rescue his love, Pamina, with the help of a bird-like character named Papageno. Typically, Papageno is one of the most-loved characters in the opera; he serves as a slight comic-relief from an otherwise fairly hefty plot. His whimsy and brightly colored-costumes catch attention, and his arias (…songs in opera speak) are pretty brilliant, but he can be pretty foolish as well. All of this being the case, I struggled and am still struggling with why Bergman would have Johan describe his scariest haunter as Papageno. Perhaps Bergman is trying to show the viewer the unsettling nature of Johan’s mental decline. It is obvious that Johan has completely lost touch with normalcy; his fear of the Papageno-like person may show his irrational mindset. It is also possible that Bergman uses “The Magic Flute” to show how strong Alma’s love for Johan is. She asks that if two people love each other enough, do they eventually become one in the same? “The Magic Flute” is all about sacrifice and the extreme things a person will do for love. Maybe Bergman is showing how Alma’s love for her husband is similar to Tamino’s love for Pamina because she is willing to do anything—even stretch the boundaries of her mind—to believe in what he is (or believes he is) witnessing. I think there are a lot of possible reasons for Bergman's inclusion of "The Magic Flute" in Hour of the Wolf, but I suppose we can't know for sure. I would be interested to see Bergman's Trollflöjten which is his film version of the opera.


  1. I had heard of the “Magic Flute” before but never really knew what it was about. I agree with Margaret that if Bergman used this reference multiple times throughout the “Hour of the Wolf” he definitely intended it to have a deeper meaning in his story of Johan’s lunacy. It also strikes me as odd that he used a character like Papageno that was traditionally light-hearted as a symbol of ultimate terror for Johan. I believe that all of the island’s inhabitants, except for Alma, exist only in Johan’s mind and represent layers of guilt he feels for his extended affair with Veronica and other repressed desires his subconscious deems unacceptable. These frightening visions are his subconscious’s way of punishing him for his past wrongs and recurring urges to commit adulterous or even violent acts. The reference to Papageno perhaps signals Johan’s ultimate plunge into madness-this is the most frightening vision he describes and when he sees the birdman near the end of the movie we know his life is running out. All rationale has been lost and at this climatic moment he has reached irreversible insanity outside of reality and the reach of Alma’s help. Johan has managed to warp his view of the island to such an extent that these apparitions are his actuality and there is only room for horror and violence in his constructed world. Papageno, seen by others as a lovable figure, represents despair and hopelessness to Johan who is only able to see things from a perspective of a fearful, guilt-ridden and self-loathing madman.

    1. Johan's subconscious is likely to torture and punish him. He tells a story of when he was a child and his parents locked him in a dark wardrobe, adding that a tiny man who lived in the wardrobe would nibble on naughty children's feet. Upon hearing a rustle in the corner, he was so frightened that he climbed on top of shoe boxes and pulled down hangers in a scramble, all the while screaming for forgiveness. His father opened the door and asked how many lashes he thought he deserved. He replied "As many as possible." This story, as I realized upon reading your post, must have been meant to show us Johan's tendency to torture himself. This incident along with his twisted passion for Veronica, that is.