Shame

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In his l968 film Skammen (Shame) Ingmar Bergman tied the personal to the political in exploring the emotions of a couple who escape war torn Europe by living on an isolated Island. Bergman famously lived on the Island of Faro though that didn't spare him the shame of pursuit by Sweden's tax authorities and the humiliation of self-imposed exile to Berlin as a result of the scandal. Shame is a potent emotion in many Bergman films and it's certainly a universal. Shame was also the title of Steve McQueen's 2011 film in which Michael Fassbender played a sex addict. Remember those childhood dreams of being caught with your pants down and how they anticipated the humiliations of adulthood in which you lived in fear of having your foibles exposed? You may have acted like a coward when you wanted to be a fearless tough guy. You found yourself troubled by an attraction to someone of the same sex when, however enlightened you might have been sexually, you still gloated over being straight. At the end of the film Bergman's protagonists Eva (Liv Ullmann) and Jan (Max Van Sydow) find themselves on a boat riding through a sea of bodies. In this crossing of a figurative Styx even their Charon has perished; their purgatory is to drift without direction to the underworld. "History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake," says Joyce's Stephen Daedalus. But what is the eponymous shame that constitutes Eva and Jan's literal and metaphoric hell and is it real? You are ashamed of being naked because there's nothing to cover up what you've become, what you are. Bergman made his film during the height of the Vietnam war and of course if you are responsible for the My Lai massacre you have something to be ashamed about. But the average human being suffers from a shame that's an embarrassment at being. Even if they aren't guilty of any crimes, no one wants to be known, no one wants to have their limitations exposed. "Like a dog," he said. It was as if the shame of it would out live him," are the last lines of Kafka's The Trial.

{This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}