Bergman's Winter Light functions as a drama, both as a story and as a piece of cinema. The camera is central to this 'movie', for while the dimensions of the story are important, I personally feel that the camera work in this drama functions as a mirror that reveals and withdraws from the characters the important aspects of their experiences, which is the director's main attempt. It is customary Bergman territory, a northern land, a few people, bareness and coldness of the landscape. However, central to it is the camera, that not only focuses on the main characters but does so in an unhesitant and unflinching gaze, which to the viewer's dismay, hides more than revealing. There are a few scenes, especially Ingrid Thulin's monologue, where in one single shot, the camera looks at her and she looks at us, in a scene that is enormous in its intensity, for the scene would not have the same concentrated intensity had the camera been otherwise. The drama, since it focuses on what is deemed as God's silence, God's silence towards the world, it is in the space where that silence exists that the camera acts via and on the characters.
It is not possible for this drama to seize us without the claustrophobic quality of how the camera works, for it follows the faces of the main dramatis personae, as if following the faces into the minds of these people, for the minds of the people is where the doubts are, where the silence that affects them lingers, where it festers. If the pastor of this small church, which opens the first act, has doubts regarding God's existence, and if his worshippers too suffer with the same woes, then all is lost. In essence, here the worshipper leading the flocks are all blind, surrounded as they are by this curtain of doubt. If God does not speak to an individual, personally, or if God's silence is perceived as a condition wherein one cannot function metaphysically, then this malaise is not new but an old one, the oldest one. Where worship functions is in the form of a supplication, in the form of a physical supplication, for without a physical supplication, even in the most cerebral religions, God remains distant.
It is also true that in this drama, Bergman shows the emptiness of mere rituals and critiques the rituals that dominate or by force dictate the development of a certain kind of spirituality. And by giving a rawness to the emotions of his characters, by giving them a past that is troubling and unhelpful, a certain atmosphere of doubt is created. The fisherman who doubts shoots himself, the pastor's lover who doubts bends down in the end with doubts, the pastor without faith leads the church service in the end. And Christ too had doubts we are reminded, on the cross he felt forsaken, what are we to make of that, a worshiper asks? In the end nothing is resolved, the unbelieving belief goes on, must go on. Perhaps knowing to have to live in God's silence is a gift, the ultimate test of a believer.
The austerity of the landscape, the winter setting, the closeness of the camera are signals achievements of this drama. The gaze is on the actors, as if by penetrating into their eyes, not only will their doubts come out, but also their confessions, their solitary silences, their hesitations and perhaps some resolution.