Oct 13th 2021

The “Conceit” Used in the Remake of Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes From a Marriage

by Mary L. Tabor

Mary L. Tabor worked most of her life so that one day she would be able to write full-time. She quit her corporate job when she was 50, put on a backpack and hiking boots to trudge across campus with folks more than half her age. She’s the author of the novel Who by Fire, the memoir (Re)Making Love: a sex after sixty story and the collection of connected short stories The Woman Who Never Cooked. She’s a born and bred liberal who writes lyric essays on the arts for one of the most conservative papers in the country and she hosts a show interviewing authors on Rare Bird Radio. In the picture Mary L.Tabor


The remake of Ingmar Bergman’s 1973 mini-series, Scenes From a Marriage, streaming on HBO was directed by Hagai Levi, teleplay by Levi and Amy Herzog. Daniel Bergman, one of the executive producers, is the son of Ingmar Bergman, who created the original Swedish TV series that was later a film, also available on HBO. Daniel approached Levi some years ago about doing the series and Levi has talked about his decision to do so and changes he made in interviews you can find elsewhere.


By “conceit” in my title, I am referring to Hagai Levi’s decision to break the fourth wall in all the episodes, with a decided difference in how he does it in the final episode. At the start of the first four episodes, Levi begins with a view of the set the stars Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaacs enter. In the final episode, he closes with a break in the fourth wall that shows the actors getting into robes and leaving the set, arm in arm and with much real-life affection as each enters his dressing room. Play acting over, real affection is our view—and that metaphor resounds.

My view on this extraordinary choice to use the conceit of “breaking the fourth wall” provides insight into the essential conflict not only of choosing to remake this well-known and accoladed series by Bergman, but also the profound conflict both renditions reveal. But Levi’s in my view is the more intense for our day and more intense for the courage it took to do the remake.

In much of the criticism and evaluation of both series, women’s liberation, independence, and divorce are highlighted.

What Levi has done is to add the “conceit” of breaking the fourth wall for the viewer—and he does so, as I’ve said, in every episode. Critics have criticized this choice, been bemused by it. I assert its brilliance in this essay.

Some of the titles for the scenes are exactly the same, but I was most struck by the title by both author’s/director’s choice of “The Illiterates”.

Here are the titles from the original six-part Bergman series. Levi used all but the second in his five episodes—and perhaps that omission is in itself revealing. I will explain more about what I mean by that as I proceed here.

1     “Innocence and Panic”

2.     “The Art of Sweeping Things Under the Rug” (not used by Levi)

3.     Pauline –“Poli” in Levi’s remake –as he has reversed the roles of the two main characters.

Levi gives the role of the partner who leaves the marriage to Mira (Jessica Chastain) along with most of the inclinations and intentions of Johan (Erland Josephson) who leaves Marianne (Liv Ulmann) from Bergman’s original, increasing the emotional weight of loss for Jonathan (Oscar Isaacs) in Hagai’s version. Important to point out here is that in both versions the emotional weight and the significance of what occurs in the marital relationship weighs heavily on both partners and in both versions.

4.     “Vale of tears”

5.     “The Illiterates”

6.     “In the Middle of the Night in a Dark House”

On “The Illiterates,” in an interview with Ben Travers of Indiewire, Levi said, “There is an episode … when Mira says that they’re illiterate about breakups, not about divorce, not about marriage.” His comment reveals, but I believe he’s also exploring more than he states about love, marriage and commitment than what he says in that quote.

Having watched both the original and Hagai Levi’s remake, I am struck by the intensity of both and, in contrast to many reviewers of the new HBO mini-series, many who disparage it, I assert that Levi has, in fact done a sterling job of both recreating and, indeed, increasing the intensity of the original. The performances by Chastain and Isaacs are marvelous, moving, and in each episode, both hold the viewer with their immersions in the roles.

Clearly, I loved this new series, its courage in taking on a Bergman masterpiece, and bringing new depth to the roles. Levi and his actors’ achievement informs the conflict I am asserting that results, once you’ve viewed all five.

The deeper conflict that Hagai Levi reveals is certainly our understanding today of the ease of breakups and the prevalence of divorce. But what he and, I believe, Bergman also explore is the way we are illiterate about the complexities of love that lasts—and indeed it does in both versions.

Levi’s use of breaking the fourth wall accomplishes much. He, of course, pays homage to Bergman’s achievement by clearly showing us that these are “scenes” from another theatrical version. In the last episode of the HBO series, he does this incredibly effectively. Mira repeats to Jonathan this line: “In the middle of the night, without much fanfare, in a dark house in the middle of the world.” When asked by Jonathan: “What’s that?” She replies, “It’s from a movie.” And of course it is a line that Johan says to Marianne at the end of the Bergman series.

But the meaning is even more powerful for what these characters have experienced.

Breaking the fourth wall causes the viewer to step back from the play acting, to take the whole of what we are seeing and examine our suspension of disbelief that soon occurs—kudos to the whole production for that achievement for each episode locks us totally in its hold.

But, perhaps, most important, is that Levi focuses us on play acting.

He causes us to check ourselves. Yes, we know for sure we are watching a fiction that seems so real. That observation is like a boomerang. We must look at his attempt in the abstract and, I believe, Levi may even have said that in the interview I referred earlier to. But I take his achievement further: He asks us to look inside ourselves and ask key questions about what love that lasts is worth.

Most important, these “Illiterates” are play acting their way through a love that has bumped up against trouble: Another attraction, the boredom of the everyday-ness of marriage.

I think he chose not to use “Sweeping Things Under the Rug” because he doesn’t need that “telling.” He’s got more to play with about the nature of love and the plays we create for ourselves. He has no need for this title. Something bigger is under Levi’s rug.

What becomes clear in every episode is that despite Jonathan’s and Mira’s assertions that they are meant to be apart, we see that they delude themselves, that they proceed to do everything they can to preserve the love they have broken. They do so without getting formally back together.

Too easy is the explanation that monogamy is dead. And, of course, Bergman had five marriages—and that may have been his view. But I don’t think it is Levi’s, despite his admission that he has experienced a divorce.

The power of the new HBO series is its intense focus on love that inexorably lasts—Its worth. Levi intensifies the effect because in our day divorce is so common whereas in Bergman’s day, the opposite was true. As a possibly apocryphal aside, it is even said that the Bergman series was credited with dramatically increasing the divorce rate in Sweden the year after the series ran.

The play acting of the characters, as each asserts the rightness of the breakup—even as they continue to be drawn to one another—is emphasized in Levi’s remake with his use, just one example, of Purim as the anniversary moment that Jonathan recalls for him and Mira. Levi, a Jewish Israeli, has given Jonathan a deeply Jewish past. Purim is the holiday for dress-up, for play acting, much as these two characters have play acted the truth of their love by disputing it only to affirm its importance.

Don’t miss Jonathan’s nightmare in the fifth episode that totally mirrors Marianne’s in the Bergman series. I won’t explain because that would be a true “spoiler.”

After her similar and disturbing nightmare, Marianne, in the Bergman series, asks, “Have we missed something?”

Yes, these characters in scenes from their marriages have missed this: Play-acting as a metaphor for reality. And the reality is love that can last—despite breakage.


I’ll close by adding that I speak from experience. See the memoir (Re)Making Love, available on Amazon and from my publisher.


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.



Browse articles by author

More Movie Reviews

Oct 4th 2023
EXTRATS: "Sir Michael Gambon, who died on September 28 at the age of 82, was a hugely versatile actor who enjoyed numerous and varied roles in film and television throughout the course of his long career." .... "Though he retired from the theatre in 2015, Gambon continued to act in film and TV until just before his 80th birthday. It was that mesmerising combination of rage and vulnerability that always made him a compelling screen actor to watch, making audiences always care about the characters he inhabited."
Oct 4th 2023
EXTRACT: "....to my mind, in order to elevate acting to that kind of level, there has to be a deep undercurrent of human empathy. Of course, I never met Michael Gambon, but I imagine those who knew him and worked with him would confirm that."
Aug 5th 2023
EXTRACT: "This propulsive show understands the total unwavering commitment that kitchen brigades feel. Our research, informed by interviews with 62 elite chefs, indicates that chefs work in the region of 12 to 20 hours per day. Such perceived commitment to their work translates to ideas of a strong and resilient professional that has to choose between having a family and doing a job they are really good at. So is it really as stressful for these chefs as The Bear depicts? Yes chef, it really is."
Oct 13th 2021
EXTRACT: "Having watched both the original and Hagai Levi’s remake, I am struck by the intensity of both and, in contrast to many reviewers of the new HBO mini-series, many who disparage it, I assert that Levi has, in fact done a sterling job of both recreating and, indeed, increasing the intensity of the original. The performances by Chastain and Isaacs are marvelous, moving, and in each episode, both hold the viewer with their immersions in the roles."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACTS: "I have questioned before whether certain works explicitly thematising traumatic events amount to a meaningful response. They could be criticised for rendering the trauma aesthetic. This has the potential, as cultural theorist Theodor Adorno warned in response to art after the Holocaust, of enabling people to derive pleasure from it, and that can be heinous. I would not wish to argue that composers, or other artists, should refrain from engaging with such events, nor that there have not been immensely successful works of this type."
Feb 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "As the skeleton of the ship emerges from the sand, it is a metaphor for the transience of human life, particularly poignant with war looming. Edith says to Brown, “We die and decay and don’t live on.” He counters, “From the first human hand-print on a cave wall, we’re part of something continuous, so we don’t really die.” The idea that all human lives are connected through the thread of the past is at the heart of burial archaeology, which is not about treasure but unearthing relationships between the living and their memories of the dead."
Nov 17th 2020
EXTRACT: "Peter Morgan’s fourth season of The Crown faces perhaps its greatest challenge so far. The 1980s was one of the most documented, catalogued, debated and scrutinised decades of the House of Windsor. Morgan will, no doubt be keenly aware of viewers using telephoto lenses to, once again, see if the program-makers “get it right”....... They do.
Feb 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "Camera moves were choreographed to allow two scenes that were filmed in the same location at different times to be taken into the computer and “stitched” together as if they were one complete shot. Doing this over and over enabled the illusion of one continuous sequence. Like many films though, 1917 used a host of other visual effects techniques that were unseen. This is often regarded as the pinnacle of success in visual effects – an effect that can’t be seen versus one that is smacking you in the face with a large, wet fish."
Jan 18th 2020
EXTRACT: "Greta Gerwig’s Little Women (2019) has received Oscar nominations in several of the same categories as her solo directorial debut, Lady Bird (2017). Most notably, another writing nomination for Gerwig, this time in the adapted screenplay category. However, Little Women, unlike Lady Bird, did not earn her a nomination for best director. The shortlist for that category is, for the 87th time in 92 ceremonies, all male, and some might say, all rather macho to boot."
Nov 27th 2019


Whistle-blower: Keira Knightley as Katharine Gun.
Nov 5th 2019
Extract: "From October 16-27, over four hundred films were screened from 68 countries. I saw thirteen of these. The most inspiring was Varda by Agnés—and I’ll close this essay with her: Find her films, see them, cherish them. The list that follows runs from two—I can’t help but say this—clunkers to all the rest that are well-worth seeing—if you can find them."
Oct 16th 2018
........one hopes, Asia will become a bigger part of Hollywood culture, with more films featuring Asian locales and actors. Produced for just $30 million (compared to over $300 million for Disney’s “Avengers: Infinity War”), “Crazy Rich Asians” has already grossed over $200 million worldwide.
Sep 18th 2018
Yes, life is unreliable. Yes, life sometimes is unbelievable. Yes, life will bring us to our knees. And, yes, this much-criticized film will get you in the heart, but not through the manipulation it is being criticized for, but through its narrative insight that shows us how, despite all that brings us down, a story can get us to see that we must get up off our knees.
Jan 23rd 2018

The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government

Nov 27th 2017
Casablanca, which brought together the combined star-power of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, remains one of the best-loved movies ever produced in Hollywood. But the film, which hit the silver screen on November 26 1942, is more than just a love story set in Morocco.
Oct 30th 2017

The 53rd Chicago International Film festival ran 150 films from October 12-27, 2017. Directors, screenplay writers and actors attended many of the films from fifty countries.

Oct 30th 2017
The cinematic experience continues to be dominated by digitally led projects and audiences who increasingly expect more and more technical innovation. So it is refreshing when a mainstream cinema release consciously chooses to place traditional, artist-led techniques at its very heart.
Jun 8th 2017

Sofia Coppola’s triumphant win at Cannes as best director for The Beguiled is the latest in a series of notable successes for a director quietly but forcefully blazing her own tr

Feb 24th 2017

Having won five BAFTAs, including coveted awards for Best Film, Best Director (Damien Chazelle) and Best Actress (Emma Stone), La La Land is likely to

Jan 7th 2017

The blogosphere has been awash this month with reviews of Martin Scorsese’s latest movie, Silence.