Tedium Extraordinaire

May 15, 2019 by Essay Writer

“It is as if I had been going downhill while I imagined I was going up. And that is really what it was. I was going up in public opinion, but to the same extent life was ebbing away from me. And now it is all done and there is only death.”–The Death of Ivan Ilych, Leo Tolstoy (144-145)In American society in particular, it is often difficult to fully register the moral point made by Bergman and Tolstoy about the true meaninglessness of public repute; but Ivan’s commentary on his life awakens that nagging awareness in the recesses of one’s conscience, that while basking only in the glory of “public opinion” we risk a moral regression of equal magnitude – the more terrible reality that a meaningful, thoughtful life is “ebbing away.” The Death of Ivan Ilych and Wild Strawberries each shed light on the danger of mechanical living. Isak Borg and Ivan Ilych undergo the ironic tragedy of social success. Ivan’s life tells the story of a typical bourgeouis social climber; focused on doing everything that is “expected” of him, his lack of attention to personal virtue renders him ultimately “le phenix de la famille” (Tolstoy, 102)- the phoenix to the failing. Comparably, Bergman’s professor Isak witnesses the ugly paradox of his academic nobility. While traveling forward in his car to receive his honorary degree – a seeming climax to his lifelong climb up the social ladder – we see Isak all the while riveted to the past as he becomes spiritually enlightened to the implied falsehood and deception of his life to date.The banal nature of the lives led by Isak and Ivan is portrayed as inexcusable; they cannot be regarded without horror and disgust, thanks to Tolstoy and Bergman’s powerful account of a disgraced life. The spiritual breakthroughs which come to pass in the aged lives of Ivan and Isak are imbued with a great sense of immediacy, and with the pain of lost opportunity. The issue at hand in these works can be identified, to a certain extent, with Pascal’s wager – one must make a choice for his life to bear any semblance of meaning. A particular scene in Wild Strawberries comes to mind, where an old man takes the “fifth” rather than offering any insights into a debate over God’s existence. He remains silent, but his silence has incredible impact. The two opposing characters freely discuss the magnanimous issue, while the old man’s silence reveals his lifelong failure to broach the all-important question. In this scene, the old man, aside from Isak, exemplifies le phenix de la famille, and his nonparticipation in the discussion, remaining silent, has a wholly saddening affect on the viewer.Furthermore, the damage falls in various corners of the existences of Isak and Ivan. While the lateness of their “resurrection” from a spiritually devoid lifestyle is certainly shameful, Tolstoy and Bergman show that even their character’s death may not be sufficient to end the consequences of his life’s sin of moral disregard. As the characters confront not only death but the foreboding question, “What if I have done everything all wrong?,” we see their shaky spiritual footing seeping into their children’s generation. Evald, no doubt resentful towards a pervasive sense of meaninglessness from his upbringing, has claimed to “hate” his father Isak, despite Isak’s belief that their relationship is strong. Specifically, it is Evald’s father’s refusal to submit to human sympathy or any sort of familial sentiment that remains with Evald. Isak’s son accordingly comes to believe, “It’s absurd to bring children into this world,” reflecting his father’s relentlessly practical reasoning. It is just as Ivan, after the birth of his child, responds only as if he is irritated by its presence, and what’s more refers to the baby primarily as “it.” In these moments of Bergman’s film and Tolstoy’s novella, the extensive dangers of an unexamined life are most unsettlingly palpable.Ironic timing makes Ivan Ilych’s reflective journey particularly brutal. Redemption from a life “most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible” (Tolstoy, 102) can release Ivan only unto death. Isak Borg’s spiritual crisis, beautifully rendered in Ingmar Bergman’s film, Wild Strawberries, resonates similarly to the realization of Tolstoy’s famous protagonist. The life-examination that faces each character is a redoubtable blessing, a process whereby Ivan and Isak undergo a vital enlightenment to the bleakest realities of the triteness of their lives; the brutality which complicates what might otherwise be cause for a healthy, conscientious transformation, we find, lies in the characters’ realizing each of their lives to have been mistakenly lived and to be, incidentally, nearly over. Tolstoy and Bergman each make the choice that his character’s epiphany should come to pass when death is imminent, thereby emphasizing how indispensable it is to evaluate one’s life while one is living it. The irreparable crime of a wasted life is left for Isak Borg and Ivan Ilych to remorsefully acknowledge, and left for us as a most pressing and cautionary message: take pause on the social ladder and reflect before it is too late.

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