Apologies to the Swedes
Who is the most wonderful man in the world?
Ive just learned the answer from the loveliest woman in the world, my baby daughter, Chris, who combines beauty and brains and wait! Im just getting started a wonderful wit and charm and writing talent and the courage of a young lioness, along with other fine qualities. All the world recalls how she once whipped the excellent but unruly actor Russell Crowe into line on a movie set. And she is now a prize-winning reporter.
But this column isnt about Chris. Its about who is the most wonderful man in the world. And she would be the authority on that.
First, the good news: It isnt Tom Cruise. Thats a relief.
Now the shocking part: Its a Swede.
I can hear my readers jaws dropping with a collective thud. A Swede? Not, say, a Canadian?
Yes, a Swede. A Swede, moreover, with a warm personality and a great sense of humor. I know that sounds like a contradiction in terms. Swedes are cold, humorless, and suicidal, arent they?
Not necessarily. This is a negative stereotype propagated by Ingmar Bergman films (though it should have been amply refuted by Ingrid Bergman films). Contrary to popular belief here, Sweden actually doesnt have a high suicide rate. Its just that Swedes, unlike (say) Italians, arent known as a particularly fun-loving people. We think of them as dwelling in the terminal stage of socialism. Smart, good-looking folks, but horribly progressive.
To give them their due, the Swedes nowadays do avoid war, but for a long time I put this down to their preference for suicide over homicide. I wondered how they ever produced the dreaded Vikings of old, who once terrified their part of the world as the Bush administration now terrifies the whole thing.
You never hear people marvel, Those Swedes really know how to live! They are more likely to marvel, Those Swedes are really leading the way in physician-assisted suicide! And Bergman has done his part to create this gloomy image. This is why I have never encouraged my children to date Swedes. North Koreans, maybe, but Swedes, no. Hell no.
A friend recently asked me, as a cineast, whether I liked Fellini. Well, I answered, hes not as bad as Bergman. Theyre both lousy, but at least you can leave a Fellini movie feeling its possible to enjoy life, in a depraved sort of way. You leave a Bergman movie feeling that the whole point of being born is so you can eventually commit suicide. The most morbid Russian or German could take frowning lessons from him.
This can be tested by a simple thought-experiment. What if Bergman had directed Dirty Harry? The film would have ended with Clint Eastwood, profoundly depressed, blowing his own brains out. It would have flopped, and there would have been no sequels, but the highbrows would have loved it.
Eastwood got the idea, though. Today he is a director himself, and his films show Bergmans influence in their downbeat endings, so its no surprise that they are highly acclaimed. Hes come a long way from Rawhide. You might say he has changed sides in the culture wars.
The whole point of the Dirty Harry series was that its better to kill other people, especially if they deserve it, than yourself. This is a theme ordinary people can relate to. Needless to say, were equally fortunate that Bergman didnt direct Charles Bronsons Death Wish films. Hed have screwed them up too, even though Death Wish would be an apt title for most of his work. And heaven only knows what he might have done to Jaws.
Then again, Bergman once made an utterly charming film of my favorite opera, The Magic Flute. Mozarts music helped, but there wasnt a moment of catatonic depression in it. Its the only one of his movies Ive seen that didnt seem physician-assisted. In fact, it came close to being family entertainment for families that arent necessarily dysfunctional.
But to return to the real subject of this column if my Chris assures me that the sweetest, funniest, warmest young man in the world is a Swede, then hes a Swede. I wont tell you his surname. You wouldnt believe it. But its a very common name in Sweden.
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