A sort of existential horror movie set in what often feels like a darkly imaginary 1846, The Magician
is Ingmar Bergman's meditation on the restrictive nature of modern rationalism. Max Von Sydow cuts a suitably melancholy and mystical figure as Dr Vogler, the mute hypnotist who travels with a group of players to Stockholm, only to be examined and humiliated by a team of sceptical inquisitors led by Gunnar Bjornstrand's Dr Vergerus and a hog-like police chief. Dr Vogler exacts his revenge on Vergerus, however, in an extraordinary feat of illusion.
With its elaborate, occasionally expressionistic sets and its feel of a scrupulously re-enacted nightmare, The Magician is reminiscent at times of Poe or even The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. However, the "below stairs" characters--including Ake Fridell's ebullient Master of Ceremonies and a host of giggling wenches--add comic energy to what is otherwise a startling and sombre reflection of the nature of art and life. It would prove a turning point in Bergman's career as he moved away from his early, "romantic" period.
On the DVD: Presented in the original academy ratio, the mix of soft light and harsh shade for which credit should go to photographer Gunnar Fischer, is well-restored here. In notes from his memoirs included here, Bergman relates how his adventures and privations as part of a theatre company in Malmo provided inspiration for The Magician, while critic Ronald Bergman's notes talk of "the ability of the artist to find truth in both fact and fantasy". --David Stubbs