by Michelle Fryou
"Raging Islandů..Raging Passions!" So proclaimed Howard Hughes' desperate ad campaign to sell this movie as a sex-filled romp, complete with posters showing an orgasmic looking Ingrid Bergman along with the oh so subtle phallic image of the volcano powerfully erupting. Anyone who went to see this film back in 1950 expecting some sort of tawdry romance was in for a big disappointment. It's actually a fascinating character study of a person trying to discover her place in the world. There are numerous themes throughout - alienation, clash of cultures, and the power of nature over man.
Karin (Ingrid Bergman) finds herself in a displaced persons internment camp, and with virtually no options, decides to marry one of the guards. Her bid for freedom turns out to be nothing more than an exchange of one prison, the camp with it's barbed wire fence keeping her in, for another, that of this primitive island with no foreseeable means of escape. We as the viewer can't help but relate to her and share her perspective. This barren island is as alien to us as it is to her.
Rossellini wisely avoids depicting Karin as a complete innocent, presenting her instead as a complex and confused woman, alternately cunning and selfish, as well as someone who makes valiant attempts at creating a cheerful atmosphere in her new home. Her attempts at bridging the gaps of the differing cultures is met with suspicion and outright hostility by the islanders who expect her to conform to their way of life.
There is much symbolism in the film, some of it quite striking, such as when Karin is shown wandering lonely and confused on the island like a mouse in a maze. Her feeling of isolation and of being trapped is overwhelmingly palpable. This is a movie which certainly could not have been filmed in a studio. The primitive beauty of the island serves as an effective backdrop, and the majestic power of the volcano is a character in itself.
The conclusion of the film, in which Karin attempts to make her escape by climbing over the volcano and experiences something akin to an epiphany is greatly moving, but Rossellini, as usual, leaves it up to each individual viewer to interpret it's meaning. Will she, or won't she return to the island? My belief is that she will. To me, her journey up the volcano and the revelation she experiences symbolizes an achievement of inner peace. Once we have become to some degree peaceful with ourselves then we can transcend culture and environment, and no longer feel an alienation from the world, but to instead embrace our place in it.
Originally published in Mary Hutching's The Ingrid Chronicles on Matt Cawley's The Complete Ingrid Bergman Page
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