The first time we saw it, my husband and I were terrified. We weren’t married yet. We hadn’t even met. It was the mid-1970s and we were teenagers, sitting alone — each of us loveless, dateless, awkward, intense — in dark movie theaters, he in New York, I somewhere in Connecticut, watching what seemed like a horror movie: Ingmar Bergman’s “Scenes from a Marriage.” Despite its title, the movie seemed less about a marriage than about the institution of marriage. It was a harrowing vision of what our lives would be like once we met the person who would initially enchant but eventually bore and enrage and damn near destroy us. The best we could hope for, apparently, was to reach a battle-weary, older-but-wiser resting place, a tender embrace in a bloodstained room.
This time, my husband and I see “Scenes from a Marriage” together, over several nights, in the original six-hour version Bergman made for Swedish television. We sit in our living room and watch the couple played by Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson as their marriage cracks and comes apart. At first, everything appears to be — well, not happy (this is Bergman, after all), but essentially stable: a tranquil surface veiling an unease and mutual disappointment which the characters are not fully aware of and yet accept. They are worldly, satisfied with their dissatisfaction. “Come on,” they seem to be saying, “we’re adults, what did we expect?”