The New York Times' Peter Steinfels has done an excellent job of assessing why many culture-loving Christians respected the films of Ingmar Bergman and of Michelangelo Antonioni, his counterpart in lost Christian faith. This segment is especially good at explaining their two very different non-faith journeys:
There is an interesting contrast here with Michelangelo Antonioni, the other major filmmaker who died Monday. Of all the other great Italian directors, probably none were so unremittingly secular as Antonioni. His world is severely postreligious, a circumstance that made reflective believers intensely interested in his work, too. For Antonioni, however, the passage from religion was simply a fact; for Bergman it was a struggle.
Steinfels mentions a book, God, Death, Art and Love: The Philosophical Vision of Ingmar Bergman by the Rev. Robert E. Lauder, as an example of one Christian's exploration of Bergman's vision:
Father Lauder's book makes clear the intellectual grounds for his own philosophical and Christian convictions. But in no way does it try to evade the trajectory in the director's films from a concern with God to a humanism focused exclusively on human love and on art as the only stays against death.
The book was written not for believers or nonbelievers or, for that matter, cinéastes, but simply for anyone interested in the "big questions," as dramatized by the extraordinary talent that Father Lauder considers the unrivaled "spokesman-artist for the third quarter of the twentieth century."
It was the unflinching seriousness of Bergman's struggle with these questions -- regardless of the answers he reached -- that made him so important for the religiously inclined. This is especially so because his probing, unlike Antonioni's, recognized the continuing power of the Christian and biblical heritage and the deep resonance of its words and images.
Steinfels closes with the hope that the dialogue between faith and film will not be dimmed. Amen to that, especially because films provide one of the best settings in which believers and skeptics can lay their differences on the table and still spend pleasant, rewarding time with one another.