“Time for the Eyes to Adjust”
by Linn Ullmann
translated from the Norwegian by Thilo Reinhard
from the December 17, 2018 issue of The New Yorker
Linn Ullmann has certainly forged her own reputation independent of the giant reputations of her two famous parents, Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman. An influential literary critic, she’s been publishing critically acclaimed novels for twenty years, several of which have been well received in English translation as well.
Because the first thing in so many articles about Linn Ullmann start with her famous parents, and because I assume she gets enough of that, I’d normally try not to make too big a deal of those biographical details. On with this story. But that is not possible when looking at “Time for the Eyes to Adjust.” In the first paragraph, Ullmann mentions the “first time I came to Hammars,” which is Ingmar Bergman’s estate on the Island of Fårö. In the third paragraph, Ulmmann goes further and references her famous parents, making it clear this is at least a somewhat biographical look at the relationship between Liv and Ingmar:
I organize, catalogue, and number. I am the same age now that my father was when I was born. Forty-eight. My mother was twenty-seven; she looked both much younger and much older than her years back then.
Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullmann worked together for the first time in 1965 on Bergman’s Persona (see my review here). The next year, the author was born, just a few weeks before the film premiered. Ingmar was forty-eight; Liv was twenty-seven. Shortly after that, her parents were not romantically attached, but their relationship was famous enough to live on.
Indeed, I have explored it many times. Persona is one of the greatest films every made, and I have watched and rewatched it. I love to talk about it. Just last week we posted an episode of The CriterionCast about the film (see here). When The Criterion Collection released Persona a few years ago, it came with a lovely documentary about this relationship called Liv and Ingmar. Because Liv and Ingmar continued to work together even when their five-year romance was over, there are plenty of other opportunities to look again at their relationship. I am certainly not the only one who finds it interesting, even though I had nothing to do with it. How, then, must it be for someone who was a child of the relationship?
I have seen pictures and read letters and heard them talk about their time together and heard other people talk about it, but the truth is you can never know much about other people’s lives, least of all your parents’, especially if your parents have made a point of turning their lives into stories that they then go on to tell with a God-given ability for not caring the least about what’s true and what’s not.
The story, such as it is, goes on to look at this relationship, but also to look at Hammars and Persona itself, all part of Linn Ullmann’s heritage. But mostly “Time for the Eyes to Adjust” is about her questions about her own relationship with her parents.
And then there’s this: I was his child and her child, but not their child, it was never us three. When I browse through the pictures spread out on my desk, there isn’t a single photograph of the three of us together. She and he and I.
That constellation doesn’t exist.
She talks about the last film she watched with her father, and then she goes back to the earliest days of her memory, after her parents had split up, when she was trying to navigate her time with them.
Because I have interest in this subject beyond this particular exploration, my first read-through was just looking for the details, getting only slight feel for the structure and themes of the piece itself. I’m curious what you all think, both those who care about Liv and Ingmar and those who do not!