A Long Day’s Journey Into Night

by Andrea Elizabeth

I’m trying to decide why I can sit through three hours of Eugene O’Neill’s autobiographical A Long Day’s Journey Into Night (the Katherine Hepburn movie version on Netflix instant streaming through today) but not Ingmar Bergman. So far I’ve stopped The Virgin Spring and The Seventh Seal pretty early into them. Both storytellers are pretty stark and despairing of the human condition. I think O’Neill keeps a tab on human dignity, however. Bergman’s young women especially, are worse than animals, making the men who use them beastialitists, or whatever they are called.

A Long Day’s Journey Into Night was somehow hopeful in its despair. O’Neill is Irish American, and seems to like American culture. Ingmar Bergman is Swedish, and seems similar to Andrei Tarkovsky whose Rublev I also could not watch. Speaking of Russian story-tellers, O’Neill is compared to Anton Chekhov, whom I have not read. I don’t know if Chekhovs stories are as depraved as the other two’s. So is the realistic, unromantic O’Neill uniquely able to keep a person with a polly-annaish streak comfortable? His works are described as gritty realism, but perhaps he is able to provide the boundaries through his use of space. We never see the mother actually taking the drugs, or the son actually cavorting at places of ill repute. Even their speaking about these things is mostly indirect. He saves the direct stuff for effect on the fellow characters, not on us voyeurs.

And deep down, even though their attempts at reconciliation were, as wikipedia puts it, “occasional desperate and half-sincere attempts at affection, encouragement and consolation,” I felt the love. That’s probably the difference.