Bright Lights Film Journal

Max Von Sydow’s Good Friday

It’s quite fitting that Max Von Sydow, celebrated Swedish actor, should turn 80 on Good Friday, of all days. This is an actor who’s both been crucified and stared down the devil (or at least a devil), not to mention the grim, gray specter of Death, with whom he tripped the light fantastic over the eternal hills.

Von Sydow’s not an actor I would rank in my personal pantheon, but perusing through his resume on imdb, it’s astonishing how many films would simply not have functioned without him. He offers gravity in Ingmar Bergman’s dramatic explorations when other characters spin out of control (Through a Glass Darkly, The Passion of Anna). His subtle villains are often the highlight of otherwise banal flicks (Minority Report). The guy can even poke fun at his own phlegmatic, professorial image by taking roles like that of Barbara Hershey’s paternal love interest in Hannah and her Sisters (the youtube embed below sounds a lot more like conversations between myself and my wife than I would care to admit, the cantankerous, overeducated misanthrope that I am).

The web is awash with fine Von Sydow tributes, so I’ll end by simply noting one of my favorite performances by this highly talented and multi-faceted actor — Brewmeister Smith in Strange Brew. Forget the devil, or the Grim Reaper: Von Sydow’s confronted the McKenzie Brothers with their backbacon and beer sloth! Somehow he manages to be both playful and menacing at the same time. Now that’s acting, eh?