Intended for healthcare professionals

Views & Reviews Medical Classics

Cries and Whispers

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 09 July 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e4650
  1. Andrew Moscrop, clinical researcher, Department of Primary Health Care, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 4UP
  1. andrewmoscrop{at}

Red eyed, dry mouthed, sallow skinned, her face contorted in agony: Agnes is dying of cancer. Her torment, sickeningly apparent from the film’s opening sequence, becomes ours to endure. And hers is not the only suffering in Ingmar Bergman’s nineteenth century mansion-house of pain. Loveless and loathing of each other, their husbands, and themselves, Agnes’s two sisters seem as stricken as she. Wretched, tortured souls, quite beyond caring for their sibling, they leave this role to Anna the maid. At Anna’s breast Agnes finds succour and relief from the agony of living, while Anna finds other meaning in this dying; she nurses Agnes with compassion as though she were her own daughter, who died in childhood.

The story unfolds with flashbacks and diary …

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