Vogler's Magnetic Health Theater is the guise under which the “wanted” Vogler and his companions travel. They are a rag tag bunch, adding a drunk actor Johan Spegel who is determined he’s on death’s doorstep from an illness, and Vogler spends half of the movie as a mute. They reach the home of Counsel Egerman and are accused of conning people. Police Superintendent Starbeck and Minister of Health, Dr. Vergerus, don’t believe the claims in the advert posted by the theatre troupe. They are determined to prove that Vogler has no magical powers and in fact a fraud. Granny peddles her “potions”. A private performance is demanded and Vogler is required to perform alone. He is “killed” by Antonsson.
Max von Sydow is a regular in Bergman’s films, having appeared in eleven. He played the tormented knight in The Seventh Seal and the father or a girl that was raped and murdered in The Virgin Spring. Bergman makes effective use of the close-up when Vogler is performing and when he is being questioned. He has great use of lighting when Vogler is performing in the levitation scene and the scenes with Vergerus in the attic. But the overall tone of the film is questionable. There is some uncertainty if it’s supposed to be a comedy, with the fairly comical “sex scene” between Sara and Simson or if it’s supposed to be a thriller, again with the scene between Vergerus and the supposedly dead Vogler.
Some themes in this movie are typical to Bergman’s career. The questioning the existence of God and putting the character of “witch” Granny, the supernatural v. science are typical but love being translated as sex is not. In The Seventh Seal Bergman presents the struggle with death and questioning the existence of God with the knight on a quest to do one good thing before he dies. We are presented in this film with the same argument when Tubal and Sofia are talking in the kitchen. Sofia says the Tubal can be a preacher and Tubal insists not because his “faith is shaky.” Death is represented in the former actor Johan Spegel when he seemingly dies the first time in the coach and when he finally dies after stealing brandy from the kitchen. The crowd at Counsel Egerman’s doesn’t believe in the magic the Vogler’s are selling and Dr. Vergerus represents the science. Sex is equated to love by the implied intimacy between Sara and Simson after they consume a “love potion” brewed by Granny.
This film fits into Bergman’s career because he rebels most of his life against the moral compass of his parents. He constantly questions the existence of God. With this film coming so close behind The Seventh Seal, and three others in between, artistic growth is not noticed. The themes don’t usually change in his work, most often being religious in nature. His body of work tends to reflect the home life he had as a child, the relationship with his mother and father, as well as the relationship between his mother and father. He took adventures from his childhood and used them as inspiration for his work which is not just limited to film, it includes stage plays and television shows.