Undoubtedly, every master auteur filmmaker directs a dud at some point in their career and singular Swedish cinematic genius Ingmar Bergman (The Seventh Seal, Persona) is certainly no exception to the unwritten rule, with his pre-Nazi quasi-neo-Expressionist work The Serpent's Egg (1977) being an excellent, if not rather unfortunate, example of this. Indeed, as much as I wanted to love The Serpent's Egg—a work set in 1923 Weimar era Berlin over a week-long period during the inflation crisis—the film proved to be an absolute abject artistic failure of the aesthetically asinine, culturally mongrelized, and horribly miscast sort that seems like it was directed by a random Hollywood hack and not by the unrivaled Nordic master. Not surprisingly, The Serpent's Egg was Bergman’s first and last Hollywood-produced project and even though the film was actually shot in West Germany, it might as well have been directed on a studio lot as the work is about as authentically Teutonic in its essence as an Israeli turd. Made when Bergman was in self-imposed exile after suffering a nervous breakdown after being charged with tax evasion and proclaiming that he would never return to Sweden ever again, The Serpent's Egg was also the filmmaker’s ‘biggest’ production at that point in his career in terms of the size of the crew and budget, as well as the filmmaker’s greatest commercial and critical failure in what amounts to a ‘dark’ spot in a singular and nearly immaculate oeuvre. Starring autoerotic asphyxiation victim David ‘Kill Bill’ Carradine (Kung Fu, Absolute Evil – Final Exit) in a glaringly miscast role as an exceedingly annoying and unlikeable out-of-work American Jewish circus acrobat, The Serpent's Egg is a deranging psychodrama that is not actually deranging enough to actually penetrate the viewer in a poignant manner, but instead simply agitates and disgusts. Purportedly inspired by Fritz Lang’s M (1931) and Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel (1930), The Serpent’s Egg, not unlike Steven Soderbergh’s Kafka (1991) and Woody Allen’s Shadows and Fog (1991), is far too conspicuously calculating and contrived in its attempt to revive the German expressionist aesthetic and thus is rather hard to take seriously, which is only all the more compounded by Carradine’s carelessly lackluster acting. On top of everything else, The Serpent’s Egg features the sort of innately irrational and quasi-spiritual anti-nazi venom that ranks with the kosher-approved blockbuster agitprop movies of Steven Spielberg and Bryan Singer, which is rather odd (or maybe not so considering Bergman's possible post-WWII guilt) that it was directed by a man who once revered Uncle Adolf as a boy and even attended a National Socialist rally where he saw Hitler speak. Indeed, aside from the actual scene of perverse celluloid poetry, The Serpent’s Egg’s only saving grace is that it manages to make the Warsaw ghetto seem like a posh picnic.
Abel's suspicions regarding Vergérus are right, but being broke and desperate, the destitute Jew decides to take a dubious job as an archivist at the Professor's clinic where he is rather bizarrely locked into his workspace as if he is interned to slave labor at a concentration camp. In between watching degenerate blackface-adorned jazz bands, picking up underage prostitutes, and getting drunk and defacing stores, including a clothing store owned by a fat rich Jew with the same surname as him, Abel's paranoia begins to grow and his sanity begins to wane. In one scene of quasi-comic relief, Abel asks an ostensibly gay American negro if he is able to screw a female prostitute in front of him and said spade does get his exhibitionistic miscegenation on, albeit in a rather anti-climatic fashion that contradicts the myth of black sexual potency. Abel also discovers that his friend Hollinger's claim that Jew-hate is rising in Germany is true after witnessing a group of naughty stormtrooping Nazis wrecking a degenerate cabaret and literally knocking the teeth out of the Jewish owner's mouth. Of course, as Abel will soon discover, he has much more disturbing and deleterious things to worry about than the Aryan threat. In a rather absurd twist, it is later discovered that both Abel and Manuela are the unwitting guinea pigs of Mengele-esque medical experiments carried out by vainglorious mad scientist Vergérus. After Manuela loses her apartment, she and Abel take up a new residence given to them by Vergérus. Unbeknownst to Abel and Manuela, their new apartment is really a disguised laboratory with one way mirrors and Vergérus experiments on them by releasing toxic chemical gasses that induce psychotic states in the victims. In the end, Manuela is killed and Abel finally uncovers Vergérus’ sinister, if not ridiculously unbelievable, plot. While Abel is initially institutionalized after being saved from Vergérus by Inspector Bauer, he later manages to escape and never goes back to Deutschland ever again. Borrowing its name from a line spoken by Brutus in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, The Serpent’s Egg’s title is a superlatively sensationalized allegorical reference to the birth of National Socialism in Germany as the film concludes with Hitler’s failed Beer Hall Putsch. Indeed, just as a serpent egg has a translucent membrane through which can see the creature forming, Bergman’s The Serpent's Egg portrays a foreboding pre-Hitlerite period where death and human depravity were at the height in the Fatherland and would ultimately give birth to the National Socialist revolution. Of course, the poisonous gasses that Vergérus secretly unleashes in Abel and Manuela's prison-like apartment are an obvious and exceedingly overdone reference to the holocaust.