It took me several sittings to watch all of the theatrical version of Fanny and Alexander, which is a paltry 188 minutes to the television version's 320, both of which are included in the Criterion Collection's box set of the film, along with a Making of documentary I have yet to watch. It was a daunting task to watch this, the so-called "swan song" by Ingmar Bergman, not just because of its Herculean running time. Fanny and Alexander is very high on the Sight & Sound Top 250 list, as well as being in the pantheon of Bergman films. It concerns itself with an extremely large cast of characters, all of whom speak Swedish and none of whom, save a few, are familiar to me. If you're not a die-hard film fan, there are few points of entry to this movie.
But I am a die-hard film fan, so I felt like I was being neglectful not to watch this movie, particularly since I own a copy of the aforementioned box set. One of the pitfalls of loving movies in the age of Netflix, Hulu and HBO Now is that you end up owning far more than you actually choose to watch, given the endless choices on streaming platforms. Fanny and Alexander is similar to War and Peace in that its reputation for being so large and comprehensive precludes just how accessible and engrossing it really is. Once you settle into the stories of those respective works of art, it's tough to pull yourself out of them.
I'm not going to review Fanny and Alexander; there's no point, and if you want to read a far better critical evaluation of the movie, check out Roger Ebert's original review, as well as the film's entry in Ebert's Great Movies series. This blog entry is more a musing on why the great films are worth your time and why, even though they can be a lot harder to swallow than a few episodes of Veep, they're ultimately more nourishing to the mind (nothing against Veep, the best comedy on television). As Dave White says, you can't have broccoli for every meal of the day, but you also can't have Lucky Charms. A balance of the two is the best.
You don't have to check out Fanny and Alexander before you look into any other Bergman, or really any other classic film that is in the realm of the Criterion Collection or other hallowed domains. But you should eventually get to it. And if you're a film lover who has been putting off Bergman's late masterpiece, you owe it to yourself finally to check it out. Maybe one day, I will have the fortitude to dedicate the five-plus hours required to get through the television version. For now, the theatrical is plenty.