You don’t have to be a self-absorbed mope to like Kierkegaard, but it can’t hurt. Below is a stereotypically morose clip from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957), which echoes themes presented in The Sickness Unto Death:
The protagonist, Antonius Block, is a medieval knight suffering from what Kierkegaard might classify as conscious despair of infinitude. Despite assertions by many a cinema studies major, it’s not obvious whether Bergman was directly influenced by Kierkegaard, or whether Bergman simply shared Kierkegaard’s Lutheran outlook. Both Kierkegaard and Bergman were raised by authoritarian, pietistic fathers. (Bergman’s dad was a Lutheran minister.) Bergman never admitted to the Kierkegaardian influence often ascribed to him, or even to ever having read Kierkegaard. On the other hand, Bergman had read Sartre, Camus, and the Finnish positivist philosopher Eino Kaila. And it seems unlikely that a 20th century Scandinavian intellectual with a Lutheran upbringing, who was versed enough in philosophy to read Sartre and Kaila, would not have had at least a passing familiarity with Kierkegaard.
See the conscious despair over the eternal! Note the yearning for knowledge over faith! Of course, Kierkegaard might respond that those who demand certainty from God miss the point:
Once all attempts at comprehension are shown to be self-contradictory, the matter will appear in its proper light; it will then be quite clear that whether one is willing to believe it or not must be left to faith. I can very well comprehend (and this isn’t at all too divine to be comprehended) that a person who for the life of him has to comprehend and can only form opinions on what would have itself to be comprehensible will find this very meager. But if the whole of Christianity hangs on this, on its having to be believed, not comprehended, on its either having to be believed or one’s having to be offended by it, is it then so commendable to want to comprehend?
If nothing else, Bergman’s religious sensibilities, judging by this quote from a 1958 interview, largely aligned with Kierkegaard’s. That is to say, they each saw religious belief as an act of will, justified solely by individual emotion and not reason:
I believe in God but not in the Church, Protestant or any other. I believe in a superior idea that we call God. I want to and have to. I believe it is absolutely necessary. Integral materialism could only lead humanity to an impasse without warmth.
Unlike Kierkegaard, however, Bergman eventually tired of the effort, and came to declare faith and its demands a waste of time. You see this in his later films, as well as subsequent interviews:
[O]ne might say the problem dissolves. Anyway the crux of the matter is — the problem doesn’t exist any more. Nothing, absolutely nothing at all has emerged out of all these ideas of faith and scepticism, all these convulsions, these puffings and blowings. For many of my fellow human beings on the other hand, I’m aware that these problems still exist — and exist as a terrible reality. I hope this generation will be the last to live under the scourge of religious anxiety.
On a less lachrymose note, a related Kierkegaardian theme — unconscious despair — can be found on display in Monty Python’s Meaning of Life (1983):
With less mope and more mirth, we see perhaps a helpful illustration of what I find to be the most interesting assertion in The Sickness Unto Death: that most people never develop a self worthy of the name. Some tasty vinegar from Kierkegaard:
Most people, to be sure, live in all too little consciousness of themselves to have any conception of consistency; that is, they do not exist qua spirit. Their lives, whether with a certain childlike and endearing naivety, or with empty-mindedness, are made up from a bit of action here, a bit of incident there, this and that…. They so to speak join in life’s game but never have the experience of putting everything together, never come to a conception of an infinite consistency in themselves…
The petty bourgeois is spiritless… [b]ut spiritlessness, too, is despair. The petty bourgeois lacks any spiritual characteristic and is absorbed in the probable, in which the possible finds its tiny place. Thus he lacks possibility in the way needed to become aware of God… And if life helps now and then with terrors that transcend the parrot-wisdom of banal experience, then the petty bourgeois mentality despairs…
Nice parrot reference — would K. have been a fan of the Norwegian Blue?