Civil war prevails on the mainland. The former musicians Eva and Jan Rosenberg (Liv Ullmann and Max von Sydow) have withdrawn to the seeming security of an island and eke out a modest existence as farmers. Suddenly bombs are dropped on the island and enemy troops march in. Partisans fight against government supporters, friends turn into enemies. Eva and Jan try to flee, but are arrested and charged with collaboration. Mayor Jacobi (Gunnar Björnstrand), with whom they used to play music, has meanwhile become a Colonel and appears to be in control of things. At first he is able to save Eva and Jan from being executed, but has his own intents and purposes in the matter.
In SKAMMEN Bergman reacts for the first time to a leading issue of the time: the Vietnam War. Here he depicts the civil war as chaos in which it is impossible to identify the aims or the sides. The outward violence and destruction of war are reflected in the inner emotional desolation. The sensitive, self-pitying artist Jan turns into a liar and murderer. His more stable partner Eva is suddenly ready to make compromises. Personal values are destroyed; survival determines people’s reactions, notwithstanding their feelings of shame about their own behaviour. Love, dreams, hope – all is destroyed by war.