Reviews & Commentary

Through a Glass Darkly (1961)

Also known as
Såsom i en spegel (original)
Ingmar Bergman
Ingmar Bergman
Gunnar Björnstrand, Harriet Andersson, Max von Sydow, Lars Passgård

A second-rate author, David (Gunnar Björnstrand), his son and daughter, Minus (Lars Passgård) and Karin (Harriet Andersson), and the daughter’s husband, Martin (Max von Sydow), are staying on an island. Karin is a latent schizophrenic who has just gotten back from hospital, while David has just returned from Switzerland, where he fled to write when Karin fell ill. On the island, Karin’s condition worsens; she wakes in the night and goes up to the attic, where she hears voices talking from behind the frayed wallpaper. They tell her to read her father’s diary, where she learns that her condition is incurable and that her father is disgusted to find himself studying her as a subject for his writing. Meanwhile, Minus tries and fails to connect with his father, and Martin grows ever more desperate at his inability to help Karin.

For all the praise Bergman rightly gets for his directing, we often forget to talk about how good a writer he is. Through a Glass Darkly is a case in point. While the plot is minimal, the dialogue is poetic and beautiful, especially when Karin discusses her delusions. And, at times, it’s unflinchingly self-critical; the father’s realisation that he is a poor writer and his disgust at being a parasite, leeching off his daughter’s illness, surely echo Bergman’s own doubts about himself and his art — the way in which art uses real life but is not a part of it and continually fails to represent it. At one point, Martin asks, “Have you ever written a single true word?” and David can only answer that he doesn’t know.

Through a Glass Darkly is a series of failed attempts at communication and understanding. Martin can’t understand or help Karin; Karin says, “You always say all the right things, but it still turns out wrong.” And everyone is trapped in realities of their own creation, as both Minus and David remark. Only Karin, who has found a different reality, one where people of light and goodness are waiting for an imminent God — where magic is real and God is afoot, to paraphrase Leonard Cohen — says she doesn’t feel trapped all. She has enough self-awareness to question her delusions — there are moments of lucidity — but they pull too hard. “It has to be true,” she says. Because it’s just too horrifying to stay in a world without God. Finally, even Minus and David find some form of redemption, some solace, in the belief that love is real, and that love is God.

Written by Kalle on Monday July 27, 2009
Permalink - Category: Film - Tags: 1960s, ingmar-bergman

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