English Title: Through a Glass Darkly
Original Title: Såsom i en spegel
Language: Swedish, Latin
Director/Writer: Ingmar Bergman
Cinematography: Sven Nykvist
Max von Sydow
Bergman’s chamber drama is exclusively fenced in the Fårö Island, a first time to put his future reclusive dwelling on the map, THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY is comprised of a quartet of players, novelist David (Björnstrand), recently returns from abroad, reunites with his family: daughter Karin (Andersson), who is released from asylum after being treated for schizophrenia, her doctor husband Martin (von Sydow), and Minus (Passgård), David’s son and Karin’s younger brother.
Psychological stress soon strains after the inchoate jovial atmosphere, when David backtracks his promise of staying longer and apprises them a future engagement abroad, so he is the dodger, who cannot bring himself to face Karin’s mental deviation (a genetic disorder passed on by his diseased wife) and buries himself in wording creation instead, in hope for papering over his incapacity of doling out love, especially to the love-wanting adolescent Minus, who is sexually frustrated (which is taunted by Karin) and covets for his father’s attention and sage advice, his thinly-veiled theatrical improv rattles David’s cage which he internalizes and responds with a forced smile and heaped-upon plaudits.
Karin’s condition takes a nasty turn when she rummages through David’s journal and finds out that her disease is possibly incurable and is deeply hurt by David’s callous, self-seeking intention to milk literature inspiration out of her plight, and when her “other self” has a leg upon on her psyche, she proclaims that she sees God in the deserted room upstairs, through the wallpaper crack. After experiencing relapse inside a wrecked ship during a storm, Karin devotedly awaits for the moment of Epiphany before returning to the hospital, and under the presence of both David and Martin, her encounter with God thrusts her into a paroxysm of hysteria that later she reveals the Almighty’s arachnid form and its movements in shocking details.
Mercifully, Bergman opts for some bleak optimism in the end, Karin reconciles with her state and decides not to dangle between two worlds, spares Martin his undivided love which she is unable to reciprocate; David and Minus also strike up a tentative re-connection when the former is jolted by his recent brush with the Grim Reaper himself.
Slender in structure but rich in cerebral promptings, grand in ascetic setting and natural landscape, THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY hones up an immensely turbulent cauldron of psychosexual undertows and familial tensions. Harriet Andersson gives the performance of a life time as best as Bergman’s leading ladies can, holding the rein of dwelling in two diametrical states, and goes off the deep end with true grit. Both Gunnar Björnstrand and Max von Sydow have a more internally battling character arc to wade through and they’re as solid as one can anticipate, finally, newcomer Lars Passgård also leaves an indelible impression in his film debut, a gangly youth whose sanity is put to test in the troubling waters. In toto, the film comes off as an awe-inspiring dissection of human’s eternal struggle between id and ego under a theological bedding, a most pertinent kindred spirit of PERSONA (1966), yet, without the latter’s faintly doctrinaire air.
referential entries: Bergman’s CRIES & WHISPERS (1972, 8.6/10), THE SILENCE (1963, 8.2/10), PERSONA (1966, 7.7/10).