THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY (Såsom i en spegel) (director/writer: Ingmar Bergman; cinematographer: Sven Nykvist; editor: Ulla Ryghe; music: Erik Nordgren; cast: Harriet Andersson (Karin), Gunnar Bjornstrand (David), Max von Sydow (Martin), Lars Passgard (Minus); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Allan Ekelund; Criterion Collection; 1961-Sweden-in Swedish with English subtitles)
“The first of Ingmar Bergman’s bleak but outstanding films from his trilogy of chamber plays about faith, alienation and the emptiness of life.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The first of Ingmar Bergman’s bleak but outstanding films from his trilogy of chamber plays about faith, alienation and the emptiness of life; it’s followed by Winter Light and The Silence. The action takes place during the course of a 24 hour period. The film auspiciously opens to a single violoncello playing Bach’s Suite No. 2 in D Minor, which appropriately complements the barren landscape of a remote island and sets the occult-like mysterious mood of the film.
It’s set on a desolate island in the Baltic during the nightless Scandinavian summer. There are four angst-ridden members of a family living in a well-stocked with food but bare furnished cottage. The patriarch is a detached, emotionally crippled and brooding but successful novelist named David (Gunnar Björnstrand). His pretty daughter Karin (Harriet Andersson) has just been released from a mental hospital and is suffering from a mental deterioration that has not been fully explained to her by the doctors or her family. She’s married to a caring medical professor Martin (Max von Sydow), who tries to be supportive but she shuns his romantic overtures after hearing dark voices from within. Karin’s younger 17-year-old brother Minus (Lars Passgard) is a callow youth aspiring to be a writer like his dad but is frustrated over his unfulfilled sexual desires, lacks confidence that he can face the adult world and has an inferiority complex over his stunted intellectual ability.
Karin’s disintegration takes a firm hold when she secretly rummages through her dad’s desk and discovers in his diary that her illness is a form of an incurable schizophrenia and that he couldn’t resist using her illness as a subject for his latest novel. It leads to Karin’s breakdown inside the hull of a shipwreck (think tortured soul). Things become increasingly darker when Karin hears voices, which she says are the voices of God, coming out from behind an attic door. When the door is opened, God is pictured as a spider. With her security blanket of a belief in God removed, Karin shrivels up in fear and has to be evacuated to a hospital by a helicopter. It ends with David trying to reassure his fragile son that there’s still some hope left in the world, as he tells him: “I don’t know if love proves God’s existence, or love is God Himself.”
It’s a personal film that has auteur Bergman pulling away from his parson father’s dour Lutheran religion to look for new ways to cope with life; he even confesses that the artist (including himself, in a self-deprecating tone) can at times feel inadequate and become a charlatan when he uses someone else’s experience as if it were his own voice of experience. Though not the kind of family drama that would appeal to a Hollywood audience, it’s the kind of drama that surfaced during the 1950s and 1960s as European arthouse cinema and took hold among a certain literary segment of the American population as what mature cinema should be like. It might not be pleasing in what it has to say about life but, nevertheless, it offers some brilliant grand opera-like observations on the human condition.
REVIEWED ON 8/7/2007 GRADE: A
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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