Through A Glass Darkly

Through A Glass Darkly


Reviewed by: Ben Sillis

As tragic as Ingmar Bergman's passing is, DVD distributors must have been mildly pleased at the prospect of cashing in with re-releases of his many films. Tartan are re-releasing a batch of the Swedish art house king's finest but not so well known outings in commemoration of his death late last year.

Through A Glass Darkly takes its name from the oft-quoted biblical phrase, the idea that humans don't see things clearly. Bergman takes this idea and applies it to a family drama, excruciatingly painful to watch for all the right reasons, as loved ones misread each other and are unwittingly punished for doing so.

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A family reunion takes place at their home on the windy isle of Faro. David, (Gunnar Björnstrand) a negligent father and failing author has been away on a business trip yet again. Always absent, even the gifts he brings back are unwanted ("I have one of those already"). More worrying for the tense family relations, however, is that his daughter Karin (Regular Bergman muse Harriet Andersson) has just been released from the asylum, and while her mental illness is seemingly dormant, it's almost incurable, her husband Max von Sydow confides in his father-in-law.

Not so much happens until the film's climax: instead, the characters are outlined, like silhouettes against that glass, and only in the finale are we shown the truth. David is almost happy about his daughter's suffering, as he can use it as fodder for his next book, which he no doubt hopes will revive his career. Her husband Martin wants to care for her in a way that only suits him, and is unable to see that now is hardly the time for a bit of action between the sheets - in this sense he's using Karin just as much as her father, despite all his criticisms.

But quiet and horny teenage sibling Minus is the truly sexually frustrated one, the sort of boy who might have to take a long shower after seeing a ham sandwich - or more tragically, after a kiss from his sister. Meekly played by Lars Passgård, it's a small part but an intimidating one. When Karin teases him about his lack of a girlfriend, he emits a completely muted anger that only becomes horrifying in hindsight, when in an outrageous bit of pathetic fallacy it's hinted that Minus rapes his sister.

Over the course of the day Karin acts as the mirror (The Swedish translation of the Corinthians verse of the title) for how the others (all men, tellingly) see the world - and pays a horrible price for it. But it is an attack on spirituality as much as it is the humans who have fallen from grace - what kind of creator would allow this madness? It would be spoiling the film to reveal what Bergman thinks of such a God, but no prizes for guessing.

Bergman is Bergman, of course: no one (re)creates family tensions in all their wincing reality like he does, even if people have more furniture in their houses in real life. But Through A Glass stands out in the Bergman canon for the beautiful cinematography by Bergman's long time DoP, Sven Nykvist. The haunting contrasts suit the wild isolation of Faro down to a tee, not to mention the descent into madness, although do make you wonder why on earth Bergman chose to live out his days there. Maybe Bergman (Who racked up four failed marriages in his time), wanted to avoid all that pain and horror, and stay as far away as possible from any God that could inflict those things. This brutal film is certainly enough to make you want to.

Reviewed on: 19 Feb 2008
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Through A Glass Darkly packshot
A recently released mental hospital patient goes back to her home on a secluded island with her family, resulting in emotional and spiritual crisis.
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Director: Ingmar Bergman

Writer: Ingmar Bergman

Starring: Harriet Andersson, Gunnar Björnstrand, Max von Sydow, Lars Passgård

Year: 1961

Runtime: 89 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Sweden


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