#228 Through A Glass Darkly
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(1961, Ingmar Bergman)
“It’s so horrible to see your own confusion and understand it”
We’ve looked at a few films in the past that were based on the works of influential sci-fi writer Phillip K. Dick, and it’s time to look at another film based on his works. Through A Glass Darkly is about an undercover cop trying to chase down a drug dealer responsible for spreading a powerful new drug named Substance D, but it becomes apparent that they are the same person and…what do you mean, I have the wrong film?
Oh wait, that’s A Scanner Darkly, which has nothing to do with this film beyond people losing their minds.
Through A Glass Darkly is actually an Ingmar Bergman film set during a 24-hour period, where a young woman named Karin (Harriet Andersson) has recently returned from a stay at a mental institute for schizophrenia, and is on holiday with her husband, Martin (Max Von Sydow), her father, David (Gunnar Björnstrand), and her brother, Minus (Lars Passgård). Over the course of the day, Karin’s disorder escalates while the men all come to terms with their own issues.
Like other Ingmar Bergman films, Through A Glass Darkly is a very slow, very moody piece of work that spends a lot of time pondering issues and not really showing much of a plot but somehow remains somewhat engaging.
Initially it’s difficult to know what to think of Through A Glass Darkly. When it opens, it likes to hop around between the characters and act a big vague about what it’s actually trying to say. It seems odd that we’ll open on everyone swimming happily to a revelation that Karin is schizophrenic to David crying over his writers’ block to a short play. It’s a little inconsistent, and this inconsistency kind of hangs around for the whole film, although it does switch a greater focus on Karin’s issues over anything else.
I would argue that Karin is the only character who is really handled very well in the course of the plot. David is the typical tortured artist but his motives and actions are very questionable, while Martin’s characterisation seems based solely around how much he’s in love with his wife. Minus is pretty much a non-entity who is barely explained.
Karin, however, is very interesting, although whether or not the portrayal of her condition is accurate, it’s kind of fascinating to watch her bizarre actions under the influence of the voices in her head, and the huge freak-out she ultimately has. Her description of performing incredibly bizarre acts, recognising them as unhealthy and odd and yet being powerless to stop them is rather effective too.
In fact, the movie as a whole is oddly fascinating. I wouldn’t necessarily say I enjoyed it or particularly liked it, but it was certainly interesting. The reason it doesn’t really creep into “like” territory is because it can feel incredibly meandering, and leaves a lot of things unanswered or intentionally vague in a way that’s maddening rather than thought-provoking.
I also felt the “mirror” analogies, that the title implies and that Bergman admitted were a central theme of the film, weren’t really well implemented. I often found it difficult to see how the characters mirrored one another aside from them each feeling powerless to something, although what exactly Minus was powerless against wasn’t clear.
I also wasn’t too keen on how the movie ultimately panned out, and felt that it kind of trailed off at the end without touching on the implications of Karin’s actions very well.
As I stated, Through A Glass Darkly was an incredibly bizarre, incredibly meandering film that was oddly fascinating but doesn’t really seem to achieve very much. Interesting if you like Bergman, I’m sure.
Starring Harriet Andersson, Gunnar Björnstrand, Max Von Sydow & Lars Passgård
Written by Ingmar Bergman
Produced by Allan Ekelund
Music by Erik Nordgren & Johann Sebastian Bach
Cinematography by Sven Nykvist
Edited by Ulla Ryghe
Favourite Scene: Karin’s discovery that her father is using her illness as an experiment and possibly a future subject of a novel, and shows little remorse towards her troubles.
Scene That Bugged Me: The play early on felt disconnected to everything else.
Watch it if: You like Bergman and mental illness
Avoid it if: You expect Karin to start stabbing people or something
Posted on October 24, 2013, in 1960s, Drama, Sweden and tagged gunnar bjornstrand, harriet andersson, ingmar bergman, lars passgard, max von sydow, mental illness, movies, schizophrenia, swedish cinema, through a glass darkly, world cinema, writers block. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.