Through a Glass Darkly
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Distributed by: Janus Films
Released: October 1961
The idea of a family vacation can often be far superior to an actual family vacation. Someone gets the idea that it will be great to spend days together in a little cottage near the water somewhere to get away from the pressures and boredom of regular life at home. A lot of the time, the vacation is just what was needed, but going home to sleep in one’s own bed is a concept that should not be underestimated. There is something confining about spending time in a little house with people who don’t have jobs to go to or errands to run. A week in a cabin isolated from the rest of the world might just lead to a bit of craziness.
In Through a Glass Darkly, 1961’s Best Foreign Film by legendary Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, we have a family of four off on a getaway to remote island to spend some quality time together. There indeed is craziness, but the kind that existed before this get-together and goes deeper than a few days of isolation.
|Martin (Max von Sydow) and Karin (Harriet Andersson)|
The family consists of four: There is the father, David, who is a novelist and an absentee dad always away working. There is his son, Minus, who has an inferiority complex that reflects his unfortunate name. David’s friend Martin is with them, a man roughly David’s age but married to David’s daughter, Karin, who initially seems like the stabilizer in the family, but in reality is certainly not.
The four of them joke around and make conversation like any family would at the start of spending time together. Things get a little dicey when Minus, who is an aspiring writer, and Karin put on a play for the other two. It's something Minus wrote with the thinly-veiled message that Minus thinks Dad is a bigtime jerk. David has a hard time relating to his kids and only shares his deepest feelings with his friend Martin, played by Max von Sydow (who also stars in 1983’s Pelle the Conqueror, and the soon to be reviewed The Virgin Spring). Cryptically, they discuss Karin’s previous illness.
|The Exorcist: Max von Sydow has had to deal with worse|
And Karin’s illness is the center of the film. It seems she is having difficulty keeping a grip on reality, and things don’t look promising that she will get better. And perhaps because she is a key relationship for each of the three men around her, things don’t really look promising for this family. Even though Karin’s mental illness is the subject, to me the real story is how it affects the other family members, both tragically and with an ounce of hope.
Through a Glass Darkly is a talky film, centering on the individual relationships within the family and how the family exists as a unit. But this is an Ingmar Bergen movie, so the subject matter is much broader than a summary of the film would provide—like in Fanny and Alexander, Bergman's 1983 Best Foreign Film winner (released in 1982), religious themes abound, carefully woven into the story and into the characters. In the end, though this family endures the tragedy that mental illness can bring, since a God exists, there is always hope that will endure.
The Title: Såsom i en spegel, which literally means, “as in a mirror.” The title is a reference to 1Corinthians 13, “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.” This is from the “love” epistle of Paul, frequently used at weddings, with the chapter ending with: “So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
|Things often go wrong on a family vacation|
The culture: The movie is set on Fårö, a Swedish island popular to vacationers and a location to a number of Bergman films. The island may be quite beautiful, but the black and white photography makes it appear stark and devoid of warmth, reflective of the family and of the mental illness that isolates Karin.
Agenda danger: The movie is grim, but the message is less so. In some ways, mental illness is not only confined to the daughter, but to the entire family, both individually and as a group. But the relationships survive, and especially redeeming is the final conversation between Minus and his father.
Best Picture that year: West Side Story
Rating: The film is essentially a three-act play with lots of dialogue and little action, and if you go into this understanding that, I think it is quite good and thought-provoking. A nice short little film by a master director.