Through a Glass Darkly (1961)

Ingmar Bergman is one director who I feel has left a body of work that represents the complicated and sometimes disappointing reality of human nature. The intricacies of human relationships are on full display in his films, delving into associated stressors and supports. A great deal of time is devoted to essential character development, enhancing viewers’ understanding of said relationships. The cinematography is carefully composed with a haunting tone under the direction of frequent collaborator Sven Nykvist. These are all hallmark components to a Bergman film. However, I feel that the openness of the stories allows for much introspection and meaning applicable to one’s own life circumstances. Through a Glass Darkly is a 1961 Swedish Academy Award-winning drama directed by Bergman embodying these qualities in spades.

The film is set on a secluded island during the hot summer months, and events gradually unfold over a period of twenty-four hours amongst four principal characters. Karin (Harriet Andersson) is the central character, fragile in nature. She was recently discharged from a psychiatric facility, having been treated with electroconvulsive therapy and diagnosed presumably with a psychotic illness. She has an overarching delusion with religious overtones infused with auditory hallucinations, dictating and controlling a large amount of her decision-making and behaviour. Her husband, physician Martin (the legendary Max von Sydow), is extremely devoted to Karin and concerned for her well-being. Her father David (Gunnar Bjornstrand) is an ailing, self-serving writer who sometimes uses others’ suffering as subject matter for his novels. Her brother Minus (Lars Passgard) has an unhealthy, immature, and extremely close attachment to Karin, yearning for attention and approval from his father. It can be deduced from descriptions of these close-knit yet diverse group of characters that confusion, conflict, and lament fill their existence and interactions. Overall, I feel that the film challenges our thoughts on familial relationships, mental illness, death, culminating into a surprising yet inevitable finale.

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The title “Through a Glass Darkly” is derived from the following Corinthians verse:

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

Verses from the Bible or any manuscript based in religion can have a variety of interpretations by modern readers. In my humble opinion, this verse refers to our own self-image and beliefs. They may be distorted by multiple environmental and internal factors, casting a dark shadow on our true abilities and goals. As Karin states, “it’s so horrible to see your own confusion and understand it”. Recognition of illness and/or suppression by concerned and caring strangers, friends, and family can elevate our self-esteem and self-awareness. Our evolution into genuineness may be supported by them or shunned based on outside expectations. Regardless, a wealth of knowledge and soul-searching in our “face to face” meeting with either a higher power or ourselves stimulates pause for reflection on struggles and joys in our past.

As with many Bergman films, glimpses and explorations into human connectedness are in action. Minus wonders whether “if everyone is caged in. You in your cage, I in mine”. We all experience this sentiment in life at times, some more frequently than others. The truth is that we never act in isolation or in microcosms. Human nature and relationships are dynamic, changing, and influence our very being and direction on planet Earth.

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I do not own the pictures in this post. As well, this post is part of the “Favourite Director Blogathon” hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies and The Midnite Drive-In! Please check out other posts about excellent directors in cinema that are a part of this blogathon!

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13 thoughts on “Through a Glass Darkly (1961)

  1. I have not seen enough Bergman (“The Seventh Seal”) In fact the only other “Swedish” movie I’ve seen is “ABBA: The Movie” Probably should check out more. Thx for joining the blogathon./

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  2. Really enjoyed your review. This is one of Bergman’s best films. What I like about his films is that they often tackle issues that people are uncomfortable with (such as death or mental illness.)His material is perfect for actors, it makes them go deep with themselves to create powerful and striking performances. The films don’t make for easy watching, but they are films that have to be watched.

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    • I definitely agree. I think one of the main reasons why I love his films so much is that they tackle uncomfortable subject matter that is present in everyone’s life in some way. Thanks for reading 🙂

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  3. I’ve not seen this film, though I love Bergman’s gloomy humanity. I saw a number of his films at Uni and in my 20s and was struck by the different pacing from American and UK films, and the psychological depth and honesty with which he deals with human emotions, particularly sadness, disappointment and jealousy.

    Wild Strawberries, Persona and Scenes From A Marriage I particularly liked, though I also saw Autumn Sonata, Fanny and Alexander and perhaps some others (it’s been a while). More recently I’ve caught up with his medieval classics, The Seventh Seal and The Virgin Spring which were good in a different way. Only The Silence I didn’t like, but that may have been due to external factors. Thanks for the review of this film. I must see it.

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      • Thanks! I love foreign cinema so much. The boundaries created by Hollywood are definitely pushed, allowing for much more creativity and introspection. I usually use The Criterion Collection as inspiration for what I must watch next!

        Liked by 1 person

    • It is my favourite Bergman film. I also love his gloomy humanity, and that he explores so many facets of it including those aspects of humanity that make us extremely uncomfortable. I HAVE to see Scenes from a Marriage. On my must see lists! I also must view Winter Light and The Silence. Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

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