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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A Woman Under the Influence (1974)

Family is an integral aspect and concept inhabiting human existence. Conflicts among those closest to us are inevitable, and their eventual resolutions may be civil or volatile. We also depend on familial relations for support, love, and resiliency. Joyous occasions, such as a birth, can facilitate immense celebration and happiness. An illness in a family member can create fear, panic, reflection, yet enhanced connectivity. Thus, it is quite evident that the idea of medicine extends beyond physical and mental illness to encompass the vital component of familial coping and interaction with their loved ones. “A Woman Under the Influence” is a brilliant 1974 drama film directed by John Cassavetes, demonstrating the wide array of familial emotions in the midst of a loved one’s illness.

Nick Longhetti (Peter Falk) is a hard-working construction worker married to Mabel (Gena Rowlands) and father to three children. He is quite preoccupied with others’ perceptions of Mabel’s eccentricities, and serves to exert a great deal of control over her decision-making and her behaviour. Mabel is acutely aware of this power dynamic, and puts a great deal of effort in trying to be a great “hostess”. She is greatly disturbed and confused by others’ expectations of her behaviour, manifesting into odd mannerisms and occasional outbursts. A variety of events over the course of a day including questionable conduct at a children’s party to a heated confrontation with her mother-in-law Margaret (Katherine Cassavetes) led to Mabel’s certification and involuntary psychiatric hospitalization for six months. Upon her return home, the familial expectation was complete cure (i.e. acting within the norms of society). It quickly became apparent that illness in any shape or form involves recovery – experiencing life in the present and using healthy coping strategies to deal with daily challenges.

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This film has multiple assets which effectively conveys the stressors involved in living with mental illness. The acting is absolutely sublime. Peter Falk palpably harbours anger, confusion, and discontent with the reality of his ideal vision of family. The supporting cast’s emotions greatly increase the intensity and concern of their loved ones. However, I feel that it is Gena Rowlands’ acting talent and complete engulfment into Mabel’s world which makes this film a classic. She epitomizes the central struggle of a fragile individual living with a strained marriage and mental illness. As well, the long scenes feel improvised, allowing the viewers to watch an encounter where individuals’ behaviours evolve. Emotions heighten, and behaviours may become more unhinged and disintegrative in realtime. This enhances the fidelity of the film to many real-life circumstances, whereby the snowball effect leads to a potential familial crisis and an eventual intervention.

I believe that the title of the film lends itself to a variety of interpretations. Specifically, how was Mabel under the influence? Were her behaviours a manifestation of alcohol use, true mental illness, her personality, her reality, or her family’s expectations? In truth, a multifaceted lens needs to be adopted in understanding anyone’s behaviour. Psychiatry as well as other areas of medicine operates under a biopsychosocial model, in which biology, psychology, and social factors contribute to wellness or illness. Culture is another component influencing health care professionals’ and the public’s opinions on the manifestations of mental illness. Mabel’s behaviours and eventual hospitalization were not solely from an organic basis. They culminated from many aspects and ideas of our Western societal and cultural perception of illness, norms, and wellness.

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I do not own any of the images in this post. This post is also a part of a blogathon I am hosting between May 26 – 28 related to Medicine in the Movies! Please check out other related posts over the next few days as we discuss the impact of the medical field on cinema!

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

Norms are social constructs which have been defined over quite a long period of time which shape a society’s view on how one ought to behave. Some of these standards are essential to protect the well-being and safety of individuals and populations, such as laws. Others relating to stereotypes, for example, have been subliminally and overtly engrained in collective consciences. These predefined ideals can ostracize and exclude fellow humans who yearn for equity and connection with others. Authority figures may plainly or unknowingly perpetuate these cerebral conventions, creating further isolation in an “us versus them” mentality. Milos Forman’s 1975 Academy Award-winning classic One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest bravely explores these notions among a stigmatized group of individuals and their care providers’ draconian techniques.

Randall P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) has been working on a prison farm following his most recent charge of statutory rape. He has offended five previous times with assault. Therefore, prison officials and his psychiatrist agree to a forensic evaluation on a diverse and quiet all-male unit subdued mainly by the manipulative, authoritative, passive-aggressive, and wretched Nurse Mildred Ratched (Louise Fletcher). Her approach to nursing care is far from collaborative. She steers therapy groups with uncomfortable, leading questions, intimidating all of the patients with her calm and calculating mannerisms and word choice. The introduction of McMurphy to the unit is threatening to Nurse Ratched, and it is evident that she holds great hostility and transference towards him from the very beginning. He is also calculating, is malingering his “symptoms”, and should not . He is anything but disorganized in his efforts to anger Nurse Ratched, and he aspires to infuse patients’ daily routines with variety. The inpatients (Danny DeVito, Brad Dourif, Christopher Lloyd, and Will Sampson among many others in a wonderful supporting cast) evolve from terror to resentment to amusement towards Nurse Ratched throughout the film largely in part to McMurphy’s actions.

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I feel as if the title can be implicated via many facets of a spectrum. One can literally escape from a confined space, “flying over” or “away” from that enclosure. It could refer to one’s condition deteriorating to a great degree, in that “flying over” can refer to lost hope and complacency. As in the film, some individuals have serious psychiatric conditions and have been involuntarily admitted to the hospital having likely been very ill with no insight prior to admission. Much has changed since this film’s era, and much continues to evolve within psychiatry as it is still considered to be a new discipline. Antipsychotics and other medications have become more widespread and appropriately used, and lobotomies are thankfully not performed as far as I know. While an outstanding masterclass in ensemble acting and directing, this film may have propagated some dangerous ideas. For example, electroconvulsive therapy is not used as a form of punishment without anesthesia but is a highly treatment for severe depression. It is my experience that great care is taken in psychiatric care to ensure a high level of collaboration between patients, families, and other care providers. This allows for a holistic approach towards recovery and living a meaningful life with a mental illness. In my opinion, attitudes held similar to Nurse Ratched high contrast and are detrimental to current standards of care and human dignity. Overall, I feel that “flying over” a mental health issue should nowadays be referred to “flying through”, living life day by day with hope and celebration of each success.

I do not own any of the pictures in this post. This is a part of the Great Villain Blogathon 2017 hosted by Shadows and SatinSilver Screenings, and Speakeasy! Please keep checking their blogs over the next few days as well as look at yesterday’s posts for intriguing and informative posts and opinions on movie villains!

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