What do you get when you place four people on a remote island and you have Ingmar Bergman behind the camera? You get an intimate character study with some serious introspection and soul searching. Bergman films feel powerful because of the care that goes into each shot, each word, and each facial expression. Through a Glass Darkly is no exception.
- Director: Ingmar Bergman
- Writer: Ingmar Bergman
- Cast: Harriet Andersson, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Max von Sydow, Lars Passgard
Bergman provides an isolated setting where serious spiritual probing can take place. Karin (Anderson) has just been released from a mental hospital and her health is understood to be in question. She is joined by her husband Martin (Von Sydow), who loves her but seems to have given up on her health. Karin’s brother, Minus (Passgard) is a teenage boy who is both scared and invigorated, battling his own struggles regarding his sister’s condition while also experiencing his own sexual awakening. And finally we have Karin and Minus’ father, David (Gunnar Bjornstrand), who brings his own conflicted emotions to the party. David has recently spent time away in Switzerland to help copewith the death of his wife. Making David’s ability to face his daughter even more challenging is the fact that Karin has inherited the very disorder that killed his wife.
Talk about a movie that delves into some heavy subject matter. In addition to the topic of illness and death, the characters also tackle topics such as suicide, sexuality and religion. But while subject matter is important, Bergman is effective in how he makes you feel privy to brutally honest conversations, how he draws our attention without overselling a single detail. Much of the action is driven from this point by Karin’s failing health. Her unstable condition is worsened when she discovers that her father has described her disease as incurable in one of his diaries, essentially writing her off and triggering her to spin further out of control.
Austerity is what gives Through a Glass Darkly much of its power. The screenplay is tightly constructed. There is almost no room small talk, most dialogue is of a self reflective and spiritual nature. There is very little music, and the black and white photography lends a lot to a story where each character’s innermost thoughts and emotions are laid bare. David’s tormented soul is the best example. In speaking of a recent attempt to commit suicide, David is accused of being cowardly, of being a genius at evasions and excuses. We hear him speaking vulnerably about his conflicted feelings towards his daughter, Karin. He loves her, but he is also desensitized enough to document her deteriorating health for his own writing purposes. When we see him breakdown in a dark room, we see that David is both stunned and horrified by the heartlessness of his self-indulgence.
Brief Words for Mr. Ebert:
This is solid film, it feels intimate and accessible. At the core of making each character accessible, I believe that your review correctly identifies “the face” as the most direct means through which the inner lives of this family can be viewed. With little camera movement and long-takes that are characteristic of Bergman films, each facial expression is allowed to convey much of the story. Even if you were to mute the volume, the camera’s focus on each character’s face would do much to still evoke the tone of the film. While it may seem absurd to speak about facial expressions at length, I agree when you say that the characters often seem as though they are not looking at anything in particular — “or, perhaps, they’re looking inside themselves.”
Good, Bad or Great Movie: GOOD
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Next week’s review: Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters
Years ago, ScreenCrave contributor Jaime Lopez privately began tackling Roger Ebert’s “Greatest Films” list, an ever-expanding monolith of celluloid currently comprised of 354 films. Lopez has set himself to put these remaining films’ “Greatness” to the test–reviewing both the movies themselves and Ebert’s response. By taking on Ingmar Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly this week, he now has 282 under his belt and less than 100 films left to go.