Harriet Andersson plays Karin, a young woman plagued by a mental illness. She’s cared for by her husband, Martin (Max von Sydow) as well as her father David (Gunnar Björnstrand) and her brother Minus (Lars Passgård). These are the only 4 characters shown in Ingmar Bergman’s Through A Glass Darkly. That happens to be the English version of the title.

The original title in Swedish is Såsom i en spegel, which means “as in a mirror”. It’s a quote from the bible in 1 Corinthians 13, “For now we see through a glass, darkly.” as rendered in the King James version. The main thing being the fact that it refers to a mirror and not a glass/lens since there were no such things back in the day. This passage basically is referring to man’s understanding of god and our limited capacity to “see”.

This harks to Bergman’s own obsession with trying to understand something that is, as the film puts it, unscrutable. His finding god as a metaphor for his own excesses, that of filmmaking. I get the feeling like I’m watching a film which is a poor reflection of Bergman himself, a loathing self-critical piece that hints at his own torment and longing. When you consider that mirrors of the olden days also sucked, and had blurry, dark reflections, it might make sense. As in viewing the mirror, you see your “true” self, ugly and detestable, unclean before god.

It’s an interesting film because it’s only got 4 actors, takes place within a short period of time and is filmed in a single location, on the island of Fårö. It’s a pretty damn depressing look at the disintegration that’s happening within the family. Everything starts out peachy-ish at the start, four characters going swimming and coming back to shore. Yet, it’s not quite right, they’re rather too evenly spaced, too far apart almost, distanced from each other. When they get back, it’s all smiles and cheekiness and fun but we soon learn there’s problems. Karin is ill and they’re kinda on the island to help her get away from things. Martin is sad and powerless in the knowledge that he can only stand by and do nothing. David is trying to write his book and remains detached from his family, preferring to stay away from them, if possible. Minus, is on the verge of adulthood and understanding, yearning for his father’s love and confused about himself.

The relationship between the four is horrible. They try their best to pretend, to put on facades and civility, yet everything is falling apart. You wonder why and I suppose the film hints at the reasons but I don’t really want to say too much. I think it’s best for everyone to make their own minds up about the film. I reckon that the film isn’t really a study of god or the absence of one. Rather, I think it’s just a convenient metaphor for the real problems behind the family troubles. A lot of what is implied in the film also never happens and is entirely suggested, simply through character expression and careful direction. Or at least what I think is implied anyway. I don’t think Bergman beats around the bush too much though, to me it’s all pointedly obvious and I don’t mean that to make myself sound intelligent either.

There’s a few levels to the film to consider. I suppose I’m over-speculating about the film, putting things in there when they’re not. Perhaps its my own perversion or delusion. Yet, Through A Glass Darkly is so powerful in its minimalist use of the power of suggestion. It makes you think, about god, life, man, family, individuality… I guess I just need stuff to be logical and make sense to me.

I don’t think this is a film to be enjoyed. It’s one to marvel at with its details and framing and the filmmaking aspects of it. Yet the plot is hugely uncomfortable in the sense that it deals with a topic that is taboo, not that it’s hard to watch. Well it is hard to watch because the subject is taboo but I don’t mean the film is boring. But I don’t mean the film is enjoyable, because to be able to enjoy something, you’d have to experience positive feelings, joy. There is almost none in this film. It is perverse and very dark. There are rays of light but they’re probably just gonna reveal cobwebs. It’s bleak, so it’s unenjoyable. Yet, it’s appreciable and highly watchable. I’m so roundabout. It’s so hard to describe the film properly without giving away my poor, limited and grotesque interpretation of it. Suffice to say, I think it’s a film worth watching.

Clubmasters for life yo.

Woman is sin.