Through a Glass Darkly

Harriet Andersson plays Karin, the impulsive, meditative young wife who finds that the mental illness from which she is recovering is in fact incurable. Her husband tries fumblingly to reassure her but has ceased to interest her. On the other hand, her father (Gunnar Bjornstrand) can still offer a comfortable familiarity at first but is soon revealed as a hauntingly detached observer. Between the two, on the bleak island where they have their holiday home, wanders her gawky teenage brother Minus in search of his own personality. In one of the upstairs rooms, Karin finds the promise of a visit from God, which would give meaning to all things, but when the visitation at last comes it appears that God too is a bitter disappointment.
As the opening stage of Bergman’s trilogy, Through a Glass Darkly is like a precis for The Silence. Set between one sunset and the next, the film gives its first and last images to the sea, from which the four laughing figures emerge at the start like characters all too unaware of the roles their creator has in mind for them. The almost placid context for their cathartic twenty-four hours seems to provide a formal reassurance by Bergman that despite all the evidence there is some kind of answer. But the Andersson performance has been too involving, and the concluding Bjornstrand words are too unconvincing, for Bergman’s message to be as placatory as his script.

English subtitles.
Black and white.
91 mins.

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