The next entry for my challenge, and it really doesn’t feel like a challenge at all. I am really enjoying watching these films, which have been on my to-watch-list for so long. With so many Bergman films to pick, I decided to watch Through a Glass Darkly next, which I have been meaning to watch for a very long time, but have always been putting off because of the subject matter. And one has to be in a certain mind-set to be able to approach these kind of films (which I haven’t been for a good while, but now I have recovered after a period of severe depression).
I believe my experience with depression helped me connect with the main character Karin (Harriet Andersson), although she is suffering from schizophrenia. I could understand her isolation and frustrations, her eagerness to recover for the sake of her loved ones. The title Through a Glass Darkly is derived from 1 Corinthians 13, ( “For now we see through a glass darkly”). And in an interview, Bergman stated that the inspiration for the character of Karin was a woman he had lived with when he was younger, who according to him heard voices telling her to do things.
The story takes place during a 24-hour period while the four family members take their vacation on a remote island. This is shortly after one of them, Karin, is released from an asylum where she has been treated for schizophrenia. Karin’s husband, Martin (Max von Sydow), tells her father, David (Gunnar Björnstrand), that Karin’s disease is almost incurable. After their meal, Karin, along with her 17-year-old brother Minus (Lars Passgård), put on a play, all seems to be going well and the family retire for the night.
During the night, Karin wakes up and follows the sound of a foghorn to the attic. Inside the attic; Karin has an episode, hearing voices calling her from behind the peeling wallpaper – she faints as a result. She then enters her father’s room and looks through his desk, and finds his diary. Seeing he described her disease as incurable and has the desire to record the details of her deterioration. Discovering this sends Karin into a meltdown, and later, on the beach, when Karin sees that a storm is coming, she runs into a wrecked ship and huddles in fear. Her brother follows, and Karin ends up seducing him, in an attempt to seek some comfort.
David and Martin return to the island, and Minus informs of what occurred inside the ship, and Martin calls for an ambulance. Karin confesses her misconduct toward Martin and Minus, saying that a voice told her to act that way and also to search David’s desk. She tells David she would like to remain at the hospital, because she cannot go back and forth between two realities – but must choose one. Will Karin chose a life with her family or will she allow her illness to consume her?
Bergman wrote the screenplay for Through a Glass Darkly by drawing on his personal experiences in planning to reconcile with his parents Karin and Erik Bergman. Although whether this reunion occurred I do not know. It is also worth mentioning, that the scene where David describes his attempted suicide is also inspired by Bergman’s real-life attempt in Switzerland, before making Smiles of a Summer Night in 1955.
The end result of Through a Glass Darkly, is a beautifully woven character study which manages to capture the devastating effect of mental illness. Without ever mocking or belittling those who suffer from it. Harriet Andersson‘s performance is profound and so moving that I can’t quite find the words to describe it. She is the film, and it simply wouldn’t work without her performance. Through a Glass Darkly is certainly one of Bergman’s most moving and most truthful depictions of how fragile humanity is, and is up there with Persona and Wild Strawberries as my favourite of Ingmar Bergman’s films.