Through a Glass Darkly (Swedish: Såsom i en spegel ("As in a mirror")) is a 1961 Swedish film written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, and produced by Allan Ekelund. The film is a three-act “chamber film,” in which four family members act as mirrors for each other. It is the first of many Bergman films to be shot on the island of Fårö.
The story takes place during a twenty-four hour period while four family members vacation on a remote island, shortly after one of them, Karin (Harriet Andersson), was released from an asylum. Karin's husband Martin (Max von Sydow) tells her and Minus's (Lars Passgård) father, David, that Karin's disease is almost incurable. Meanwhile, Minus tells Karin that he wishes he could have a real conversation with his father, and cries because he feels deprived of his father's affection. David (Gunnar Björnstrand) is a second-rate novelist who has just returned from a long trip abroad. He announces he will leave again in a month, though he promised he would stay. The others are upset, and David gives them bad, last-minute presents. He leaves them and sobs alone for a moment. When he returns, the others cheerfully announce that they too have a "surprise" for David; they perform a play for him that Minus has written. David takes offense (although approving on the outside with cries of "author, author") at the play, which can be interpreted as an attack on his character and art.
That night, after rejecting Martin’s erotic overtures, Karin wakes up and follows the sound of a foghorn to the attic. She has a psychotic episode involving voices and the peeling wallpaper, and she masturbates. David, meanwhile, has stayed up all night working on his manuscript. Karin enters his room and tells him she can't sleep, and David tucks her in. Minus asks David to come with him out of the house, and David leaves. Karin looks through David's desk and finds his diary, learning that her disease is incurable and that her father has a callous hunger to record the details of her descent into madness.
The following morning, David and Martin, while fishing, confront each other over Karin. Martin accuses David of sacrificing his daughter for his art, and of being a self-absorbed, callous, cowardly phony. David is evasive, but admits that much of what Martin says is true. David says that he recently tried to kill himself by driving over a cliff, but was saved by a faulty transmission. He says that after that, he discovered that he loves Karin, Minus and Martin, and this gives him hope.
Meanwhile, Karin tells Minus about her episodes, and that she is waiting for God to appear behind the wallpaper in the attic. Karin has repeatedly teased Minus sexually, in a subtle way, and Minus is somewhat sexually frustrated. When Karin sees that a storm is coming she runs into a wrecked ship and huddles in fear. Minus goes to her and she grabs him. There are strong hints that they have sex, but it is unclear whether they do. Given the hints in the movie, it is possible, though doubtful, that Minus is a homosexual.
Minus tells the other men about the incident in the ship and Martin calls for an ambulance. Karin asks to speak with her father alone. She 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; she must choose one. While they are packing to go to the hospital, she runs to the attic, where Martin and David observe her actions. She says that God is about to walk out of the closet door, and asks her husband to allow her to enjoy the moment. The ambulance, a helicopter, flies by the window, making a lot of noise and shaking the door open. Karin moves toward the door eagerly, but then she runs from it, terrified, and goes into a frenzy of panic. The others sedate her, and once she is calm, she tells them that God was a "stony-faced" spider who tried to "penetrate" her. She looked into God's eyes, and they were "cool and calm," and when God failed to "penetrate" her he crawled onto the wall. "I have seen God," she says.
Karin and Martin leave in the helicopter. Minus tells his father that he is afraid, because when Karin grabbed him in the ship, he began leaving ordinary reality. He asks his father if he can survive that way. David tells him he can if he has "something to hold on to." He tells Minus of his own hope: love. He tells Minus that love and God might be the same thing. Minus seems relieved, and is happy that he finally had a real conversation with his father.
After the film’s release, Bergman placed the film first in a trilogy focused on spiritual issues (together with Winter Light and The Silence). Bergman writes, "These three films deal with reduction. Through a Glass Darkly — conquered certainty. Winter Light — penetrated certainty. The Silence — God's silence — the negative imprint. Therefore, they constitute a trilogy."
The title derives from a Biblical passage (1 Corinthians 13) in which seeing through a glass darkly refers to our understanding of God when we are alive; the view will only be clear when we die. The Swedish title literally reads as in a mirror quoted from 1917 års bibelöversättning (from the 1917 Swedish translation of the Bible).
Bergman described Through a Glass Darkly as a “chamber film,” an allusion both to the chamber plays of Strindberg (Bergman’s favorite playwright), and to chamber music in general. In line with the “chamber” theme, the film takes place in a mere 24-hour period, features only four characters and takes place entirely on an island.
Bergman dedicated the film to his then-wife Käbi Laretei.
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