“Through a Glass Darkly” – the first of Bergman’s “Faith Trilogy” – flows over the viewer like a wisp of smoke, slowly and smoothly drifting toward the heavenly sky. The music, cinematography, performances and other elements of mise-en-scne all invite the gentle, steady rhythm that pervades the entire film.
“Through a Glass Darkly” is a film driven not so much by certain events unfolding around the main characters, but by the interaction between the four characters on a tiny island. The heroine of the film, Karin – Harriet Andersson – suffers from schizophrenia, while her husband, brother and father struggle to both comfort Karin and overcome their own emotional problems.
Her father, David – Gunnar Bjrnstrand – attempts to soothe his guilty conscience over using his daughter’s illness as inspiration for his latest book, while largely ignoring the concerns of his sexually charged 17-year-old son Minus – Lars Passgrd – who soon falls into an incestuous relationship with Karin.
Her husband, Martin – Max von Sydow – feels compelled to stay with her despite his inability to improve her condition. It is through these four characters that “Through a Glass Darkly” explores the presence of God, settling with the most uplifting message of the three films.
As a result of only having four characters through the entire film, the audience is given frequent opportunities to seek identification, which both various cinematic devices and the performances themselves encourage.
Andersson plays Karin flawlessly, able to smoothly transition between her various mental states, which successfully lures the unwitting viewer into at least sympathizing with the character. While Passgrd may come across as a bit melodramatic at times – the scene when he grabs a blanket and immediately falls to his knees comes to mind — the viewer is able to somewhat identify with his hormonally driven plight.
Bjrnstrand, who also starred in “The Seventh Seal,” does an especially gifted job at letting hints at David’s inner turmoil peak through his usually distanced exterior at times throughout the film. The character of Martin encapsulates the almost plodding blandness that the environment around him inspires.
It must be said that the cinematography, along with the scenery itself inspires a sort of melancholic feel that flows seamlessly with the mood of the remainder of the film. From one of the opening shots of the film – four figures wade toward the camera in an extreme long shot under a gray sky that covers the top two-thirds of the screen – to a close-up, featuring a beam of light circling one of Karin’s eyes while she lies in bed with Martin, cinematographer Sven Nykvist consistently uses the scenery and natural lighting to further the almost neutral tone of the film.
The music also plays a large role in shaping “Through a Glass Darkly.” Bach’s D minor Cello Suite works its way through the film, helping to establish the familiar melancholic atmosphere with its long, warm notes.
“Through a Glass Darkly” is clearly a film that entertains through its engagement of the viewer’s mind, an art woefully unexplored by the films released this summer. This film, along with “Winter Light” and “The Silence,” is co-sponsored by the Film and Media Studies Program and is free to UR students.
“Through a Glass Darkly” plays tonight at 8 p.m. at the George Eastman House, located at 900 East Avenue.
Schnee can be reached at email@example.com.