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Through a Glass Darkly (1961, Harriet Andersson, Gunnar Bjornstrand)



Through a Glass Darkly, the first of Ingmar Bergman’s acclaimed trilogy of films examining man’s futile search for God (followed by Winter Light and The Silence ), won the 1961 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film and finds the film-maker at his most pessimistic and dramatically potent. It is, wrote The New York Times , ‘a powerful, personal experience… that makes one’s senses reel… one of the more impressive and challenging films of the year’.

Bergman’s uncompromising screenplay, with its resonances of Long Day’s Journey Into Night , painfully probes 24 hours in the lives of four people spending the summer in an isolated cabin on the Baltic coast. Karin (Harriet Andersson) is a young schizophrenic recently released from a mental institution. Her father, David (Gunnar Bjornstrand), is a well-known novelist whose cold detachment as he studies his daughter only exacerbates her instability while her doctor husband Martin (Max Von Sydow) is unable to help. And her 17-year-old brother Fredrik (Lars Passgard) is disturbed by his growing sexuality and feels he has been abandoned by David. Karin increasingly turns away from her husband after reading a note in her father’s diary that her illness is incurable. And in the night, she suffers seizures in which she hears voices telling her that God will come to save her. In her mind’s eye, she sees God – as an enormous black spider. Her madness deepens and she seduces Fredrik. She declines into permanent madness and as a helicopter arrives to take her back to the mental institution, Martin goes with her, leaving David to deliver Bergman’s message: ‘God exists in love, in every sort of love. Maybe God is love’.

Bergman’s central thesis – that Man is dominated by his illusions – is powerfully illuminated in what is probably his most mature and austere film. Dialogue is limited to a minimum and silence achieves its own dramatic eloquence. ‘The other pictures I have made,’ said Bergman, ‘have been only etudes . This is Opus 1’. Through a Glass Darkly was named as one of the National Board of Review’s five best Foreign Language films in 1962, was nominated for a British Academy Award the same year and won the OCIC Prize at the 1962 Locarno Film Festival.

production details
Sweden | 91 minutes | 1961

Writer and Director: Ingmar Bergman

Harriet Andersson as Karin
Gunnar Björnstrand as David
Max von Sydow as Martin
Lars Passgård as Fredrik (segment Minus)