Through a Glass Darkly – Dissecting “Conquered certainty”   Leave a comment

Såsom i en spegel – (Through a Glass Darkly)
Written and Directed by: Ingmar Bergman
Cinematography:  Sven Nykvist
Country: Sweden
Runtime: 89 minutes
Starring: Harriet Andersson, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Max von Sydow, Lars Passgard

We draw a magic circle around ourselves to shut out everything that doesn’t fit our secret games. Each time life breaks through the circle, the games become puny and ridiculous, so we draw a new circle and build new defenses.”

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Through a Glass Darkly – is the 23rd film directed by Ingmar Bergman which revolves around a small dysfunctional family on a remote island of Sweden; intensely involving, monumental performances from Harriet Andersson, Max von Sydow, Gunnar Bjornstrand and Lars Passgard, It won Bergman the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

The film expressively focuses/highlights on human alienation and paradoxically on exploration of the purpose of human existence i.e. to find meaning in an apparently meaningless existence. With a total cast of 4 people, “Through a Glass Darkly has a serious element of escapism and gross unveracity about it. A sort of desperate desire for security. An attempt to present a solution. A sort of weariness; always arriving at the question and never getting an answer. Like a circus performer who makes all his preparations for a somersault; and then, instead of making his death-leap, simply, with an ironical bow, climbs down”. Thus, the film is generally referred as “chamber film” (Chamber cinema encloses space and time, permitting the director to focus on mise-en-scène and to pay careful attention to metaphoric detail and visual rhythm).

The film describes day in the life of a dysfunctional family consisting of four people:

  • Karin (Harriet Andersson) – A central figure in the film who suffers from Schizophrenia and finds it hard to distinguish what is real from what is unreal.
  • Karin’s Father – David (Gunnar Bjornstrand) – Ostensibly Cold, self-alienated, repugnant author who records course of his daughter’s decent into madness.
  • Karin’s younger brother – Minus (Lars Passgard), – troubled/confused Adolescent who is exposed to sexuality in an unhealthy way.
  • Karin’s husband – Martin (Max von Sydow) – A Devoted husband and a helpless doctor who mutely witnesses Karin’s inexplicable emotions.

Karin’s illness is the main catalyst and it is the chief source which molds the characteristics of those who are associated with her. Coupled with acute sense of hearing, delusions, she tries it hard to make sense of her surroundings because she feels; no one attempts to connect to her soul. However she is aware of her illness and explicitly declares : It’s so horrible to see your own confusion and understand it.  Without any choice, she succumbs to dark forces, inadvertently refusing life without God, refusing life with God. Thus, constructing a platform for hope, reprieve, where Minus and David reconcile with each other though a following exchange…

Minus: Reality… cracked, and I fell out. It’s like in dreams… Anything can happen. Anything!
David: I know.
Minus: I can’t live in this new world.
David: Yes, you can. But you have to have something to hold on to.
Minus: What would that be – a god? Give me a proof of God! You can’t.
David: Yes, I can. But you have to listen carefully.
Minus: Yes… I need to listen.
David: I can only give you an indication of my own hope. It’s knowing that love exists for real in the human world.
Minus: A special kind of love, I suppose?
David: All kinds, Minus. The highest and the lowest, the most ridiculous and the most sublime. All kinds.
Minus: The longing for love?
David: Longing and denial. Doubt and faith.
Minus: So love is the proof?
David: I don’t know whether love is proof of God’s existence, or if love is God.
Minus: For you, love and God are the same?
David: I rest my emptiness and dirty hopelessness in that thought.
Minus: Tell me more, Dad!
David: Suddenly the emptiness turns into abundance – and hopelessness into life. It’s like a reprieve, Minus……from a sentence of death.
Minus: Dad… if it is as you say – then Karin is surrounded by God, since we love her. Could that help her?
David: I believe so.

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Furthermore, Bergman reveals that “Through a Glass Darkly was a desperate attempt to present a simple philosophy: God is love and love is God. A person surrounded by love is also surrounded by God. That is what I, with the assistance of Vilgot Sjöman, named ‘conquered certainty.’ In a weird way, the film floats a couple of inches above the ground, The terrible thing about the film is that it offers a horrendously revealing portrait of the creator and the condition he was in at the start of the film, both as a man and as an artist. A book would have been much less revealing in this case, since words can be more nebulous than pictures

In more ways, Through a glass darkly is an absolute masterpiece. Perfect with its captivating cinematography, it is a film of great purity that awakens awe, reverence and heightens the ability to act, feel, understand, perceive. Blending with infinite admiration, the vastness and the great impressiveness that it possesses, the film inordinately lingers on palpable truth which it echoes utmost i.e. love is all that matters.

References:
Ingmar Bergman’s “Through A Glass Darkly” (1961) – Passion for the Spirituality of Living
Crises of the self: An examination of alienation in Ingmar Bergman’s film trilogy
Ingmar Bergman Biography – Baseline’s Encyclopedia of Film
Bergmanorama- Through A Glass Darkly.

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