Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Through a Glass Darkly

*Bergman *85m *1961 *Sweden

The first in the so called "absence of god" trilogy, the others being "Winter Light" ('62) and "The Silence" ('63).

This film is  about the crisis of illness (of the mind, which undermines the very foundations of existence) which visits a family of four: Karin, the sick and ravishingly young woman afflicted with a sickness which involves hearing voices and visual hallucinations, so is serious enough to loosely earn the label schizophrenia; her devoted doctor husband, whose advances she repulses; her seventeen year brother Minus(more talented than his author father, apparently, and himself also somewhat "cubed" in) , with whom love down slides to incest; and the insensitive novelist father who, due to his literary ambition, is unable to love his two children (he wants to record his daughters gradual mental disintegration as material to write about, a fact which she is shocked to discover when she pries into his personal papers); the late mother who suffered from the same illness, is mentioned in passing. They are lives stalemated  each  in their own unique fashion.

The girl hears voices she is compelled to obey, for example in the repulsing of the husband and the seduction of the brother. For the rest, she is unrecognizably normal and charming. She shuttles helplessly between the two realities; she is alone, even her brother Minus is bewildered and uncomprehending. She yearns for a door in the loft to magically open and god (Godot?) to reveal himself: when it does it is due to the air blowing from the blades of an ambulance-helicopter which has come to take her back to the hospital. She imagines that god has revealed his identity as an obnoxious spider. Her slide into psychosis is delineated  in meticulous and convincing detail.

The absence of god or a universe malicious or worse, indifferent? To take the analogy of the elephant and blind men, the universe is what we experience, and this particular woman experiences it as an ugly and aggressive insect, perhaps personifying the physically absent but mentally omnipresent father?

One can justifiably addict oneself the iridescence of Sven Nyquist's  cinematography, the bonus to Bergman movies, as he captures the Swedish summer, the sea and beaches, the fairy tale cottage (all awash in the midnight sun), the grandeur of the human form, and the faces with the ephemeral changes of emotion like a surface of water. I am tempted to put the disc on again to see these faces again, having gotten over the subtitles.
Ebert's Review
Bergman site


vivek said...

This is tied at first place as my favourite Bergman film with Seventh Seal.

S M Rana said...

You are tempting me to watch "Seal" which I have avoiding as something of a period-piece.