Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Through a Glass Darkly

The Artistic Haunting

Ingmar Bergman's 1961 masterpiece Through a Glass Darkly takes its original Swedish-language name, Såsom i en spegel or As in a Mirror, from the Swedish Biblical verse, Paul's epistle to the Corinthians, which in the King James Bible is translated as "Through a Glass Darkly." We note the hypnotic splendor of the reflections in the rippling water that open the film. The four vacationers emerge from the sea onto the island of Fårö, in what is Bergman's first use of the remote locale where he will eventually build a home and live out his final decades. This recalls the opening of The Seventh Seal where all principals emerge from the watery edge of the world, creatures still in the process of evolution. 

Virility is a means for males of exerting their place as truly existing within the world amid sexual inferiority complexes — insofar as there's a woman to lord it over even if only somewhere on the personal periphery. Virility is an excuse and an escape. Strange conversation between Martin (Max von Sydow) and David/Papa (Gunnar Björnstrand) about Hemingway "leading the way" on virility, itself a murky remark in a conversation already complicated by the fact it occurs between a father and his son-in-law, on the subject of the latter's daughter Karin (the sublime Harriet Andersson). Through a glass, darkly, indeed.

The hormonal confusion of the diminutively christened Minus (Lars Passgård), Karin's brother, what with his longing for his sister — he spills his milk all over the shore. 

Within Through a Glass Darkly there are moments of Fordian poetry: Papa lighting his pipe at the outside table during everdawn, for instance — although such moments of reflection, of his editing his recent manuscript, are interrupted constantly even as he tries to make a go of one sentence's revision; whereas Minus in his credulity rejoins that this summer he has written 13 plays. Quantity over quality, if the backyard production of his play-ette The Artistic Haunting is any indication.

But Papa's got new artistic inspiration: as his diary reveals, upon Karin's snooping, he will be focusing upon his daughter's progressive perhaps-schizophrenia-based illness, "to use her." When Karin confesses her transgression, Martin exhibits a rather full displeasure. Will he be implicated in her father's text somehow? Something about virility and Hemingway?

"Have you written one word of truth in your life as an author?" Martin asks Papa on an afternoon boating excursion. 

"I must talk to Papa before it starts again." It does indeed, following her lovemaking to Minus in the hull of the beached ship (there before their arrival on Fårö, or having allowed their arrival?), and her breakdown in the wallpapered room in which she recounts an attempted rape by God the Spider.

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