Feature Film, 1961

Through a Glass Darkly

In the first part of the God and Man trilogy, a writer of popular fiction charts his daughter's mental illness as the basis for a novel.

"You're empty but capable. And now you're trying to fill your void with Karin's extinction. But how will God fit into that? It must make him more inscrutable than ever!"
Martin to David

About the film

The first draft of what was to become Through a Glass Darkly is in the form of a note on the last page of the script for Bergman's preceding film, The Virgin Spring. It begins with the words: 'THE WALLPAPER. She who is small and gets a story about the room with the mysterious wallpaper. Then one day she experiences it.'

Karin is played by Harriet Andersson. If her role in Summer with Monika was her big breakthrough, the aforementioned complex character constituted her second big break. Gunnar Björnstrand plays her father, a writer who uses her psychosis in his novels. Of the four actors in this chamber piece, Lars Passgård was definitely the beginner of the bunch. At the age of 18, he was confronted with the challenges of relating to a dead mother, a distant, suicidal father and an insane big sister, who also molests him.

Through a Glass Darkly is often referred to as the first part of the 'God and Man trilogy' – of which Winter Light and The Silence make up the second and third, respectively. The film was Bergman's second complete collaboration with Sven Nykvist and the first of his films to be shot on Fårö. It was, in fact, Nykvist who recommended the island to Bergman.

Harriet Andersson would later comment on shooting the film: 'Back in those days, exterior shots were allowed to take their time, and it shows. There are some insanely long tracking shots that called for extensive rail work. Nowadays they run around with theses tiny cameras, no wonder that they don't need any rails.”'

Through a Glass Darkly was Sweden's contribution to the Venice Biennale in 1962. It won the Oscar for best Foreign Language Film the same year.


Sources of inspiration 

Bergman writing on the genesis of the film in Images: My Life in Film:

When the film was in its planning stages, it was called The Wallpaper. I wrote in my workbook: "It's going to have a story that moves vertically, not horizontally. How the hell do you do that?" The note is from New Year's Day 1960, and even if it was strangely expressed, I understood exactly what I meant: a film that went into an untested dimension of depth.

My worbook (middle of March):

'A god speaks to her. She is humble and submissive toward this god whom she workship. God is both dark and light. Sometimes he gives he incomprehensible instructions, to drink saltwater, kill animals, and so on. But sometimes he is full of love and gives her vital experiences, even on the sexual plane. He descends and disguises himself as Minus, her younger brother. At the same time as Minus, her younger brother. At the same time the god forces her to swear off marriage. She is the brige awaiting her groom; she must not let herself be defiled. She pulls Minus into her world. He follows her willingly and eagerly since he exist on the border of puberty. The god throws suspicion on Martin and David and creates the wrong impression of them in order to warm her. On the other hand he endows Minus with the strangest qualities.

What I wanted, most deeply, was to depict a case of religious hyteria or, if you will, a schizophrenic individual whith heavily religious tendencies. Martin, the husband, struggles with his god in order to win Karin back to his worl. But since he is the type of person who needs that which is tangible, his efforts are in vain.'

Then I find this in my workbook:

'A god descends into a human being and settles in her. First he is just an inner voice, a certain knowledge, or a commandment. Threatening or pleading. Repulsive yet stimulating. Then he lets himself be more and more known to her, and the human being gets to test the strength of the god, learns to love him, sacrifices for him, and finds herself forced into the utmost devotion and then into complete emptiness. When this emptiness has been accomplished, the god takes possession of this human being and accomplishes his work through her hands. Then he leaves her empty and burned out, without any possibility of continuing to live in this world. That is what happens to Karin. And the borderline that she crosses is bizarre pattern on the wallpaper.'

Parallel with the carefully chosen words exists a contrasting harsh concept of how the god I have created actually looks. 

Sources

  • The Ingmar Bergman Archives.
  • Ingmar Bergman, Images: My Life in Film.

Collaborators

  • Harriet Andersson
  • Gunnar Björnstrand
  • Max von Sydow
  • Lars Passgård
  • P.A. Lundgren, Art Director
  • Rolf Holmqvist, First Assistant Cameraman
  • Peter Wester, First Assistant Cameraman
  • Staffan Dalin, Boom Operator
  • Erling Blöndal Bengtsson, Performer
  • Sven Nykvist, Director of Photography
  • Lars-Owe Carlberg, Unit Manager
  • Ulla Ryghe, Film Editor
  • Max Goldstein, Costume Designer
  • Stig Flodin, Production Mixer
  • Johann Sebastian Bach, Music Composer
  • Erik Nordgren, Music Composer
  • Allan Ekelund, Production Manager / Production Coordinator
  • Lenn Hjortzberg , Assistant Director
  • Karl-Arne Bergman, Property Master
  • Ulla Furås, Script Supervisor
  • Evald Andersson, Sound Effects
  • Ingmar Bergman, Screenplay