Tuesday, March 26, 2013

March Blind Spot: Through a Glass Darkly(1961)

I am kind of obsessive compulsive about making lists. Not that I make lists about everything but when I do, I have to make them in a certain way. Off course, that habit seeps into my movie watching as well. Even in a simple case like Wrapping up post that I do at the end of month comprising of that month's watching, I try to keep my movie watching as dispersed as possible. If you have noticed it, it wasn't a coincidence. I make sure it happens. Almost every month, you will find that batch to be a fair mixture of Classics and contemporaries, English and Foreign movies. I have purposely tried to break that pattern, just to see if I can and have returned to it every single time. When I made this list of 12 movies last December, off course, I made sure that I am including movies from every decade and give good weightage to foreign and classic films. Now when it comes to watching them, I have seen a classic and I have seen an English movie before. So its time for a Foreign movie - I am slave to my habit, I am telling you and when it comes to foreign movies, there is hardly a better choice than Bergman. 

First and foremost, what makes this a Blind Spot movie? In other words, why is this film essential?
I have already told you - Two Words, One Name, Ingmar Bergman. I have seen quite a few of so-called 'Essential' films from his armada. What still remains to be an unventured territory for me in his filmography is his Faith trilogy and his TV Mini-Series Scenes From a Marriage(1973). The reason I wanted to include a Bergman film in the Blind Spot line-up was to force myself get back to his remaining films and I could not think of another movie than first film of his trilogy. 

So, what is the story about?
Through a Glass Darkly(1961) chronicles 24 hours in the life of one Family of 4 people. Our main focus is on the sole woman in the group - Karin. Karin has a problem; she is schizophrenic and has been recently released from an institution. This seems to be their first gathering after she got out. Other three men in the group are her Brother Minus, who seems to have some some problems of his own, Her Husband Martin who has been told by Karin's therapist that there is a very good possibility that she may never recover from her disease completely and hence is always protective, sometimes maybe over-protective of her. However Her father, David, who has just returned from his trip to Switzerland, is the most interesting character of these men or the most intricate. As the movie progresses, we become privy to the various parts of their personalities where they keep their deepest secrets that they have never shared with anyone. Karin understands that her condition is complicated and serious. She also understands that this has made Martin overprotective and her father seems often not to be there. So she confides in her brother who, to her, is a stronger person since he can take any news and right away doesn't think there is something wrong about her. Minus himself seems to go through patches of anger and depression which he has kept secret from his father as well. 

Of all the relations in this movie, Karin and Minus have the most interesting interactions, probably because they both are the birds of similar feather and hence prefer to sail together. It makes their interaction much more direct, frank and honest. Karin and Martin are kind to each other and try to be as good as possible. But their relationship as Husband-Wife is almost non-existent. Karin has lost her desire due to her treatment and Martin's over-protectiveness seems to repel her further. Her father, again good and kind man but Martin hates the fact that David always seems to have some selfish, hidden agenda and Karin and especially Minus think of him as emotionally unavailable. He almost seems surprised when David listens to him in the end but David is the character that reveals himself the most in these twenty hours, for better or for the worse.

What did I think of it? What did I like the most about it and what didn't I like?
It's dark, it's melancholic and it's depressing but it's an Ingmar Bergman film. You don't exactly sign up for them expecting a comedy(You didn't, right?). Existential angst with a bit of religious back current that we see here is Ingmar Bergman at his best. I am not sure if I will call it Bergman's The Best, that might still be one of his 1957 double punch - Wild Strawberries or The Seventh Seal, but it sure is one of the best I have seen and I have to say Harriet Anderson and her Karin is probably the biggest reason. Even though she was my favourite part of Smiles of Summer Night(1955), probably Bergman's only lighter film, I think this is the best role I have seen her in. Yup, even better than Cries and Whisper(1972) though these two roles are a little similar. Anderson handles all the ups and downs of Karin really well and as you can expect, this is hell of a bumpy ride. Of the other three, another Bergman regular, Gunnar Bjornstrand was the one I liked the most. His David is a regular guy on the surface but is much complicated beneath. Bjornstrand brings all the complexities of David to surface with such honesty that you can't help getting hooked. Lars Passgard also did a good job in Minus' role but Max von Sydow was little annoying, especially in comparison to such fine performances otherwise.

I have no idea if the two films really have something more fundamental in common but from the very first minute, I was thinking about Sidney Lumet's Long Day's Journey into Night(1962). Similarities in the two movies are uncanny - both came at around the same time, both revolve around only 4 characters of one family with a woman at center, both chronicle single day in their life, take place at a single location and bring a lot of skeletons out of the closet. Both are dialogue heavy, character driven movies that boast some amazing performances with leading ladies heading from the front. Long Day's Journey into Night is much more explosive though whereas Through a Glass Darkly leaves lot of things unsaid and being a Bergman film has some religious undertones that Long Day's Journey lacks. 

After having seen it, do I agree with its 'essential' status? and why? 
Ingmar Bergman has been immensely influential; over the years he has become one of the directors that has inspired generations of directors that followed him. To be consideredas one of the best in his oeuvre itself is a huge compliment. Add to the fact that Bergman's Faith trilogy, or Silence Trilogy as some might want to call it, is often considered as one of the Best trilogies in world cinema. I have never been able to answer 'Which is your favourite trilogy' question because there are far too many options to choose from but if the other two are as good as this, I can see myself agreeing to it being one of the best. Apart from that, it is one of the two films that won him back-to-back Foreign Film Oscars, if that means anything to you. I do believe that for those who are even remotely interested in the works of Ingmar Bergman or want to get into it, this is one of the films that you do not want to miss.

Does it open few new doors for me? Does this inspire to watch any other movies?
The driving force behind getting Through a Glass Darkly onto Blind Spot line-up was to get back on Bergman bandwagon. By now, I have seen about 10 movies he directed. I am hoping this would be the push I need to get some of those remaining essentials, including the next two installments of Faith Trilogy Winter Light(1962) and The Silence(1963) along with others such as only Bergman and Bergman collaboration Autumn Sonata(1978) and The Virgin Springs(1956), off my list that I have always meant to but for some reason or the other, never got to. I would also like to check some of his work before 1957, the year he made two legendary films.


  1. Really glad you checked this one out - one of my all time favorite Bergman's. Interesting that you draw comparison to Lumet's Long Day's Journey Into Night... I've never thought of that before. Hmmm.

    During summer 2011, I saw an Off-Broadway rendition of this flick, starring Carey Mulligan as Karin. Mulligan was superb (I mean... just, wow) but the play left out the concluding spider scene entirely, which puzzled me. I later read an interview with Mulligan, and she was asked why that scene didn't make the cut, and her response was something like, "There are some things you just don't repeat."

    I liked that.

    1. I am glad I did too. I usually try not to compare, usually because I don't think it adds anything to it but in this case, there were just too many comparison points and I love them both. So, no harm at least.

      First of all, you have seen Carrey Mulligan on stage, live. Wow !! I would LOVE to and that answer does look like something she would say. Thanks for the Comment Alex !!

  2. Happy to hear you dug this one! I struggled to get emotionally attached to characters in Scanner Darkly. A bit too melancholic for me, yet also powerful and well-acted.
    I think you are right that this family had communication problems. Emotionally unavailable, that's a good description of the father. I think Bergman is questioning the writer's obligation to his art, and obligation to his family. How difficult it is to balance the two. Come to think of it, maybe Bergman is questioning everyone who balances a job with family duty. Perhaps David the writer is an alter ego for Bergman.

    1. I completely understand your stance on it Chris but as I said in the comment on your post, I can usually handle that. :)

      I like what you are saying about David. The thing with many Bergman films is if you think about them, there can be different interpretations of the same thing to different people. His films always have that depth to allow these interpretations or maybe even that is what he aims for.

  3. Yay! You liked it! Glad you're getting back into Bergman's work. Those four you mentioned that you haven't seen are pretty great.

    Long Day's Journey Into Night is on my watchlist. I might just have to watch it soon.

    1. Off course you are. :) I am gonna try and watch then soon. Lets see how that goes.

      Long Day's Journey is a great film. I think I even like it little more than Through a Glass Darkly. Let me know how that goes.


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