Through a Glass Darkly (1961)

Through a Glass Darkly (1961)

“It’s so horrible to see your own confusion and understand it.”

When a young woman (Harriet Andersson) recently released from a mental asylum arrives on a vacation island with her novelist father (Gunnar Björnstrand), her loving husband (Max von Sydow), and her younger brother (Lars Passgård), it quickly becomes apparent to everyone that Karin (Andersson) is far from well.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Family Problems
  • Ingmar Bergman Films
  • Max von Sydow Films
  • Mental Breakdown
  • Mental Illness
  • Scandinavian Films

Ingmar Bergman won his second Academy Award for Best Foreign Picture with this first entry in an informal trilogy of thematically related movies — followed by Winter Light (1963) and The Silence (1963) — which provides a deeply dark meditation on God, sanity, love, and familial relations. Andersson — who had starred in several of Bergman’s earlier films, including Sawdust and Tinsel (1953) and Smiles of a Summer Night (1955) — gives a heartbreaking performance as a young woman who knows her sanity is at ongoing risk, and must deal with not only manipulation by her father and brother, but knowing she can’t fully satisfy her loving, patient husband.

The film is stark and sparse, featuring only a quartet of actors, a single primary location (the island of Fårö), and minimalist but effective use of the Sarabande from Suite No. 2 in D minor for Violoncello by J.S. Bach. While it’s not must-see for all film fanatics, Bergman fans will likely appreciate seeing this early distillation of some of his most trenchant themes.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Harriet Andersson as Karin
  • Fine supporting performances
  • Sven Nykvist’s incomparable cinematography
  • Good use of location shooting in Fårö

Must See?
No, though it’s recommended for Bergman fans. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


One thought on “Through a Glass Darkly (1961)

  1. Rewatch (10/2/22). Must-see, for its subject matter and for Andersson’s performance.

    The film seems to be more powerful for being minimalist at 91 minutes. Ultimately we don’t understand everything but at the same time we are able to grasp all that we need to know for the purpose of the story: a woman’s illness and its effect on those around her.

    It’s a film that benefits from more than one viewing – even if everything isn’t laid out any better a second time around. It’s fascinating observing how each of the characters copes in his / her own way.

    Andersson is nothing less than remarkable (in a role she initially hesitated playing, until Bergman talked her into it).

    DP Nykvist’s work is stunning and appropriately evocative. I’m glad the film won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film.

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