Oh, and for those of you looking for a more informed, science-based look at the gaping holes woven together to form the net of this film, check out Stephen Gaskell’s post over at Creepy Treehouse.
I rarely watch a film I literally know nothing about, and I must say it’s an unsettling experience. I’ve witnessed people walking up to a cinema and asking “What’s playing today?” in shock and awe. “How can these people not know about the film they’re going to see? Who are these people? Have they left the house just to see any film, rather than planning, sometimes weeks in advance, to go and see a specific film?” are often thoughts that run around my head and occasionally out of my mouth as the clerk at Odeon reels off a list of the current blockbusters and horrors for the third time to a pair of elderly women in front of me in the queue, clearly looking for something starring Clark Gable. On occasion, and as happened recently with Time Regained, I will pause a movie I know nothing about some way into it, to have a quick check online or in the 1001 book, to give me some idea of what I’m supposed to be watching. If I do this, it’s not generally a good sign, as a) I’m as yet unsure of what the film is about, and b) I’m clearly bored. This was not an option with Ingmar Bergman’s Through A Glass Darkly though, for I watched it streaming via LoveFilm, and I find that if I pause it for more than a quick toilet break, the damn thing refuses to load unless it plays from the beginning, so I had to sit it out and find out what I was watching afterwards.
We open with four people swimming gleefully towards a deserted island. Amongst them is Karin (Harriet Andersson), who suffers from some kind of mental illness that she doesn’t know is incurable, but her father David (Gunnar Bjornstrand) and husband/doctor Martin (Max von Sydow), both also present, do. David is a writer of novels, who has been away recently and plans to leave again after finishing his current book. Also along for the trip is Karin’s 17 year old younger brother Minus (Lars Passgard). These four make up the only characters in the film, which takes place entirely on and around the island, yet the film never really feels claustrophobic, just a little muddled.
Karin’s illness leaves her with no desires to sleep with her husband, yet she has acute hearing, leaving her to wander around the house late at night (pretty much no-one ever sleeps in this film) and at one point she seems to reach an intense state of ecstasy whilst alone and unprovoked.
All four people have fairly strained relationships with one another, especially the children with their father, who is self centred and has a robotic detachment of emotion towards his daughter’s potentially fatal condition, so much so that he is morbidly interested in documenting her deterioration. His son Minus feels especially distant, feeling that he is completely unable to talk to his father.
Frustratingly, the film offers only the minimal amount of closure, as Karin’s condition worsens to critical levels. I’m always impressed when directors overcome extreme limitations – usually set by themselves – for example here with the restricted location and cast quartet, but I feel that a great deal more could have been done. Director Ingmar Bergman has many films on the List, and this is only the second one I’ve watched. Winter Light disappointed me a little, but this was a definite improvement. Bergman seems to be one of the most notable directors of all time List-wise, and regularly comes up on many people’s greatest lists, so I’m looking forward to seeing some of his better works in the future.
Choose life 5/10
The second part of my Clint-Eastwood-directing-himself-and-Morgan-Freeman-in-a-supporting-role double bill see Clint take on a genre he’s never really (that I know of) looked at before, the sports movie (please feel free to let me know if he has, I’m often wrong about these things and he’s been working for an awfully long time).
If there’s two criticisms that can be lauded onto Eastwood, it’s that he doesn’t direct happy stories or portray more than one character. He’s not renowned for making lighter films with happy endings or playing people who aren’t grumpy, stoic curmudgeons with their trousers too high, and his streak continues here. I know he’s made a few lighter films (Paint Your Wagon, Every Which Way But Loose) but I haven’t seen them, and I’m guessing he plays the grumpy, stoic, possibly singing straightman to a comically messy primate who never stops annoying him. Again, please let me know if I’m wrong and recommend any films where he flashes a smile, once.
Here, Eastwood plays Frankie Dunn, a knowledgeable, best-there-is boxing trainer who can’t seem to get it together to be more than the owner of the run-down Hit Pit Gym. His latest fighter, Big Willie Little (Mike Colter) has a promising career ahead of him, with Frankie having gotten him almost to a title fight, but alas he leaves for a more prolific manager, leaving Frankie high and dry. Meanwhile, self-proclaimed white trash Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) has joined his gym and is looking for a trainer, though Dunn is adamant that he doesn’t train girls. Her pluck and commitment eventually wears down Dunn, assisted by persistent advice from his assistant, Morgan Freeman’s retired boxer and former recipient of Dunn’s training, Eddie ‘Scrap-Iron’ Dupris.
The story is a little corny and at times downright predictable. It’s clear that Maggie and Frankie will work together, each filling a void in the other’s life (Maggie’s father is dead, Frankie’s daughter has fled and refuses to acknowledge his efforts to contact her), and once they get going her rise through the ranks is unbelievable, especially as she never received any training until she was 31, but the delivery is spot-on. Heartstrings are at times shamelessly plucked, but justifiably so, and there’s a blindsided moment I genuinely didn’t see coming on first viewing. This isn’t your average rags-to-riches underdog sports movie, and it’s proud of this. There’s moments of humour, most noticeably from Dunn trying to talk to Maggie (“I’m going to try and forget the fact that you’re a girl”) and from Jay Baruchel’s simpleton wanna-be-but-never-gonna-be boxer ‘Danger’ Barch.
Swank is, expectedly, brilliant, earning her second Oscar as she all but becomes the downtrodden heroine. Her family has never stopped putting her down (look out for Garfunkel & Oates’ Riki Lindhome as her welfare-cheating sister!) but she retains a dogged sense of determination, saving up all her money from waitressing jobs where she has to steal half-eaten steaks to survive, just to buy a speedball for training. The outcome of her trying to do something nice for the family that’s never done anything for her is genuinely heartbreaking. Eastwood is good, but it’s well trodden ground for him, and Morgan Freeman is wonderfully understated – until he gets a chance to show off some moves later on.
There’s a lot to recommend about the film, but not a lot to bring you back. It’s certainly worth watching at least once, and I took a great deal away from it, but most of that was that I didn’t want to go through the harrowing gut-punch of an experience of watching it again any time soon.
Choose film 8/10