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