Through a Glass Darkly (1961): Ingmar Bergman’s Oscar-Winning Masterpiece, Starring Harriet Andersson and Max Von Sydow

Oscar: Best Foreign Language Film, 1956-present
Year 6: Through a Glass Darkly
In Ingmar Bergman’s Through a Glass Lightly, a gloomy, intense drama, set mostly in an isolated island, Harriet Andersson plays a schizophrenic woman.  She’s married to a doctor (Max Von Sydow), who is frustrated because he loves her and sees her suffering, and yet can’t seem to help her much.
Grade: A (*****)
Through a Glass Darkly
Såsom i en spegel.jpg

Swedish theatrical release poster
After spending some time in a mental asylum, she joins her husband, her father (Gunnar Bjornstrasnd) and her younger brother (Lars Passgard on a lonely Island in the Baltic, where all engage in tormenting each other and soul-searching.
The first part of a trilogy, Through a Glass Darkly was highly acclaimed and was honored with the 1961 Best Foreign Language Oscar. The movie was followed by “Winter Night” in 1962, and “The Silence” in 1963. What unifies this work is Bergman’s persistent exploration of issues of faith, religion, and science, and family love, and the distinguished imagery courtesy of ace lenser Sven Nykvist.
Oscar Nominations: 2
Picture (foreign-language category)
Story and Screenplay (Original): Ingmar Bergman
Oscar Awards: 1
Best Foreign-Language Film
Oscar Context:
The winner of the Original Story and Screenplay Oscar was the Italian comedy, “Divorce—Italian Style,” penned by Ennio de Concini, Alfredo Gainnetti, and Pietro Germi (who also directed).
The other foreign contenders were “Harry and the Butler” from Denmark, “Immortal Love” from Japan, “The Important Man” from Mexico, and “Placido” from Spain.


Sweden (Svensk Filmindustri Production)

Released in US by Janus Films
Directed, written by Ingmar Bergman
Produced by Allan Ekelund
Cinematography Sven Nykvist
Edited by Ulla Ryghe
Music by Erik Nordgren
Johann Sebastian Bach
Distributed by Janus FilmsRelease date: October 16, 1961
Running time: 91 minutesStarring:Harriet Andersson
Gunnar Björnstrand
Max von Sydow
Lars Passgård
Detailed Synopsis:
The story takes place during a 24-hour period while a family is vacationing on a remote island, shortly after Karin is released from an asylum. Karin’s husband, Martin, tells her father, David, that Karin’s disease is almost incurable.

Minus, Karin’s 17-year-old brother, tells Karin that he wishes he could have a real conversation with his father whose affection he craves.

A novelist suffering from “writer’s block” who has just returned from a long trip abroad, David plans to leave again. The others perform a play for him that Minus has written. David, while feigning approval of the play, takes offence since the play is an attack on his character.

After rejecting Martin’s erotic overtures, Karin wakes up and follows the sound of a foghorn to the attic. She faints after hearing voices behind the wall.  Entering David’s room, she finds his diary, in which he is recording observations about her incurable illness and his desire to follow her deterioration.

The following morning, David and Martin, while fishing, confront each other over Karin. Martin accuses David of sacrificing his daughter for his art and of being self-absorbed, callous, cowardly, and phony. David is evasive but admits that much of what Martin says is true. David recently tried to kill himself by driving over a cliff but was saved by a faulty transmission. After that, he discovered that he loves Karin, Minus and Martin, which gave him hope.

Karin tells Minus that she is waiting for God to appear in the attic. Minus is sexually frustrated, and Karin teases him, after she discovers a hidden men’s magazine.

On the beach, Karin sees that a storm is coming, and runs into a wrecked ship, huddling in fear. When Minus arrives, she seduces him.

Minus relates the incident in the ship and Martin calls for an ambulance.  Asking to speak with her father alone, Karin confesses her misconduct due to her inner voice. She would like to remain at the hospital, because she cannot go back and forth between two realities but must choose one.

While packing, she runs to the attic where Martin and David observe her actions. She says that God is about to walk out of the closet door, and asks her husband to allow her to enjoy the moment, fixated on a spider that comes out of crack in the wall. The ambulance arrives, but Karin runs from it, going into a frenzy panic. After being sedated. she tells them of God, a spider that tried to penetrate her. She looked into God’s cold and calm eyes, and when God failed to penetrate her, he retreated onto the wall. “I have seen God,” she announces.

Karin and Martin leave in the helicopter. Minus tells his father that he is afraid after the incident with Karin–can he survive that way. David says he can if he has “something to hold on to,” and then talks about his hope for love. David and his son discuss love as it relates to God, hoping that their love may help sustain Karin. Minus is finally grateful that he had a real conversation with his father.