“Through Glass Darkly” is the first film of Bergman’s religious trilogy dedicated to a hypothetical moment in the history of human existential sensitivity when, as a result of disappointment in their own psychological condition, human beings develop a need for a relationship with God. Geographically and historically a universal setting of rural Sweden became the place where Bergman analyzes the specific constellation of human intimate relationships that gives birth to God.

Karin, daughter of a fiction writer, wife of a physician and elder sister of a teenage brother, is looking for existentially spiritual relationships and is frustrated by the father’s inability to understand her (he is always over-occupied with writing new book), by the husband’s inability to love her (he cares about her in obvious and didactic manner) and by the incestuous encounter with her brother (vitality and emotional openness is not enough for human soul).

By the incredible power of her character and by her rare gift to expect spirituality to be present inside the very circumstances of her life she constructs the God of her needs and voluntarily accepts the psychiatric label for her condition. Her god is what her father, her husband and her brother cannot be (father looks at her through his new texts he is trying to improvise, husband perceives her through psychiatric jargon, and brother will do anything she wants without differentiation between important and not, between substantial and casual).

Karin is a personification of human genius that disagrees with the absence in human relations of that which is fully present in God.

The characters of the film including Karin herself are all extraordinary in their own ordinariness, in their very weakness of being irreparably human. But Karin wants her humanity not just recognized and attended but celebrated while her family members exchange theirs for its conventional social equivalents (social position, fame, success, stability, competence in everyday rituals, partial satisfactions).

The acting is based on particular relationships between actors and their characters (between Bergman, actors and characters) which are empathic and without any familiarity and sentimentality. It is like people in democracy should treat each other – without projective immediacy with which Hollywood actors, for example, play their characters, but with a sensitive distance of genuine love and interest. Acting of Harriet Andersson (Karin), Gunnar Bjornstrand (father), Max von Sydow (husband) and Lars Passgard (brother) should be analyzed and taught to students-future actors.

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Karin hopes that her younger brother will be able to accept the god of her construction – a giant with a soul that is as vast as the sky, and her yearning for recognition without limits and mutuality without distance.

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Eroticized ritual of worship god that Karin created. This and the following shots of Karin’s erotic union with god are unique because of their emotional power, pantomimic versatility and exactitude of Harriet Andersson‘s acting directed by Bergman. Karin’s ritual of coming to union with god through worship starts with the recognition of worshipper’s sense of self-worthlessness – her horisontality of lower species under the magnificient verticality of god.

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Eroticized ritual of worship god 2 (Karin’s desire to be as vertical as god is connected with her sensual arousing.)

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Eroticized ritual of worship god 3 (the next phase of the attempt to unite with god according to Karin is psychological “self-beheading” – becoming free from scepticism, reservations and doubts in order to be absolutely dedicated to the one she worships.)

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Eroticized ritual of worship god 4 (sensual awakening triggers a somatic response which in turn activates Karin sexual sensations)

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Eroticized ritual of worship god 5 (of course, Karin doesn’t mean the presence of anything sexual in her ritual of worshiping god – for her it could be unforgivable blasphemy. But the intensity of the emotions takes the body with itself).

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Eroticized ritual of worship god 6 (whatever Karin’s sensations are she sees only his face, that of her savior, master, her groom, her beloved, the one she lost when she was born and whom she found again).

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Eroticized ritual of worship god 7(not just physical orgasm, but melting accords of ontological orgasmic awakening that like aurora borealis coronates the culminating ritual of worship of god).

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Eroticized ritual of worship god 8 (when unity with god is reached, body and soul, concrete sensations and their repercussions, past and future, being and non-being, destiny and non-destiny still have the shape of universe’s culmination when god and worshipper become one).

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Eroticized ritual of worship god 9 (the ritual ends as it began – human being returns to its immanent condition – be bodily and emotionally spread onto earth under the sky of god and under the sun of god’s radiance. The wisdom worshipper carries with herself after the ritual ends is lesson of humility – god doesn’t share his knowledge and power, and human extraordinary sensations end with god’s departure. Do these sensation also belong to god?)

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Karin’s husband Martin (Max von Sydov) perceives Karin’s need for love the size of the universe as a problem of imagination having gone astry, not as a problem of her frustrated existential needs.

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Martin’s suffering about Karin’s “departure” to “another galaxy” doesn’t impress Karin – his human feelings are in her perspective too awkward, too miserable and unimportant to reach her.

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Whatever words Martin invents to make Karin “return” are in vain. She is turning away from “our“ world in full consciousness. According to the terms and rules of our times the place she is leaving for is the psychiatric hospital. She no longer wishes to live with those she once loved.

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This shot represents Karin’s confession to Bergman, to the viewers, to anyone who can be willing and able to understand her and what she did as a human being in a human way without stoning her.

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Minus, Karin’s younger brother, feeling guilty for sexually submitting to her emotional despair, is confessing to their father about what happened. Why didn’t he refuse? She wanted it and he wanted to help her. He thought it was her way of asking him for help. The task of the father in relation to his son is to save him from morbid feeling that he has committed the ultimate act of transgression and from blaming himself, as his task with Karin is to take away her guilt for her “betrayal” of them all, Martin, himself and Minus. There is no betrayal here, just the tormenting insolvability of human destiny, when human beings try so hard to be decent, and if they hurt others they always hurt themselves as well. Bergman’s film shows the disappearing specie – people who hurt themselves when they hurt others.

Posted 28 Nov 2009 –   Ingmar Bergman’s “Through A Glass Darkly” (1961) – Passion for the Spirituality of Living  by Acting-Out Politics