Review: Såsom I En Spegel (Through A Glass Darkly, 1961)

I leave the questioning of god to those much smarter than I!

Written By: Ingmar Bergman
Directed By: Ingmar Bergman

I grew up in a Roman Catholic household. I didn’t, however, grow up in a household of practicing Roman Catholics. My mother went to church on a rare basis, and if not for the time spent in private schools in my pre-college years I doubt I would have spent much time in church. My grandma was the lone true practitioner of Roman Catholicism to be found in my household. She went to church on a regular basis and until specific maladies finally slowed her down she was still going to church on a regular basis. My grandma was certain that there was a god, that his will would be done, and that it was not our role to question him. My grandma and Ingmar Bergman would not have gotten along much, I don’t think.

I’m somewhere in the middle of the great grandma/Herr Bergman debate. I do question the existence of god, to the point where I don’t believe he/she does exist, but I don’t probe the subject like Herr Bergman. I am just like my grandma in my non-belief of god, I am certain that he does not exist. Herr Bergman is a better person than either myself or my grandma. He isn’t certain, Såsom I En Spegel is a rallying cry against certainty. Herr Bergman is asking people to think, to look at their lives, to think about the ideas behind god and come to their own conclusions. In turn he is taking a look at himself through the character of David and at the despair of humanity through all the characters in Såsom I En Spegel. Herr Bergman is not certain, and that is why he is a great artist who is able to probe the existence of god and raise questions without feeling the need to deliver any answers.

The above, with the exception of the inclusion of my grandma, has been discussed by many a film pundit. People far smarter than I could ever hope to be about the medium of film, the man that was Ingmar Bergman, and the idea of religious certainty have written or spoken about Såsom I En Spegel. For that reason I’m not willing to dig deep into the religious element of Såsom I En Spegel. The theme is present, it is meaty, and a lot could be said about Herr Bergman, god, and religious certainty. Instead I’d like to write a few words about the film making and the acting.

Starting with the acting, when Max von Sydow is in your film chances are said film is guaranteed to be well off in the acting realm. That being said, Max von Sydow, as great as he is, is not the driving force behind Såsom I En Spegel. That honor belongs to Harriet Andersson as Karin. She acts circles around Herr von Sydow, and she does so with him bringing his A game and without seeming like she is acting. Her performance is honest and real, she is unhinged but also grounded and her performance shows it. The rest of the cast are stellar, but compared to Frau Andersson they are left in the dust.

It’s interesting to me that many people, including myself, fall into the trap of thinking of Herr Bergman as purely a philosophical filmmaker. There are ideas about the world we live in, and the world we don’t, that he wants to explore and he explores those ideas in such fine fashion that his film making chops are often left out of the discussion. In Såsom I En Spegel his chops are at their full power, creating a world that is as much about its mood and the accompanying music as it is about any ideas Herr Bergman is exploring with his pen. This is also the one area where Herr Bergman falters. The final line spoken by Minus, “Papa spoke to me,” does not need to be said. The movement of Herr Bergman’s camera and his framing of the characters has already told us what Minus uses words to say. In that moment Herr Bergman doesn’t trust his abilities as a film maker. He falls back to his prowess as a writer and philosophical explorer, but he didn’t need to.

Perhaps I didn’t talk about Såsom I En Spegel in the way most Herr Bergman fans, or movie fans in general, are accustomed to. I don’t claim to be an expert on Ingmar Bergman, I leave that title to the Martin Teller’s (a guy with a really great mind about film) of the world. I’m a fan of Herr Bergman’s, and I was a fan of Såsom I En Spegel. It spoke to me in many ways, including its ability to ask probing questions of the certainty of gods existence without feeling the need to provide answers. However, the core filmic elements of Herr Bergman’s film spoke to me more than his philosophical explorations and that’s why I found Såsom I En Spegel to be a great film.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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2 responses to “Review: Såsom I En Spegel (Through A Glass Darkly, 1961)

  1. The theme of uncertainty in religion and uncertainty as to the existence of god is, as you know, a recurring theme in Bergman’s oeuvre. If you would like to see another film in the same vein, check out ‘Silent Light’ a film that plays on a similar theme but incorporates mid-twentieth century modern dilemmas (like modern warfare).

    By the by, I sent you an email in regards to the upcoming marathon.

  2. I do love the way Bergman explores the idea of uncertainty versus certainty, but there are others who do a better job of discussing that aspect of his films, so for the most part I leave that realm alone. I am looking forward to Silent Light though, it’s coming up in my queue at some point.

    I got your email, expect a response shortly. 🙂

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