Through a Glass Darkly


Are you there, God? I think Margaret’s looking for you.

The Film: Bergman’s exploration of man’s relationship to an absent God

The Potable: One bottle of Yellow Tail chardonnay, reserve label

The man, the myth, the legend. The Swedish Prophet, the Sultan of Subtext. Ingmar Bergman, or, as I like to call him, the IceBerg, because what you see on the surface is only a fraction of what’s there. Through a Glass Darkly is certainly no exception, as I’m pretty sure I only picked up about 10% of what this movie is putting down.

Like so many of Bergman’s films, this one takes place on Fårö, a small island off the coast of a bigger island in the Baltic Sea. Off-limits to foreigners until the end of the Cold War, Fårö is home to unique rock formations known as Rauk. None of this has anything to do with the movie, but it’s what I found Googling during the first five minutes, one possible explanation for my later confusion. Bergman may be a master, but I must say his pictures suffer from not taking advantage of more familiar locales.


A family of four vacations on this island, likely drawn by the Rauk, but Swedes don’t relax like my family does. There isn’t a single scene of a drive to the Piggly Wiggly for a 12-pack of Corona. No scooter rentals. No boogie boarding. The son, a 17-year-old horndog, writes and performs a goddamn play for his father. It’s an obvious cry for approval, but the father can’t focus on anything other than Rauk exploration.

The film’s focus, however, is the adult daughter, Margaret, recently released from a mental asylum. Is she cured? God no. As her husband – an exceptionally dorky Max Von Sydow – sleeps, she is drawn to the attic by the sound of a distant foghorn. Bathed in the midnight light of a Swedish summer, she is led up the stairs by voices. What does she find? Just an ugly IKEA bed and a big ass spider.

Whatever she was hoping to find wasn’t there, but when you’re up, you’re up. She wanders into her father’s study and rifles through his desk in search of a Jolly Rancher, but instead finds her father’s diary. In it, he writes about spinning her illness into a best-selling yarn, her unhappiness a potential cure for his writer’s block.

Margaret flips out, naturally, in what I consider to be a bit of an overreaction. As a writer myself, I fully understand the frustrations of being unable to find inspiration, and have frequently made use of my brother’s old bed-wetting habits to make friends at parties. It rarely works, actually, people are often more mature than I give them credit for, but you gotta write what you know.

Distraught, she seeks shelter in a wrecked ship, brought low untold years ago by an errant Rauk. Her brother follows her, and things…get weird.


Religion is the film’s key theme. Through a glass darkly, I’m told, is a Biblical quote, and while I have no idea what Mr. Corinthian intended, Bergman is clearly interested in humanity’s alienation. Like Margaret’s distant relationship with her father, the film depicts faith as a thing tragically burdened by a disinterested God. If a holy relationship is necessary to see the world clearly, without distortion, then how sad it must be for Margaret to reach out, only to find herself kept at arm’s length by her creator.

After the boat incident the daughter starts talking to spiders and it’s clear she needs to be recommitted. A helicopter comes to whisk her away since no one can be bothered to cut their vacation short, and father and son are left standing on the shore. They discuss God and love.

The father smiles at his son, comforted by the knowledge that at least only one of his kids is crazy.

Verdict: classic Berg

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One Response to Through a Glass Darkly

  1. Pingback: Hour of the Wolf | Three Reels to the Wind

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