Suffering away in a fashion only he can master, Ingmar Bergman presents yet another classic entry into a filmography that, while slight variations can be found, is based on the same poetic, brutal themes. He often captures the unremitting pain found in the awkward silences between two loving individuals, and he is all the greater craftsman for it. Through a Glass Darkly is no change of pace, but the variables found within are endearing, it is the key to discerning these morbid pieces. Hoping to recover from her time in a mental institution, a young woman spends the summer with her husband, father, and brother. Darker moments soon cloud the judgment of these seemingly close characters, their familial bond cutting into one another with delightfully morbid responses.
It is the effective direction Bergman presents that provides the portrait for such misery, and the four performances within that underestimate their fears and hatreds of one another. Each stage of life is represented by a trio of men. Max von Sydow the mid-life crisis, unconvinced by his life and his abject happiness. Gunnar Björnstrand is the ageing man who has made little of his life so far and hopes to turn back the clock as best he can, clinging to the idea that he could write a glorious piece of fiction that would not just remove the guilt of a wasted life, but to leave his mark on a world that would soon forget of his existence. Then, the teenager, Lars Passgård, comes to terms with the adulthood set before him. Each performance is masterful, but none would work without the crucial, brilliant work Harriet Andersson presents as Karim.
Everyone involved comes out of this one stronger than ever. Bergman himself must be credited for one of the finest dramas of all time, his fascination with the bleaker moments of life is sobering. He uses his characters here as vessels for immorality, and in doing so engages with concepts that are close to home for many, while also far removed from the impact or leniency the real world may have on our decision making. Isolated characters on a beach somewhere, the idyllic lifestyle present and the languid realities far removed, Through a Glass Darkly benefits greatly from hiding its characters away from the brutality of third parties, instead focusing on the riffs and ruining gestures found among family.
Artists are immoral, and at times they may prise and pry at the wounded people around them for that spark of enlightenment. Whether that is morally acceptable is up for debate, and Through a Glass Darkly presents this virtuous battle with crushing brilliance. Can we blame David for finding his muse? Or is threatening the way of life for those around him too large a sacrifice for potentially great art? Whatever the response, Through a Glass Darkly poses such a question, and Bergman sets about deconstructing this line of thought, rather than attempting a response to an inquiry mired in opinion.