Through a Glass Darkly (1961): Bergman & Swedenborg

INGMAR BERGMAN: A Season of Films at Swedenborg House | 13, 20, 27 September 2012 | Swedenborg Hall, 20-21 Bloomsbury Way, London WC1A

THIS WEEK we continue the 2012 Swedenborg Film Season, with a special screening of THROUGH A GLASS DARLKY (1957) by INGMAR BERGMAN (1918-2007).

By the time Through a Glass Darkly was released, Ingmar Bergman was established as the foremost film director of his day.  Like The Seventh Seal, Bergman took his title from the Bible: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1 Cor 13:12). The film was made during the great ‘Ice Age’ of European cinema, when Robert Bresson and Carl Dreyer were creating minimalist masterpieces on transcendent themes, portraits of alienation in the glare of the Divine.

Like Dreyer (and Swedenborg), Bergman was reacting to the emotional coldness of the Lutheran Christian tradition. Through a Glass Darkly is a film about the absence of love, or the subversion of love, and the search of the faithless for an ‘inscrutible’ God. In her madness, Karin recognizes God as a spider; but God is arguably present throughout the film, in the numerous references to light and in the water’s abstract reflections. The characters’ intense dialogue, at first care-free but increasingly fraught, embodies the essential conflict between disillusionment and the will to believe; Karin’s schizophrenia is further proof of this inner tension, representing the human condition in a post-apocalyptic world. Bergman does not tell us if the voices Karin hears are imagined or real, internal or divine. In this way Through a Glass Darkly could be a film about mad people who claim to be in communication with God. But as with Swedenborg, the rich symbolism of Bergman’s vision defies such reductive analysis. A final reprieve is granted to the central characters, when in a rare moment of intimacy, the father tells his son in biblical (and highly Swedenborgian) tones:“God exists in love, in every sort of love, maybe God is love.” Through a Glass Darkly won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and is also shot in black and white.

THE SWEDENBORG FILM SEASON is an annual event, organized by Stephen McNeilly and Nora Foster, and with Howard Turner serving as in-house projectionist. For further details please visit


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