You know who I haven’t talked about on “Reel Christianity” yet? Ingmar Bergman. I haven’t mentioned him or his work yet because up until August, I hadn’t seen any of his films. And then once school started, and I took advantage of the free time I had, I was able to get introduced to Bergman’s work. Bergman was a pioneering Swedish filmmaker about fifty years ago whose films often contained a lot of spiritual themes and questions, films ranging from “The Seventh Seal” and “Wild Strawberries” to “Cries and Whispers” and “Fanny and Alexander”. As the years went on, his work got more colorful, more sensual, and even more personal.
But today, I’d like to share with you an Ingmar Bergman film that sticks out in my mind from 1961, “Through a Glass Darkly”. Featuring a musical score consisting of a single movement from one of J.S. Bach’s cello suites, “Through a Glass Darkly” indeed takes its title from 1 Corinthians 13. But we’ll talk about that later.
The movie is centered on four individuals: Karin (Harriet Andersson), her husband Martin (Max von Sydow), her teenage brother Minus (Lars Passgård), and her father David (Gunnar Björnstrand). Karin is suffering from schizophrenia and has just been released from an asylum, but Martin tells his father-in-law that her disease is incurable. The four of them are together vacationing on an island somewhere in… well, Sweden, I guess, and since they are together for the first time in a while, they get each other gifts, which from David seem like they were pretty last-minute.
It’s easy to tell early on that this family is a little dysfunctional. Minus makes it known to Karin that he and his father have not really talked for quite some time, and Minus even starts to come on to his sister a little bit—a theme that is not verbalized in the film. Also, Karin starts hearing strange sounds and voices that prompt her to eventually find David’s diary, where it is written that her disease is incurable. And on top of all that, David, a writer who acknowledges he has sacrificed time with his children for his work on many occasions, feels distraught that he cannot stay on the island with them for long.
Through all of this, there are two very important (and, in my opinion, very cool) conversations in the second half of the film. One takes place between David and Martin as they are fishing on a boat. Martin accuses David of neglecting his daughter in the past, but David tells him a very personal story.
DAVID: When I was in Switzerland, I decided to kill myself. I hired a car and found a cliff. …I was empty. No fear, no regrets, no expectations. I aimed the car at the cliff, stepped on the gas… and stalled, stopping dead. The transmission went out, you see. The car slid on the gravel and came to a halt, front wheels over the edge. I crawled out of the car, trembling. I leaned against a rock across the road. I sat gasping for breath for hours.
MARTIN: Why are you telling me this?
DAVID: To tell you I no longer have any pretense to keep up. …From the void within me something was born that I can’t touch, or name. A love. For Karin, for Minus… and you.
David talks about this love he has realized later on in the film, after Karin has had an episode and a helicopter ambulance comes to pick up her and Martin. This leaves David and son Minus alone at the home on the island, where they finally have a real conversation.
MINUS: I’m scared, Papa. …Anything can happen. Anything. …I can’t live in this new world.
DAVID: Yes, you can, but you must have something to hold onto.
MINUS: What would that be? A god? Give me some proof of God. You can’t.
DAVID: Yes, I can. …I can only give you a hint of my own hope. It’s knowing that love exists for real in the human world. …I don’t know if love is proof of God’s existence, or if love is God himself.
MINUS: For you, love and God are the same.
And the film basically—after a final line from Minus: “Papa spoke to me”—ends, pondering this idea that God is love, and if one is surrounded by love, he or she is surrounded by God.
I mentioned that “Through a Glass Darkly” takes its title from 1 Corinthians 13:12, which some translations such as the New International Version (which I use in this blog) read: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.” The idea that we cannot fully see God until we see him face-to-face is something that I feel as hinted at in several of Bergman’s films. But in this life, perhaps the strongest way we can see God at work in and through us is through His love.
In 1 John 4:8, we read that “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” So maybe in order to really see God around us, we need to love others—turn the other cheek, sacrifice our time, whatever it might look like. My prayer for you today is that wherever you are, whoever you work with, that you may be willing to love others, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us.