Movie Review: Såsom i en spegel (“Through a Glass Darkly,” a film by Swedish director Ethel Merman)

MaxThumbby Brad Nelson
It’s a mad mad mad mad schizophrenic world in this 1961 film about a woman dealing with the early stages of that illness. [No, not Ethel Merman, Ingmar Bergman.] Oh, okay. Got it. Sorry. This film starts out quite slowly, quite unlike her other famous film, Casablanca, which gets right into the action. [No, not Ingrid Bergman, Ingmar Bergman.]

Right. It takes Through a Glass Darkly about 1/3 of the movie to start developing real interest. This is one of those avant-garde films that will not be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s a bit strange that this movie should be so lifeless and dull at the beginning, especially considering the director’s antics on ESPN which were filled with tongue-and-cheek humor such as referring to the great Swedish actor as Max “Me and My” von Sydow, who we see in his very early 30’s in this film. [No, not Chris Berman, Ingmar Bergman].

But eventually the film does begin to gain traction. But not a hell of a lot actually happens. This is what you’d call a psychological drama with existential overtones galore. There are only four actors appearing in this sparsely populated film, but they are all good, especially Gunnar Björnstrand as David, the father of the schizophrenic girl who also lost his wife to the very same disease.

David is a bit of a morose character (even for a Swedish film), but an interesting one. The performances of the other players are so-so, or at least good enough, but Gunnar helps to give this otherwise screwball film some needed weight. But this is not a film I can recommend, even to those who love offbeat pictures. Unless you are into weird-ass Swedish films, don’t come near.

That said, one thing that kept my attention was the wonderful cinematography, especially the wonderful black-and-white cinematography. This is beautiful filmed in somewhat low contrast. Every nuance of every shadow is seen. No spectral highlights. No black corners. Every frame is like an Ansel Adams photograph. Stunning.

Luckily this is not the typical weird-ass Swedish director movie. It doesn’t throw symbols at you too largely or too conspicuously as seemingly a way to stop all sense and all character development and demand that you be in awe of the director’s non-standard cleverness.

Through a Glass Darkly generally doesn’t go completely weird-ass as some Swedish films tend to it. But it does require some patience. Luckily, it’s only 89 minutes long. But you may well walk away from this movie saying the same thing about it that one reviewer did: Art House Boredom. I’ll admit it’s a fine line sometimes. But I think this film stays on the better side of boredom and ends with some interesting, if subtle, themes and messages.

I came away from this picture thinking “What is the normal way for a mind to view things? What is really real, and what is just mind?” In this movie you have the father who is a bit lost in his own world of art and writing. The brother sees the world through a nagging sex instinct. And Max von “Me and My” Sydow is about as normal as you can get, but there’s a great line thrown at him by his wife, the schizophrenic, who questions his seeming normalcy because if he was so right, why does he attract such strife to himself (like being married to her)?

And you probably can’t walk away from this film without at least a small appreciation for the role schizophrenia has probably played in religion. Overall, I did find this movie by Ernest Borgnine to be a success. It was certainly free-thinking. [No, it’s Ingmar friggin’ Bergman.] I give it 3 failing-at-the-right-time transmissions out of 5. • (769 views)

Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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2 Responses to Movie Review: Såsom i en spegel (“Through a Glass Darkly,” a film by Swedish director Ethel Merman)

  1. Kung Fu Zu says:

    I guess a Swedish movie is what happens when the sun doesn’t shine for half the year. From your description, it sounds like the director is an early version of Sybil.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Well, it was different. I saw a truly weird-ass Swedish (or Danish) film a few months ago. It’s about this group of people who are in this country house when their is a huge nuclear war or something like that. I couldn’t stay with it. God knows I tried. But it was the most pretentious piece of crap I had run across in some time. It was one of those film where you know it made sense to the filmmakers….who were all on drugs. I can’t remember the name of it.

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