The trilogy comprises Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light, and The Silence. Each is haunting and cinematically mind-blowing in different and distinct ways. I guess what ties these movies together is the theme of love — what happens in its absence mainly and the strength derived from even a glimpse of its presence.
In Through a Glass Darkly, a self-obsessed writer goes on holiday to a remote island with his son (an emotionally deprived young man, yearning for his father’s affection), his daughter–just released from a mental institution–and his daughter’s compassionate but frustrated husband. Visually gorgeous and dramatically stark, this one will rake you over the coals a bit but leave you in the balm of its poetic beauty when it’s all over. The movie is just a quiet, moody chamber piece as the daughter’s husband, her father and brother all attempt to deal with her deteriorating mental state, and, unable to quell it, can only look on and grieve. Bergman’s mastery with actors (there is absolutely never a bad performance in a single one of his films) and with the cinematic form (using space and mood to communicate his theme) is abundantly clear here.
The Silence, tonally bizarre and understandably controversial for its time, comes closest in the trilogy to Bergman’s penchant for surrealism and sensuality. Here, we’ve got a mother–a voluptuous woman who makes the frame sweat every time she’s in it–her curious, innocent young son, and her sister–a rather severe lesbian who’s a working definition of the word “repressed.” The trio travel into this strange country–they don’t understand the language and no one there understands them–and hole up in a large, baroque hotel, mostly unoccupied. There, the mother goes off looking for a fling, witnesses cheap sex and a lot of in-the-dark groping inside a seedy cabaret. She has a one-night stand while the sister, suffering from a severe illness, coughs, wheezes and begins to falter. The son simply drifts–observing and playing with a troupe of dwarfs at one point–and holds out hope that all will be well with his aunt. Of course, all is not well–not by a long shot. Bergman’s imagery is incredible–for this movie’s bold sensuality, it ushered in a more mature era of European and Hollywood moviemaking and for its bizarreness, it has a direct kinship with the cinema of David Lynch. Truly intense and cinematically arresting.
Winter Light is my personal favorite of the three. In it, a priest’s relationship with God is sorely tested. He can’t get over the death of his wife and the anger at God he feels over it. Meanwhile, his lack of faith makes him rather impotent as a spiritual healer in his community–one of his congregants, in particular, despairing over man’s imminent self-destruction is walking on thin ice–and his emotional barrier deflects away the genuine affection given to him by a woman, a spinster who’s fallen in love with the priest. Visually, Bergman made this one grainy, very ugly and raw. It consciously does not have the resplendence, the gorgeous compositions of Through a Glass Darkly because Bergman wanted the film to be absolutely stripped-down–a no-nonsense rant to God. In how it conveys itself and its message, this is a perfect film.
Directed by: Ingmar Bergman
Written by: Ingmar Bergman
Cast: (Glass Darkly) Harriet Andersson, Gunnar Björnstrand, Max von Sydow, Lars Passgård/ (Winter Light) Ingrid Thulin, Gunnar Björnstrand, Gunnel Lindblom, Max von Sydow/(The Silence); Ingrid Thulin, Gunnel Lindblom, Birger Malmsten, Jörgen Lindström