Saturday, 21 February 2009

Bergman's Through A Glass darkly

I cannot remember seeing Bergman’s Through a Glass darkly before, but if I have then I have been in more of a fog than previously appreciated.

This is a moving and at times frightening portrayal of schizophrenia disintegration and of family response. There are just four characters in the film set in one of the Bergman Islands where the water is drawn from a well, lighting is by oil lamp and milk has to come directly from a cow. There are two linked families living next door in their isolation. The husband who appears to earn his living from fishing, not unintelligent but a practical man concerned with the realities of life and his young wife who has retreated into girlhood, cannot cope with a physical relationship, and is trying to hide the reoccurrence of voices she has to listen after returning home from what may have been a long period of hospital treatment.

The film coincides with the return to the island of her father who has run away to Switzerland following the illness of his daughter, to complete his latest book. He is an intellectual who tries to write the truth as he sees it, and as an artist he observes and writes about the experiences which interest him, so after the mother in Autumn Sonata there is in this film a father who cannot cope with the realities of parenthood.

(I have never claimed great insight into my own actions and motives, only too aware of the capacity to self deceive and present oneself to oneself in the best possible light, but I know only too well the difficulty of not seeing what is revealed in relationships outside of professional relationships)

To mark his return to the island his daughter and his younger son, learning Latin to enter university, have prepared a play which they perform.

The family of father, daughter and son have not been able to communicate and this is the core problem. Responsibility for the illness of the daughter appears to be apportioned not on father but with mother, who may have killed herself, but I am not sure about this aspect.

For me there are two key moments in this film. The first occurs when the daughter reads the entry in her father's diary where he states that her illness is incurable and where the husband has warned father that the psychiatrist has said that a relapse is likely. This is the peril of knowing and recording information which will be destructive if communicated to the subject.

She also reads that her father cannot help wanting to record the disintegration of his daughter, such is his detachment from her experience, although this is both true and not true. This is always the cross of the artist. How can the experience of others be translated into art if it is not the truth, and therefore is the experience in which you have shared in some way, but which is then not identifiable to those who provided the experience?

The second issue concerns the son and his fears, genuine that he too is going the same way as his mother and sister. He complains that his father he has never had a proper conversation with his father and after there has been an incident between daughter and her brother and she tries to tell her father, father realises that he has to give priority to his son and speaks with him so that the concluding words are those of the son who is thrilled to have had a conversation.

There is an argument for not telling some children about the truth of their parentage, "The bad mother’s handbook," is built around this dilemma. If you tell them, the individual is like to spend the rest of their life in fear and create a self fulfilling prophecy. But if you protect and try and cover up you will never be forgiven if found out which usually happens at some point although the individual concerned may come to have an understanding of reasons and motives, but often too late for relationships to be repaired.

The film ends on a more optimistic note than Autumn Sonata, but this if for cinematic purposes. The reality is darker. This is a grim subject sensitively acted.

The film highlights the acuteness of awareness, in this instance hearing and brightness which marks the illness recurrence, the most moving and memorable aspect of the film is the daughter explaining that there is nothing worse than to be aware of yourself and the illness without being able to prevent the relapse.

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