Isn't it weird how there are times when you'll hear a song, see a movie or TV show, or read a book, that grapples with the very issues occupying your most recent thoughts and it's all purely a random coincidence? How you didn't deliberately mean to stumble across this particular piece of art or entertainment, but nonetheless this coincidental discovery delves deeply into what you think about late at night when all the defenses come down or it's the very thing you wrote about last week in your weekly newsletter column for a local music retail company?
Last week in this space I wrote about my attempts to try to figure out this religion thing. Two days later, (on Independence Day mind you) I slid Ingmar Bergman's 1961 masterpiece, Through the Glass Darkly into my DVD player. I didn't have any idea what the movie was about having put it in my Netflix queue based solely on a recommendation the concerned Netflix folks made to me based on my movie rental tastes.
Winner of the Oscar for "Best Foreign Film" Through the Glass Darkly tells the story of a family (father, daughter, son, and son-in-law/daughter's husband) spending time at a lake house. The family tension is only made more difficult in that the daughter (played in a masterful performance by Harriet Andersson) is slowly going insane.
The father much to his son-in-law's chagrin, is using his daughter's illness as fodder for a new novel. Anyone who has ever written about someone else in a public forum and gotten spanked in the process can probably relate. Art is based on life and yet you either do or you don't take other's feelings into account in your suffering through the creative process. Is your work more important than the feelings of your friends and family? You decide or you don't, knowing that your decision will ultimately have some grave consequences for your own life and others around you. I love that Bergman tries to address this conundrum.
Andersson's character is convinced that God is calling her to abandon her family but when the moment of calling comes, she is frightened by God's appearance. Turns out he looks like a spider with frightening eyes.
Confession here: I think what may have fueled my current spiritual seeking mindset is that I recently finished re-watching season five and six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. During those two terrific seasons there were episodes dealing with Buffy's mother's death; Buffy's death and return from Heaven; and perhaps my favorite Buffy episode of all time- where she is "poked" (Xander of course asks her to clarify just where she was poked) by a demon whose poison causes her to drift between two worlds. One world is the world we've known all along in the series- where Buffy is a superhero in a world full of demons and difficulties. The other is a world where Buffy has been hospitalized for a mental illness and where her mother and father are trying desperately to pull her back to safety.
Whenever I tell someone they HAVE to watch these episodes of Buffy they tend to roll their eyes and mutter something about David just being David. I mention in particular that the episode where Buffy's mom dies is by far and away the closest I've ever seen to anything capturing what I felt when my own Mom died. I also mention how the art of the direction in that episode is downright "Bergmanesque." I used this term having never actually watched an Ingmar Bergman movie in its entirety before.
Through the Glass Darkly confirmed my intuition and limited exposure to the much lauded Swedish director's skills. I have to think that Joss Whedon watched this movie before he wrote the Buffy may be institutionalized episode. The themes are the same- how the reality we depend on may not actually be the world we should be existing in.
Bergman's film of course digs much deeper and delves deftly into issues about how little our families can help in truly desperate situations and how the need to believe in God maybe in itself a delusion or maybe the path to our only salvation.
Through the Glass Darkly is part of a trilogy of films Bergman made between 1961-1963 based around contemplation on religion. I haven't seen the other two films yet (Winter Light and The Silence) but now I just have to. I'm sure SCTV could do some terrific spoofs of these ultra-serious Swedish movies but sometimes the jokes just have to be put aside for a serious thought or two.