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Play-within-a-Play or Theatre-in-Film? Ingmar Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly Lawrence D. Smith Early in Ingmar Bergman’s 1961 film Through a Glass Darkly (Såsom i en spegel), the four characters gather for an outdoor performance of a play. The father, David, an established author, is the sole audience member to an original play composed by his adolescent son, Minus. Minus and his elder sister, Karin, perform the short piece for their father, while Karin’s husband, Martin, serves as an onstage interlocutor , accompanist, and prompter. The play is entitled The Artistic Haunting; or, The Tomb of Illusions, and is about a young man with artistic ambitions who promises undying love to the ghost of a Castilian princess, but he balks at accompanying her to the afterlife and instead abandons her to the tomb. It begins in a conflation of Elizabethan and Romantic styles (Martin tells David: “It is almost like Shakespeare”), and concludes in ironical Modernism, as the would-be artist contemplates turning his encounter into an opera, poem, or painting: “Although the ending has to take a more heroic turn. Let’s see: ‘Oblivion shall own me and only death shall love me.’ That’s not bad.” This is a parting gibe intended by Minus for his father, a self-absorbed novelist and a distant parent. Karin’s performance as the Castilian princess provides us with a first glimpse into her capacity for mimesis. This ability proves to be inseparable from her powers of religious belief, from her relationships with the three men in her family, from her position as a woman in the world, and from her inner life. Karin, played by Harriet Andersson, seems luminous in her role as the princess from beyond the grave; of all the participants in the performance, she alone seems to live within the play, to be a part of its creation, to be at home within its fiction. In the course 92 L A W R E N C E D . S M i T H of the film’s action, we also see Karin in her roles as a sister, as a daughter , and as a married woman. Karin can play all of these roles convincingly , at times, but they weigh on her, they seem imposed from without, she suffers in her effort to exist within the boundaries of these roles and at the same time to sustain a single persona, and she finds that she can no longer continue to shift between these various roles or the realms in which they are performed. Ultimately, Karin deliberately and selfconsciously chooses to live within that subjective reality that best suits her, the one that seems to her most real and sustainable. The Artistic Haunting; or, The Tomb of Illusions proves, by the end of the film, to have been a metaphor encapsulating Karin’s place in the world, as well as the relationships of each of the male characters to Karin’s illness: in short, an existential reduction.1 Thus, questions concerning the human capacity for mimesis and the tensions between ideas of a divine realm that is imminent, a reality that is discovered, and an imaginary world created through human agency, are fundamental to Through a Glass Darkly. In many respects, the film borrows from and includes elements of theatre within itself, opening up another set of questions in addition to those concerning God, illusion, and the everyday: namely, questions of artistic boundaries, interpenetration , and synthesis between the two media of theatre and film. In order to explore such tensions, Bergman makes use of the familiar theatrical convention of a play-within-a-play. The play-within has been in use since the sixteenth century in modern Western drama, and this particular instance provokes associations with a similar scene in The Seagull (1896), by Anton Chekhov, in which another aspiring young playwright stages an original work in an outdoor performance for his mother, a celebrated actress, and her consort, a famous author. Here, however, we have a playwithin -a-film, albeit a film that the director considered a kammerspiel, or chamber play, after the dramaturgical model of August Strindberg.2 Through a Glass...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2166-9937
Print ISSN
1065-4917
Pages
pp. 91-110
Launched on MUSE
2012-07-11
Open Access
No
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