[Rough Draft]

A weblog about god, doubt, insomnia, culture, baseball

5.05.2004

through a glass darkly

i've often thought about the idea, in communication theory, that one does not know the content of one's beliefs until those beliefs are expressed, tried on, taken out for a spin. once it's out there, whatever "it" is, then it becomes obvious @ times that the "belief" is just a load of poo. @ other times, the belief is confirmed and becomes faith.

all that sounds very theological for what i'm about to do, and i do not intend to mislead. actually i'm only reflecting on a movie i just watched, the first in ingmar bergman's "trilogy of faith," through a glass darkly (1961). the cast of four comprises an habitually absent father, his progressively schizophrenic daughter, his physician son-in-law, and his 17-year-old son, all of whom are @ one of their homes on a secluded island (somewhere in the north atlantic, i have to suppose). the father, david, who has sacrificed his life w/ his family for the sake of what he now sees as his fairly pathetic art, is bergman, who in 1961 had just married his 4th wife, to whom the film is dedicated. the commentary on the dvd revealed that bergman's father was a clergyman, an advisor to the queen of denmark, and the three films (w/ winter light (1963) and the silence (1964)) are his attempt to sort out his own religious beliefs (or the lack thereof) through the medium of his chosen art.

david's children, karin and her younger brother minus, obviously have caverns inside themselves which their father's love should have filled, but david has always gone away too soon and stayed too long on his projects (the last of which, we find, being his own daughter's descent into madness). a pivotal locale in the movie is an upstairs room w/ tattered wallpaper where karin is often drawn by "voices" assuring her that "he" is about to come. her perception that the voice emanates from behind the wallpaper (the original working title of the film was the wallpaper) demonstrates how karin is careening b/tw two worlds, and she even voices her horror @ seeing her own confusion and yet understanding it @ the same time. in her crisis, however, we learn she has decided to sacrifice the love of her husband, martin, who truly does love her inasmuch as he can, for the one behind the wallpaper.

there is much in the movie that i'm sure i didn't understand, and some of the comments i found online about it seem to be a little off the mark, imho. i wouldn't want to put too many spoilers in here @ any rate b/c i do suggest that you watch this film (the other 2 are in my netflix queue already). still, i was moved by particular scenes in the film, and that's why i'm typing away as the house goes quiet to see what i really make of one of them.

perhaps b/c i've been reading niebuhr's christ & culture and too many theological thoughts rattle around in my head all day, or maybe it's my own personal "culture" (that of postulants for holy orders in the ecusa) and my tendency to see my own face @ the bottom of the well, but i was struck by one scene where karin is testing minus on his latin @ a table by the stone house. she asks him the meaning of constructio ad absurdum (or some such thing -- if you know enough to know i'm off the mark on that grammatical term, then you've long since given up reading my parenthetical-laced tirades anyway, so bug off), to which he replies: it is a grammatical construction that is correct, but it is altered to fit the context. here's where i go out on the "say-what-you-think-to-see-whether-you-really-think-it" limb, but it seems to me that this one scene is a key to unlocking the film and, i think, some of bergman's ideas about god. the "grammatically correct" construct is communion b/tw a loving father (insert "heavenly" or "earthly" to suit taste) and his children. the context of this film, however -- a remote island populated, @ times, only w/ a beautiful woman and her younger brother, who is clearly in love w/ her and conflicted about his awakening sexuality (i propose {spoiler!} that the two had sex in an old wrecked ship toward the end of the movie, which served both to trigger karin's final descent and as a single element of the spiral which had begun long before) -- inspires a fatal alteration to the construct, and the result is despair (although this was supposed to have been the "assurance found" movie in the trilogy, followed by the "assurance shaken/lost" and the "silence of god").

so, what fresh hell have i just wrought? who knows? i'm likely babbling mindlessly about something i don't understand. i may be putting words in bergman's mouth he never intended to speak (and we all know how i feel about authorial intent). but however we try to apprehend god (bergman essentially equates god w/ love in the final scene, which he apparently wishes he had resisted the urge to include), there is, somewhere behind the wallpaper, a "grammatically true" construct. this isn't neo-platonism b/c i'm not really sure what neo-platonism really means. but we may rest assured there is "truth" out there (thank you, fox mulder), triune truth that doesn't turn away from us, as david's shadow turned away from karin's kneeling form @ a critical juncture in the film; and when we alter that truth in a foolish attempt to make it better fit the context of our broken, pain-filled world, we come away w/o any god @ all, and the result is always despair.

now, maybe i'll read this tomorrow morning and delete it post haste. but maybe i won't. perhaps i lost you, dear reader, in the middle somewhere, as i lost renee' when i asked her to proof this. (it's helpful to have watched the movie before reading this, like that tidbit gets you any closer to having back the 6 minutes you just squandered reading all this for nothing). anyway, it's just a thought. forgive me, ingmar, if i've slandered you. i really liked your film.

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