For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when
that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall
be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a
child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when
I became a man, I put away childish things. For
now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face:
now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am
known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these
three; but the greatest of these [is] charity.
1 Corinthians, 13, 9-13 (King James Version)
In Bergman’s universe only the fools, on the brink of schizophrenia, dream about a room full of smiling people who all wait for a single event, a single person opening the door: God. A young woman with a cynical father- only now beginning to feel remorse for his life dedicated only to writing, a good, but fatally ignorant boyfriend, and a brother who writes plays, only to be interrupted by the teenage hormons, knows very well that her illness is inescapable, ruthlessly capturing her mind. Her senses are more accute. She wakes in the middle of the night, annoyed by a sea-bird and goes in the attic, driven by a strange impulse and discrete voices. One can hardly distinguish between mystical and bodily ecstasy, between a lost mind or an accute listener.
Yet the cruelty of her father (perhaps of Man), the naive ignorance of her boyfriend, the carnal weakness of her brother only serve to constitute a Real- that Real of phychoanalysis from which, perhaps, reality itself, banal as it is, is the escape. Thus Bergman’s statement is not just about modern doubt and God’s absence (already approached in the 1957 classic- „The Seventh Seal”), but also a pervailing human cruelty which abuses and corrupts weak souls. Mystical ecstasy is shown as being increasingly difficult in our world and an open heart may welcome not only God, but also the Devil or, even more dramatic, the Real as a memory of human evil. The second arrival in the attic is not ending in the appearance of the Redeemer, but with the assault of a spider which sexually assaults her, while piercing through her eyes with a cold, neutral look. Dark and frightening are her screams, but even more dark and frightening is one’s sense of a sharp portrayal of the corrupt nature and humanity.
Like any great artist, Bergman keeps the nuances until the end. The father tell the son that the very existence of love in the world is the proof for God’s existence, so that love is God. (What fine, but huge distinction from St. John’s „God is love.” 2000 years have passed). The end seems optimistic, but only „through a glass, darkly”. Like any vision or sign witnessed in this world.
Good achievement by Bergman. The human condition is seen in all its tragedy, unable the see the Unseen, and making itself even more unworthy by the moral setbacks, dry sophistication and the darkening of its own horizon. Only the fools see, or the comedian in the „Seventh Seal”: in a medieval Europe wrecked by the Great Plague, on a sunny forest clearing, Mary helps the Infant in His first walk.