This is the second film to the Through A Glass Darkly trilogy, Through A Glass Darkly being the first. Watching this movie again was really interesting but in a different way than Through A Glass Darkly. When I first saw this in high school, I was super into it and thought that it brought up super important issues while holding my attention throughout. Watching this again as an adult I found myself just wondering why this priest is just now questioning God and his priesthood.
I can’t really say that I had a moment where I questioned my faith with God but I certainly know that I haven’t given it a second thought since leaving for college, no longer required to go to church each week by my parents. I think what got me the most about Winter Light is why did it take the priest so long to think about “God’s silence?” I think the fact that I passed that moment in my life this whole story just seemed a bit boring to me. Which is crazy because I remember being petty into it in high school.
I think if you are interested you should check this out but i would start with Through A Glass Darkly first.
While I really loved watching Through A Glass Darkly, I think Winter Light might be more fun and interesting to talk about than to watch, at least for me. But I feel like that’s a very personal take on it and I probably wouldn’t have felt the same way if I had watched it at a different time in my life.
Winter Light follows Tomas (Gunnar Björnstrand), a pastor with a cold. The first scene is the end of his service, which is as boring as any church service. It was interesting to watch, though, because everything felt so mechanical: the patrons silently knelt for communion, Tomas gives communion so robotically that after he says the same thing a couple of times, Criterion doesn’t even bother giving subtitles for the other times he repeats it. After the service, married couple Karin (Gunnel Lindblom) and Jonas (Max von Sydow) go to Tomas for help, which makes one really appreciate the availability of therapists. Karin is upset because Jonas is depressed after reading somewhere that China is working on an atomic bomb. Which was sort of funny, considering there’s a scene in Annie Hall about a young Alvy being depressed over the universe expanding. Tomas obviously doesn’t really know what to say, basically just telling Jonas to keep his faith, but asks Jonas to come back after taking Karin home. They leave and Marta enters, who is definitely a former girlfriend of Tomas’ but it’s not totally clear on what their current status is.
Marta asks Tomas if he’s read the letter she sent him, and when she leaves he sits down to read it. This was a great scene; instead of a voiceover or anything similar, the letter is read to us by Marta looking directly into the camera. It’s a really cool, long shot that made the letter so much more engaging. Her letter tells a crazy story about how some time before she had a terrible rash that spread all over her body, with her hands being the worst, and how Tomas was disgusted by her and didn’t help her at all, by neither being there for her or effectively praying for her. Tomas falls asleep at his desk after reading the letter (he obviously wasn’t all that moved by it) and is awoken by Jonas standing in his office. Tomas seems startled and kind of starts rambling a bit. I loved this scene. The fact that Tomas has a cold (and it’s mentioned that he probably has a fever) and is startled awake make him seem weird at first; he knows where he is and everything but is talking almost as if Jonas wasn’t there.
Unfortunately for Jonas, Tomas uses the time he should be counseling Jonas to instead work through his own faith and feelings about God, which, it turns out, aren’t that great. He sort of comes to the realization that he can’t stop ignoring how cruel he thinks God is with God’s own existance. Basically, because Tomas spent time fighting in the Spanish Civil War (don’t ask me how, given that Tomas is Swedish, but I just went with it) and saw horrible things there, he can’t continue to think that God would allow those horrible things to happen. Instead he comes to the conclusion that either God is not real or God doesn’t care about humans and is cut off from us. Now while those are totally legitimate concerns, it’s not the best thing to say to someone who is super depressed and is looking to God for help. Jonas pretty much just leaves without saying anything, and a few minutes later Tomas gets word that Jonas shot himself.
It’s interesting because Tomas obviously feels relief from having his own views on God figured out, even if it’s not the outcome he wanted. But he’s still the pastor, and he still has patrons, so when Tomas tells Karin that Jonas is dead, he gives no indication that he’s lost his faith. He obviously feels like he has a job to do. What’s also interesting is Tomas talking about his first wife, whom he uses to sort of tear down Marta, telling her that she will never live up to his wife and he will never love anyone like that again. From what we’ve heard (particularly from Through A Glass Darkly), there’s a notion that “God is love,” which we’ve obviously all heard before. I think Tomas’ loss of faith could be attributed to his realization that he really won’t love anyone again the way he loved his wife. And if God is love, and Tomas’ life is now absent of love, it would make sense that he no longer believes in God.
Again, Winter Light wasn’t the most engaging movie ever, but the questions and thoughts it opens up definitely makes it worth it.