Film-Philosophy Conference, Film-Philosophy Conference 2012

The Spider-Man Schism: Aporia and the Loss of 'God' in Ingmar Bergman’s ‘Through a Glass Darkly’

Ashvin Immanuel Devasundaram


Analyses of Ingmar Bergman films arguably remain within the strictures of a structuralist or modernist philosophical approach. This paper contends that it is possible to eviscerate alternative essences of meaning in several Bergman films, through the application of a post-structural paradigm. The raison d’être for this revisionist reading is to excavate latent ontological questions embedded in the films’ subtext, particularly those relating to self and existence. The paper focuses on Karin and her father David-two central characters in the film ‘Through a Glass Darkly’. It argues that Karin’s psychosis stems from a Derridean sense of aporia. This state of ‘waylessness’, as exemplified by Karin’s actions in the film, could be attributed to her realisation of the futility of a quest for a transcendental signified-God.  Karin’s inability to engender a rapprochement between self and other is compounded by an iconoclastic epiphany. A monologue describing her apprehension of a malevolent God transmogrifying into a spider, arguably stems from a state of suspension, where meaning is perpetually deferred into a labyrinthine limbo of signifiers and signified. Her father David appears to be entwined in aporia throughout the narrative. It is only at the film’s denouement that he derives positive affirmation from aporia, consequently exhorting the tangibility of action. Karin’s aporetic quandary as manifested in her soliloquy about the arachnid simulacrum of God, extends to primary characters in other Bergman films such as ‘The Seventh Seal’, ‘Winter Light’ and ‘The Silence’. This analysis will re-imagine Bergman’s philosophy for a post-modern milieu, and therefore relate meaning to a contemporaneous context. The study aims to trace a broader pattern in Bergman’s oeuvre; a common thread that exposes an existential assimilation of self through a sense of aporia, and the deconstruction of logocentric conceptions that are contingent on the presence of an all encompassing transcendental signified.

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About the Presenter

Ashvin Immanuel Devasundaram
Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh
United Kingdom

Ashvin has an M.A in Mass Communications from the University of Bedfordshire. He has worked as a Documentary Filmmaker with Channel 4, producing and directing a short film ‘Crossing the Bridge’ (about a Gurkha WWII veteran), which was screened at BAFTA, in London. He has conducted Film Analysis, World Cinema and Documentary Filmmaking workshops across India, and in the UAE. Ashvin started a PhD in September 2011 at Heriot-Watt University’s, (Edinburgh) Department of Languages and Intercultural Studies on a full-scholarship. He recently presented a paper at a conference -‘Comparing Centres, Comparing Peripheries’, organised by SOAS and UCL in London, and is due to present papers at the European Network for Cinema and Media Studies conference in Lisbon, June 2012 and the forthcoming University of Southampton ‘ Genre Beyond Hollywood’ conference, July 2012.