[In Bergman's finest work,] there has been a dramatic structure established out of the various elements contained in the films, the minutely observed physical detail generally counterbalancing the more abstract and often rhetorical nature of the central theme.
In Through a Glass Darkly, however, all this has changed. As in So Close to Life, Bergman has here decided to deny himself all but the most austere imagery, as he has restricted himself to four characters and has taken pains to observe the unity of time. But paradoxically, if this is aesthetically his most austere film, it is thematically his most self-indulgent; for in this barren island world that Bergman has created, there is nothing to offset what one wants to call the abnormality of the film. Here all the characters are distressed and inward-turning, and all but the myopic Martin speak in terms of God. (p. 38)
Yet, as its title and opening epigraph imply, the film is supposedly about Christian love. Supposedly, because in Through a Glass Darkly love is less experienced than talked about. In the various characters in Wild Strawberries (indeed, within the evolution of the central character himself), we could see and thus respond to some of the many possibilities of love from selfish eros to Christian agape, so that at the end of the film there was really no need of any speech at all between old Borg and Marianne as they reached out and touched one another and thus expressed their new-found sympathy. Whereas at the end of this film, David must explain to his son that love is all-embracing, that in fact God is love, and that even Karin, although she will be away from them imprisoned in her own insanity, will benefit from their love. But the film actually ends in physical separation…. Even more than The Virgin Spring, and less justifiably, this film ends with the assertion of the validity of faith in love; and it is this verbally assertive quality shared by all the characters, plus the portentousness of the epigraph and music by Bach, which, despite the austerity of the visual images, gives Through a Glass Darkly its self-indulgent quality. (pp. 38-9)
If by the end of Through a Glass Darkly, we feel with some regret that Bergman has more asserted the value of love than demonstrated it dramatically within the film, nevertheless, in the uniqueness of his imagery and the intimacy with which he observes some of the details of these four people's lives, he succeeds in reminding us that he is still one of the most distinctive and compelling directors in the cinema today. (p. 39)
Peter Harcourt, "Film Reviews: 'Through a Glass Darkly'," in Sight and Sound (copyright © 1962 by The British Film Institute), Vol. 32, No. 1, Winter, 1962–63, pp. 38-9.