The second in Bergman's early 60s trilogy on belief, loss of faith and despair, Winter Light is meant to be seen in that context.
The first film, Through A Glass Darkly, was, according to Bergman, about "certainty achieved". This represents "certainty unmasked". Relentlessly joyless, austere and ascetic, it lays out in text and technique all the things people who don't like Bergman find too difficult to take.
The film is set in the three hours from noon until three on a cheerless winter Sunday. Lutheran pastor Ericsson (Bergman stalwart Bjornstrand) conducts a dreary service for a handful of parishioners, the hollowness of the ritual and its trappings and his tone pointing to Ericssons's own emptiness.
He is full of doubt and tormented by God's silence. After the service the pastor is sickened by soul-baring confrontations: a letter from his erstwhile mistress (Thulin), delivered by her as a long-take monologue in merciless close-up, and a visit from parishioner Jonas (Von Sydow), a fisherman who is suicidally depressed by the threat of nuclear annihilation. An uncompromising picture of spiritual crisis, it commands respect for its boldness but is very hard going.