Karin (Harriet Andersson), who in the words of her physician suffers from an “almost incurable mental illness”, is on an island recuperating from her latest stay at a sanatorium. She is accompanied by her husband Martin (Max von Sydow), a doctor, her father David (Gunnar Björnstrand), a writer who has just returned from Switzerland, and her 17-year-old brother Fredrik, called Minus (Lars Passgård), who in his late phase of puberty rejects any form of direct contact with members of the opposite sex. Karin, who suffers from insomnia, sneaks up to the attic, where she experiences visions of God that verge on the ecstatic. In the shimmering light of the summer night the old patterned wallpaper almost appears to come alive.
In this intensive work, distinguished with an Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film of 1961, Bergman continues his investigation of the topic of the father-son relationship as well as that of the existence of God. For Karin two worlds exist parallel to one another: the real world of her family and a world she believes to exist behind a door in the attic, from which God will descend to her. She must obey the voices that speak to her, even if it has destructive consequences, as in her relationship to her brother Minus. Her father David, who suffers from the fact that he has neglected his family for his “art”, offers an alternative image of God: love. For Minus, at least, the drama ends on a positive note – his father has finally spoken with him.