Trapped in a loveless marriage to a man she despises and mother to four children that we never see, Karin is not only bitter toward her family but seems to be resentful of life. The film makes a point of showing that the women capable of love, Agnes and the maid that affectionately cares for her, Anna (Kari Sylwan), are ironically the one's incapable of passing that love to children. Agnes because her cancer has left her insides incapable of producing children and Anna, despite her unquestioning faith and devotion, has had her only child die. Karin, however, has done what is expected of her by society, become a wife and mother, but it has only closed her off.
At a dinner with her husband while visiting the estate on a campaign trail, the two sit across from each other barely speaking a word. The silence is broken when Karin knocks over her wine glass and shards of glass litter the table. The disturbance does little to distract him (does Karin do it to deliberately arouse emotion of any kind in her husband?) and Karin delicately picks up a jagged piece of glass.
Bringing it with her as she readies herself for bed (zombie-like preparing herself for her wifely duty of another unfulfilling night of "love" making with her husband), Karin dismisses Anna after unrobing and ponders the shard in her hands.
And with those words, she silently makes her way to her bed and without hesitation inserts the glass into her vagina. She wants to destroy the thing that has trapped her into the prison that is her life. Because she is a woman, she is forced to bring new life into this world without question as to whether or not she wants to. Because of the genitalia she was born with, she must endure the marriage arranged for her. Perhaps it was a match that would benefit her family or his, but a marriage for love was not an option as being a woman has taken away her choices.
But by using the glass she has taken control of her life and the pain soon gives way to pleasure and she licks her lips in ecstasy, enjoying the command she has over her body. She has power.
As she reveals her bloody deed, she reaches out her blood-covered hand to her husband almost daring him to try and touch her now, and with a defiant swipe of her hand, (and my pick for Best Shot) she smears her face in red.
She is readying herself for battle. Arming herself with that which initially trapped her as a woman, she now readily embraces. Her vagina, which monthly bleeds red whether she wants it to or not, is now bleeding because she has forced it to. Almost mocking the earlier scene where she takes off her womanly wares and accessories of her nightly ritual, she now readies herself with "make-up" giving herself a painted-on smile. She shows that she'll give the outward appearance of the perfect life, but inside the red is not of passion but of hate. As the scene fades, her entire face turns red, taking on an almost demonic demeanor evoking what Bergman also used to describe the soul, "When I was a child, I imagined the soul to be a dragon, a shadowing floating in the air like blue smoke – a huge winged creature, half bird, half fish. But inside the dragon, everything was red." Karin has become that red, fire-breathing dragon.