An elderly and ornery professor travels from Stockholm to Lund to receive an honorary degree accompanied by his daughter-in-law. Along the way, the professor reflects on his life and the choices he and others made around him, that have had an impact on his current happiness.
I stated in my recent review for The Virgin Spring that Bergman is my all time favorite director, and this film is one of the reasons for that statement. Wild Strawberries is one of the most important films I have seen (for me personally; it might not be for you). It’s a film that makes me laugh, that brings me close to tears, and one that makes me meditate very deeply about the way I live my own life, and how the choices I make now may impact others for years to come. Bergman has created a quiet, profound, and very human journey through an elderly man’s life, and through it he holds up a mirror for us to examine ourselves.
(SOME SPOILERS IN THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH)
Professor Isak Borg (Victor Sjostrom, The Phantom Carriage) is an elderly old man whom in a mansion alone, aside from his equally elderly housekeeper, Agda (Jullan Kindahl, Smiles of a Summer Night). Isak is to receive an honorary degree for his contributions to science, and as such, he has to take a road trip back to Lund. Isak’s daughter-in-law, Marianne (Ingrid Thulin, Cries and Whispers), had been staying at Isak’s home for a little while due to marital issues with her husband, Isak’s son, Evald (Gunnar Bjornstrand, The Seventh Seal), but she decides she will try to reconcile with him, and asks to come along. On the car ride, Isak and Marianne talk of different things before making a stop at an old summer home where Isak used to spend his childhood. He a sort of dream that becomes a flashback, and we gain insight into his life. After Isak awakes, he’s greeted by Sara (Bibi Andersson, Persona), a young teen; she asks if she can ride with them. They agree, and Sara reveals she’s traveling with two other men, Anders (Folke Sundquist) and Viktor (Bjorn Bjelfvenstam). As the coterie makes their way towards Lund, they continue to have conversations about the proper way to live and be happy.
As far as plot goes, this is a rather simplistic film; it’s a road trip story. Only, Bergman has found a way to jazz up the trip from A to B. It’s filled with wonderful metaphors, stunning and, sometimes terrifying or strange imagery. In a way, the dream sequences, character arcs, and even the themes are slightly Dickensian, reminiscent of A Christmas Carol.
The dream sequences are something that always sticks out to me about this film, primarily because of the bizarre way they play out. The first dream sequence, where Isak wanders through empty streets, is eerily silent, and it draws you right into the movie within the first five minutes. I’ve seen this movie a few times now, and every time the horse cart runs into the light pole I jump. I love the strangeness of the faceless man he meets in the streets, and it’s still scary when the corpse in the coffin grabs Isak’s hand. But the metaphor behind these images makes it even better; Isak is wrestling with the fact that he’s almost out of time; death is coming for him. The other dream sequence, where Isak pictures his cousin Sara (also played by Bibi Andersson), showing him a mirror and an empty cradle, before entering a house to be examined by a team of professors always gets me too. To me, this scene is a representation of after death; in the best way Bergman knows how to portray it. Bergman was raised in the church, but all his life he struggled with the existence of God. In this film, science and religion are two recurring themes- represented by Anders and Viktor during many of the scenes. When Isak goes into the examination room, to me this represents going before God after death, but as Bergman is still questioning his belief, he turns the examination into a literal examination, for which Isak is completely unprepared. This sort of poignancy is wonderful; it feels open and honest. It’s as if to say, I know that I have lived my life believing and studying one thing, but in the end, I don’t know if I’m right until I die.
There are dozens of conversations, subtle character relationship quirks, and wonderful performances in this film that makes it feel like a very charming afternoon through beautiful Sweden. Most of the shots in the car are clearly just projection, but there are some very beautiful shots during the dream sequences, flashbacks, and meals. Bergman always has a way of making things look interesting, even if it’s only a film about talking.
(SOME DETAILS ABOUT THE ENDING DISCUSSED)
After Isak receives his award, he goes back to his son’s room, where he reflects on the day. He realizes that, though he is old, there is still time before him, and there are still things to do, and ways that he could change. He seems a more content man, after such a simple journey, and I find this very refreshing. I think, overall, what Bergman is trying to say, is that it isn’t really about the destination, because we’re all headed towards the grave anyways, it’s about the way you live from A to B. The metaphor of a road trip is like the trip of life. It’s a very simple metaphor, but it’s one that works incredibly well in this movie, despite its simplicity.
If you read this site frequently then get used to me raving about Bergman. I’ve seen over a dozen of his films (and there are plenty more to see) and I’ve never been disappointed. Wild Strawberries, however, holds a special place in my heart. This is a wonderful film, and one of Bergman’s best. If you haven’t seen it, I highly encourage you to seek it out.
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