Sunday, February 10, 2013

Wild Strawberries

Wild Strawberries (1957)
Drama, 91 minutes, Swedish Language
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Starring Victor Sjöström, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin and Max von Sydow

Modern cinema rarely gives us a film as ambitious or thoughtful as Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries. It questions the very meaning of life, and the themes of religion, relationships, isolation, and death. This is made clear during the opening scene, which takes place before the credits. It's here that we meet the narrator and main character, Professor Isak Borg (Sjöström). He's shown sitting at his desk, documenting the following thoughts:

"In our relations with other people, we mainly discuss and evaluate their character and behavior. That is why I have withdrawn from nearly all so-called relations. This has made my old age rather lonely."

Think about the truth in those words. Whenever we meet anyone, we immediately evaluate them. Are they kind, intelligent, or attractive, and do we want to know them? How do you feel knowing that every person who interacts with you is judging you in some way? Many of us want to make a good impression and be liked, while others don't really care what other people think about their worth.

As the film unfolds, we learn that Borg is a doctor who is about to receive an honorary degree. He has a disturbing dream showing a clock with no hands, and a hearse containing his own corpse. After waking at 3am, he decides to drive to the ceremony early, ignoring the feelings of his housekeeper, who wants to leave at 9am as planned. Borg seems to care little for the feelings of those around him. His daughter-in-law, Marianne (Thulin), accompanies him on the trip.

Borg's journey gives him the opportunity to talk to Marianne. He thinks that she dislikes or even hates him because of his indifferent attitude toward the feelings of other people. She even cites an example of such behavior, confirming his suspicions. But as the journey progresses, their conversation reveals things about the character of both people, and they realize that they do like things about each other.

You can see that Borg's musings at the beginning of the film were accurate. Every action he performs is judged. One brief meeting with a gas station attendant (von Sydow) also illustrates that point, but this time in a positive way. Some previous act of Borg's was remembered fondly by the attendant and his wife.

The film contains many dreams and memories, and it's easy to see why David Lynch would like Bergman's work. Borg takes Marianne to visit the house in which he spent the first twenty summers of his life, and we are shown Borg's nine siblings, and the woman he loved. I was reminded of the power of memory, and how it can be stimulated by revisiting places from our past. I am sure everyone can relate to that.

After this interlude, Borg meets three younger people who join him on his journey. Bergman uses the attitudes of these characters to show the contrasting outlooks of different age groups. We also meet two other strangers who are married, but appear to be unhappy. All of these interactions are there to show the possibilities that we have in our future. Will we be happy, lonely, or forced to compromise? Can damaged or broken relationships ever be healed? Why do we do what we do?

Wild Strawberries doesn't contain any profound revelations, but it certainly provokes thought. I mentioned that it's rare to see modern examples of films that explore such areas. A few examples are The Tree of Life, Everlasting Moments, Three Colors Red, and The Double Life of Veronique. If you enjoy exploring your own thoughts, and seeing how events shape our lives and actions, I would recommend all of those films. Wild Strawberries was made more than fifty years ago, and is still relevant today. It was Victor Sjöström's last acting role, and he was very convincing as a 78-year-old man reflecting on his life.

Overall score 4/5

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