Ingmar Bergman: Wild Strawberries

Review of The Criterion Collection Blu-ray edition.
Spine: #139
Release Date: June 11, 2013
Screen captures below are taken from The Criterion Collection Blu-ray disc, but resolution has been reduced from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed. You may click on them to view the 900x506 image.

A mere ten months after he released what most certainly is his most famous film, The Seventh Seal, Ingmar Bergman, only forty years old, released a movie I consider to be even better, Wild Strawberries (1957). The first time I watched Wild Strawberries, I was awake for the rest of the night (this happened also when I watched two other Bergman films: Winter Light and Fanny and Alexander). The imagery and the film’s pace insinuated into my waking dreams, which is fitting since much of this movie is a kind of waking dream of the elderly Professor Isak Borg, wonderfully played by director Victor Sjöström, in one of his few acting roles.

This movie takes place over the course of one day, a day which actually starts very very early in the light Swedish night (something like 3:00 a.m.). Professor Borg is going to be honored later that afternoon at Lund University, where he graduated 50 years earlier. He had originally planned to fly from Stockholm to Lund, but instead decided to make the trip by car, after a frightening dream:

His daughter-in-law, Marianne (Ingrid Thulin, who, like many other actors, will show up throughout Bergman’s oeuvre), decides to make the trip with him. She doesn’t particularly like her father-in-law, blaming him for some of the relationship problems she suffers with her husband, Evald (the great Gunnar Björnstrand). She sees in Professor Borg many of the things she doesn’t like about her husband: he’s stubborn, egotistical, and generally tough to be around.

Professor Borg might agree with her. He is now seventy-eight years old and hasn’t really had a happy life. He didn’t marry the girl he loved, and his professional success moved him away from people who cared about him most. On this road trip with his daughter-in-law, he gets closer to where he once modestly practiced medicine. There people remember and honor him, including Max von Sydow’s character, Henrik Åkerman:

But Professor Borg eventually moved away from this small life and specialized in bacteriology. One gets the sense he’s infected. At seventy eight, he is weak and looks around to see how he’s infected those around him. As the trip goes on, Professor Borg drifts in and out of sleep and nightmares — what is this thing called life, and how did it get away from him? And can he possibly help those with more time than he has?

Presenting hardened characters at their most vulnerable and sympathetic (some may say too sympathetic, but I find it’s hard to accept that anyone ever found anything not to like in Sjöström’s Professor Borg), this is one of my favorite films of all time.

Looking at my post above, I realize I may have portrayed Wild Strawberries as some kind of rendition of A Christmas Carol. While this movie is optimistic — by Bergman’s standards — it is grounded in harsh reality. Professor Borg will never get back the time he lost, and there’s no reason to think he’d use it any better if he did. His son may fare better, but you can’t take back the kinds of things he and his wife said to each other, and their views of the world are essentially hopeless. It’s as likely Professor Borg’s wasted life simply reaffirms Evald’s sentiment: “This life sickens me.”

So, for me, while there is a hope in this film, it is also a film about the swift passage of time that takes life right along with it, and some of the characters only wish it could be swept away faster.

8 thoughts on “Ingmar Bergman: Wild Strawberries

  1. Yes. Indeed, I already have a post drafted for it :-) . Not sure when I’ll post it. I had planned to do Eraserhead around Halloween, but I never got a chance to rewatch it. But doesn’t Eraserhead also make a nice Thanksgiving film??

    I do plan on posting my through many of Bergman’s films on here. I’m very anxious to get to his Silence of God/Faith Trilogy, which will follow The Virgin Spring.

    I’ve also got some more Buñuel ready, and I’m hoping to do some more Tarkovsky.

    Are there any other films/directors/etc. you’d like to see here (I ask anyone)?

  2. Great stuff. Also contains a really unsettling opening sequence that kicks off the mood of collapsed, surreal time etc.

    Well, you did ask (although Bunuel, Tarkovsky and Lynch are hotly anticipated): Bela Tarr, Gaspar Noe, Jodorowsky, Altman, Powell, Bresson, Ceylan, Jarmusch, Hitchcock, Ophuls, Antonioni, Resnais, Von Trier, Haneke, Cronenberg, Carne…I’ll leave it there for now!

    If I’m picking two I’d love to hear your thoughts on Les Enfants and Short Cuts….

  3. I’ve got several of those on hand, Lee, so it’s good to see we’re on the same page. Except for Gaspar Noe. I’ll let you cover him on your blog :-). I’ll admit that I’ve never seen one of his films the whole way through, so maybe by covering him I could be shown why I shouldn’t resist.

    I’ve also never seen anything by Jodorowsky. Where would you suggest I begin?

    All of the others you mentioned are to one degree or another candidates I’ve been considering. I’ve got a von Trier film ready for posting and I have a few Bresson films in pre-production work. Also, glad you mentioned Ceylan. I’ve only seen his latest, but man I loved it.

    I hadn’t really thought of doing Hitchcock, thinking that, though he may be my favorite director (but maybe not), I don’t have much more to say about his work. I did recently watch all of his silent films. That was a chore. Glad he found his footing.

  4. Great! Look forward to any and all…

    I did cover Noe at least once…interesting that you never finished any. Enter The Void is something strange and great to me.

    Santa Sangre!

    Interesting, I wonder which Von Trier…I’m going to guess at Breaking The Waves…I’m determined to get round to Ceylan, I’m not sure what to say about it but it’s got to be worth trying.

    How about a quick Hitchcock round up? If that’s possible?! Intriguing that you rate him that highly. I have seen some of his silent stuff and I can’t disagree. What did you make of the 24-Hour Psycho thing at MOMA? Or Point Omega?

    My success rate regarding betting is poor of late, but I’d still be confident of laying at least a tenner on your enjoying Les Enfants.

  5. My wife and I watched Wild Strawberries a couple of years ago and we were caught up in it straightaway. The opening scene gave us the thrill youi get from opening a good book, one that draw you in from the very first pages.

    A lot of the filmmakers mentioned above are also favourites of mine. I would partliculalrly like to hear your thoughts on Shortcuts, Mrs Miller and Mr Mcabe. Ones I might add are the Coien brothers, Mike Leigh, FassbinderTodd Haynes, les freres Dardenne, ssome of the great film noir directors (big sleep, Maltese falcon,…) And I would even suggest some of the better Woody Allen films (the film critic David Bordwell, devotes a whole chapter to Three sisters in one of his books, for example)…

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