The way we live, eat, work, make love and bring up our children, our attitudes towards politics, economics and international affairs, how we play, our choice of companions, how we dress and sleep, our attitudes towards pain and suffering (both our own and that of others), our tolerance for uncertainty, our proneness to anger or to depression, our tendencies towards dependence or independence, how we react to success and failure, our morals, the balance in us between generosity and selfishness
—all of these and many other personality traits are consequences in the adult personality of the residues of the unresolved neurotic problems of childhood.
These residues make us what we are as craftsmen, artists, professional men, citizens, husbands, wives, parents, and friends.
They determine the peace of mind, serenity, and gaiety with which we are able to live or the veiled tensions, anxieties and angers which discolor our lives.
They can be the source, equally, of greatness of spirit or of meanness and crime; and they can cost us much of the happiness which would otherwise be ours for the taking. They lie at the heart of that oldest of human problems, human discontent.
They are the veiled and universal neurotic component of 'normal' human nature.
—Lawrence S. Kubie, Practical and Theoretical Aspects of Psychoanalysis
Terrifyingly (once I begin to consider the implications), I have seen all of Ingmar Bergman's feature films since 1964 in their first run, in theaters.
So I might say with only the slightest bit of exaggeration that I've known the man all my adult life. I use those words not presumptuously or fatuously, but rather quite seriously: more than any other filmmaker I can name, Ingmar Bergman
, the man, is the subject
of Bergman the artist's work. A more autobiographical filmmaker I don't believe you'd be able to find.
Which is, I suppose, one of the many reasons some people don't like or understand his work. Like the visiting uncle who boorishly recounts his war experiences, or the strange nymphomaniacal cousin who insists on trying on your underwear, Bergman can take some getting used to. His themes, most often, are informed by those twin icons of the 20th Century—Freud and Jung. From the microcosmic to the macro, you could take Bergman's 42 feature films, created between the years of 1946 and 1982, and seed the graduate-level psychology courses of any major university in the world.
Bergman has explored the infinitely variegated terrain of Man and Mankind throughout his entire career, but it was in 1957's Wild Strawberries that he truly set the cinematic bar higher than it had ever been before. Amazingly, he had released his titanic meditation on Existence, The Seventh Seal, earlier the same year, but the two films are as different as night and day. The first functions nearly totally symbolically, as though the ruminations of Carl Jung have suddenly been cast against the theater wall in vivid black and white. Wild Strawberries, on the other hand, could not be more Freudian, exploring as it does the paths both taken and untaken in a man's childhood, youth, and throughout his life which combine and contrast to compose the old man he has become.
Wild Strawberries is a memory play which explores sins both real and imaginary and the Christian idea of forgiveness. Isak Borg ("Icy Fortress" for the symbolists in the crowd; Ingmar Bergman's alter-ego would not be far from the mark either.) is an outwardly successful physician and professor who is to receive an honorary degree from his alma mater some fifty years after his graduation.
He awakens from a terrifyingly symbolic dream in which he confronts his own death and abruptly changes his plans to fly to the event. Instead, he sets off in his hearse-like old touring car with his daughter-in-law, the luminous Ingrid Thulin, in her first of many performances for Bergman. Thus, in structure, Wild Strawberries fits well within the time-honored genre of the "road picture." Bergman borrows techniques from Chaucer as surely as he anticipates Easy Rider.
After some strained character development (the two travelers appear not to like each other very much) Borg makes an unscheduled stop at his childhood home, the site of many happy memories but also, it is revealed, the scene of a great disappointment.
During a walk through the woods, Borg happens upon a patch of wild strawberries and is sent into a reverie that details that disappointment, that fork in the road so to speak, which permanently changed the old man's life. For a Swedish audience, by the way, the idea of wild strawberries has great resonance, for Swedish summers are short, their colors and textures brilliant and transitory. Languid days in vacation cottages are commonplace for the middle class, and the film's literal title in Swedish, "The Place Where the Wild Strawberries Grow," bespeaks quite economically the physical and emotional tenor of Bergman's cinematic palette.
So we have a dream, an exposition, and a memory. The film's emotional grammar has been revealed and the dizzying Bergmanesque dance of conflict and resolution begins. Entranced, we meet by turns all the significant characters of Borg's life, both past and present. We witness the way the doctor has been shaped, bent, nearly broken by his own failure to engage, truly, in the lives of those around him. His journey, ostensibly back to the scene of his earliest triumphs, is in fact a trek into himself, a meditation on his actions and thus upon the very quality and nature of his existence.
Isak Borg is played by Victor Sjöström, a titan of Swedish film who had been an actor, director, and producer since the days of silent film. He was an early champion of the young Bergman, and was mainly responsible for the director's ability to overcome some devastating failures early in his career.
Bergman lured him, cranky, irascible, and very much the misanthrope, out of retirement at the age of 78. During production, the film company was very tense from day to day regarding whether the old man would even show up for work, not to mention whether he'd be able to remember his lines. Bergman—who also wrote the screenplay of this as well as thirty-one of his other films—seems to have tailored the work to Sjöström's unique personality as well as his well-honed ability to act without the necessity of dialogue. Minutes upon minutes, actually, of the film do not require words; we understand implicitly that, though outwardly successful, Isaac Berg considers himself an enormous failure in life. He is estranged from everyone—his friends, his associates, his family and—most important of all—himself.
Significantly, Bergman was going through a very difficult period in his own life. His relationship with his parents was non-existent and he too, after the success of The Seventh Seal, had managed to cut himself off from everyone else around him. Thus, it is easy to perceive Wild Strawberries as a sort of catharsis for the artist. By working out the resolution of Issac Borg's existential malaise, Ingmar Bergman was able to conquer his own demons as well.
During a second nightmare sequence in the film, Dr. Borg finds himself in a terrifyingly confusing examination room at medical school where he is unable to answer the questions put to him, the first of which is "What is the first duty of the physician?" The answer, "to ask forgiveness," escapes Borg, and indeed is central to the character's sense of failure as a man, a father, a lover, and—yes—even as a doctor and professor.
Though outwardly successful, Dr. Isak Borg is "cold as ice," dead already, at least on the inside. It is the character's journey to self-awareness and redemption through the power of love that is the film's overlying concern.
Visually, though it predates Bergman's long association with cinematographer Sven Nykvist, Wild Strawberries is astonishing to behold. Gunnar Fischer, also a long-time collaborator of the director, has photographed interiors and exteriors alike with remarkable sensitivity and economy. Like many of Bergman's films, this one is not far-removed from the theatre, and it is the same attention to specifics that tell the story that sets Wild Strawberries apart from American films of the same period. Less is definitely more in any Ingmar Bergman film.
As though, perhaps, he were staring into the face of his long-estranged father—or possibly into the mirror image of himself forty years hence—Bergman seems fascinated with the wise and wrinkled visage of Victor Sjöström. We, the audience, are likewise transfixed. Wild Strawberries is the first film in which Bergman consciously lingered in close-up, a technique which evolved to huge effect in such later films as Persona and Cries and Whispers. The director noted in the diary he kept at the time:
I never stop prying, shamelessly studying this powerful face. Sometimes it is like a dumb cry of pain, sometimes it is distorted by mistrustful cruelty and senile querulousness, sometimes it dissolves into self-pity and astoundingly sentimental effusions.
We have shot...the final close-ups of Isak Borg as he is brought to clarity and reconciliation. His face shone with secretive light as if reflected from another reality. His features became suddenly mild, almost effete. His look was open, smiling, tender.
It was like a miracle.
Then complete stillness—peace and clarity of soul. Never before or since have I experienced a face so noble and liberated.
It has been said that the secret of film acting lies in the eyes, for in no other art form are we allowed such thorough contemplation of what Shakespeare called the "window of the soul."
Similarly it may be argued that Wild Strawberries is, for the student of cinema, the definitive opening of the door to the resounding career of Ingmar Bergman, surely one of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th Century.
His meditation upon that thankful quality of Old Age, how childhood memories return with sometimes alarming but more often palliative clarity, while the failures and frustrations of adulthood recede into irrelevant shadow, is a gigantic masterpiece of world cinema, a must-see classic that mirrors entirely the art and science of his time.
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Written by Ingmar Bergman
Victor Sjöström....Professor Isak Borg
Gunnar Björnstrand....Evald Borg
Naima Wifstrand....Isak's Mother
Gunnel Broström....Mrs. Alman
Gertrud Fridh....Karin, Isak's wife
Sif Ruud....Aunt Olga
Gunnar Sjöberg....Sten Alman
Max von Sydow
Åke Fridell....Karin's lover
Yngve Nordwall....Uncle Aron
Per Sjöstrand....Sigfrid Borg
Gio Petré....Sigbritt Borg
Gunnel Lindblom....Charlotta Borg
Maud Hansson....Angelica Borg
Ann-Marie Wiman....Eva Åkerman
Eva Norée....Anna Borg
Lena Bergman....Kristina Borg, twin
Monica Ehrling....Birgitta Borg, twin
Peder Hellman....Sigbritt's baby
Ulf Johansson....Isak's father
Göran Lundquist....Benjamin Borg
Vendela Rudbäck....Elisabeth, Mrs. Borg's housemaid
Per Skogsberg....Hagbart Borg
Helge Wulff....The Manager
Production Manager…Allan Ekelund
Original Music by Erik Nordgren, Göte Lovén
Cinematography by Gunnar Fischer
by Oscar Rosander
Production Design by Gittan Gustafsson
Costume Design by Millie Ström
Makeup Department....Nils Nittel
Assistant Director....Gösta Ekman
Art Department….Karl-Arne Bergman
Sound Department….Aaby Wedin
Sound Mixer….Sven Rudestedt
Script Girl….Katherina Faragó
Location Manager….Sven Sjönell
Still Photographer….Louis Huch
Assistant Camera….Björn Thermænius
Running Time....90 Minutes
Black and White
Shot on location at Lake Vattern, the university town of Lund, and Dalaro and Ango in the Stockholm Archipelago, and Rasunda Studios,
July 2—August 27,1957.
Swedish Premiere….December 26, 1957
American Premiere….June 22, 1959, Beekman Theater, New York, NY
U. S. Distribution: Janus Films.
Criterion Collection DVD Release…. Interactive menus; scene access; audio commentary by film scholar Peter Cowie; stills gallery, featuring rare behind-the-scenes photos; "Ingmar Bergman on Life and Work" - a 90 minute documentary by filmmaker and author Jorn Donner.
1960 Academy Award
Nomination: Best Original Screenplay
On Hollywood and filmmaking:
Below the Line
sex drugs and divorce
a little life, interrupted
- Hecho en Mejico
- Sam's Song
- Hemingway and Fortuna
- Hummingbird on the Left
- The Long and Drunken Afternoon
- Safe in the Lap of the Gods
- Quetzal Birds in Love
- Angela in Paradise
- And the machine ran backwards
a secondhand coffin
how to act
Right. Me and Herman Melville
Scylla and Charybdis Approximately
snowflakes and nylon
I could've kissed Orson Welles
the broken dreams of Orson Welles
the last time I saw Orson Welles
The Other Side of the Wind
Below the Line
Final Cut Pro
king of the queens
Kubrick polishes a turd
movies from space
Persistence of Vision
Apocalypse Now Redux
Hearts and Minds
The Jazz Singer
We Were Soldiers