Sunday, 26 March 2017

Wild Strawberries (1957)

Fig 1 - Wild Strawberries Poster
Directed by Ingmar Bergman, Wild Strawberries follows the journey of a renowned elderly professor named Isak Borg (Victor Sjöström) on the day he is to be presented with a degree marking 50 years since receiving his doctorate. Instead of flying to Lund for the ceremony after something of an epiphanous dream, Isak spontaneously decides to drive there alongside his daughter-in-law Marianne (Ingrid Thulin), who openly admits her disdain towards him. Along the way, they stop off at the house Isak grew up in and meet Sara (Bibi Andersson) who bares a striking resemblance to a former lover of his. Sara, along with her two friends, joins Isak and Marianne on their trip to Lund in which time Isak continues having surreal and unpleasant dreams which heavily reflect the guilt that plagues him regarding his life choices.

Wild Strawberries is, at it's core, A Christmas Carol for nihilists. From Isak's back-story we are given enough information to know that his Scrooge-like attitude towards life did not come out of nowhere. At one point we are introduced to Isak's mother, who is even more cold and grouchy than Isak comes across, exhibiting traits which have clearly been passed down to Isak's son Evald (Gunnar Björnstrand) who outright loathes his own existence and refers to himself as an "unwanted child (from) a hellish marriage". So when Isak's persona begins to warm over the course of the journey, we see a change in him that has clearly not been sparked for some time. Though ultimately, unlike Scrooge's lust for wealth, Isak recounts several emotionally devastating events in his life that gradually became a wall between him and those around him. These events really become the foundation of our empathy towards Isak and give us a reason to root for his change over time.

Fig 2 - Wild Strawberries - Marianne and Isak
Incidentally, Victor Sjöström gives a great performance as Isak, a man becoming evermore aware of his own mortality and pondering over the choices that have lead him where he is. If anything, I felt a lot more sympathetic towards Isak than the characters around him lead us to believe he deserves, particularly as he begins to delve deeper into the betrayals that came as a result of his own neglect. In addition, Bibi Andersson (who would go on to star in Bergman's Persona (1966)) as both versions of Sara gave a fun and charming turn as Isak's love interest(s).

On the whole, the film is very dream-oriented, perhaps as an alternative to the ghosts of Christmas (to reiterate the Scrooge analogy). And in these dreams, there is a resounding pang of internal conflict between aspiring for greatness and committing oneself to others. The overall message of the film is a fairly universal one and definitely translates more coherently than that of Persona (1966) (being the only other Bergman film that I've seen...) I wasn't sure how much I was enjoying the film by the halfway point but by the end I was won over by the weight of the history in this man's life and even by the end, having made it to the award ceremony, it isn't even the long-awaited recognition that enables him to sleep soundly once more. It's a profound and existential look into the conflicts of the ego, which gives Wild Strawberries just as much relevance today as ever before.


Fig. 1 Wild Strawberries Poster (1957) From: Wild Strawberries - Directed by: Ingmar Bergman

Fig. 2  Wild Strawberries Screenshot (1957) From: Wild Strawberries - Directed by: Ingmar Bergman

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