It’s been a while since I’ve watched an Ingmar Bergman film. I don’t remember how I got into his works, but everything I’ve seen from him has made an impression on me. In fact, over the years, he’s become one of my favorite directors. All of his creations have something to do with humanity, and he asks questions about life, love, death, God, and all sorts of important things. It should come as no surprise, then, that Wild Strawberries is no different. Death, loneliness, and regret all make appearances in the film, but there’s a softness underneath it all that acts as a sort of buffer between the viewer and what’s on-screen. The story is about a 70-something-year-old doctor who has to travel to receive an award. Along the way, he reminisces about his life and dreams about past events. He has a lot to regret, but the film also gives hope by showing it’s never too late to change.
In a 1998 interview, when discussing his public persona, Bergman described himself as “…a strange figure for me. Someone I’m not very closely acquainted with.” After revisiting Wild Strawberries, I’m reminded why it’s important for Bergman to not be anonymous as he would have liked. He breathes life into philosophical subjects by intertwining them with good, old fashioned human emotion. In Wild Strawberries, God isn’t the focus, but two characters in particular show how Bergman is able to weave a complicated matter in with typical human behavior. Two young men – one about to become a minister and the other a doctor – argue over the existence of God. The doctor says that belief in God is outdated, and the minister accuses the doctor of having no imagination. You might think this exchange would bring with it a heavy tone, but it’s kept as light as can be by showing the conversation devolve. After a while, they run off and just start hitting and fighting with each other. So much for enlightened discourse. I found it amusing, since God is a significant part of a number of Bergman’s films. I mean, hell, in Through a Glass Darkly, God is a giant spider that tries to penetrate a girl. Fair enough.
Moving on from rapist God spiders, Wild Strawberries is more concerned with the human journey. Victor Sjöström plays Dr. Isak Borg with a reflectiveness that gives every scene weight. During a dream sequence, Borg watches through some trees as his wife has an affair with another man. I didn’t detect any anger in him; the actual event happened a long time ago, and as he watches it take place again, his face only conveys longing and regret. Maybe reliving that moment makes him wish he could have done something different; maybe he just wants one more moment with his deceased wife so he can tell her what he’s learned about life. Either way, his performance gives something more than generic rage at a cheating wife. Emotions can be complicated, and Victor Sjöström shows that to a T.
Along Dr. Borg’s journey, the broken relationships with his son, Evald, and his daughter-in-law, Marianne, are revealed. Marianne accompanies him on the car ride, and she gives him a piece of her mind. Initially, she dislikes Dr. Borg, along with probably a lot of people. He comes off as a cold pedant, but as the movie goes on and he keeps viewing his life through snap-shots and waking dreams, his coldness melts away and he realizes what had been missing in his life: joy. His relationship with Marianne even improves to the point that she feels the need to confide in him about her marital troubles with his son. That might seem insignificant, but it plays a large role in finally giving him empathy toward people around him.
If I could take away only one thing from Wild Strawberries, it would be the reassurance that while negative things in life exist, there’s always redemption. Past mistakes can weigh you down, but not everything is doom-and-gloom; the happy parts matter, too. Sometimes it just takes a little kick in the ass to realize it.
*This review was originally posted on Tyson Carter’s blog, Head in a Vice, for his IMDb top 250 project. Since he’s re-tooling his site and focusing more on indie/horror reviews, the project is being discontinued and all of my guest reviews will be lost if I don’t re-post them here. Wild Strawberries was the first one I did for his project, so I saw fit to start with that movie yet again. Go check out his blog if you get a chance; it’s well worth your time.