The Greatest films of all time: 52.Wild Strawberries (1957)(Sweden)

Introduction:

“Wild Strawberries” of Ingmar Bergman is another metaphorical and philosophical film masterpiece, like “The Seventh Seal” surprisingly both created in the same year of 1957. This was only possible at the hands of Bergman whose prolific and excessively productive life career could achieve such, unheard before in the history of cinema. “The Seventh Seal” dealt with a nation or continent at the medieval period of European history, lost faith through the deception of the papacy, casting the doom of death on their people by war added to epidemic death befell on them by  plague. At a parallel philosophical and metaphorical with a hue of surrealism, “Wild Strawberries” addresses the life of an achieved human, who despite all his knowledge, fame and accomplishments, at the end looking back at his life in the search of true meaning of his existence. While “The Seventh Seal” is more metaphysical and philosophical depicting the search of human lost in faith for the ultimate truth of God, life and death, “Wild Strawberries” is more psychological and philosophical in the search of the meaning of an individual in a lifetime, while it could be generalized to all.

In search of the meaning of one’s life and seeking Redemption:

Isak Borg (Victor Sjostrom), a retired medical scientist after telling his life story briefly as a narrator in the opening scene, dreams in his sleep, getting lost in the streets when out for his daily walk. He notices the street clock has lost its hands, so was his pocket watch, as time has lost its momentum. Wandering around, he runs into a faceless man, who by his light touch falls down and breaks to bleed. Then a carriage carrying a coffin passes by him, but its wheel breaks off and the coffin rolls off to the street. He approaches to the coffin, where a hand of a dead man is out and suddenly grabs him, when he notices it is him, dead. This Freudian dream that its interpretation is inherent in the opening image of the film, is a prologue to the rest of the film about the search for the true meaning of one’s life, or what has been really important in an individual’s life, with an introspection and looking back at the end.    

Waking up from his alarming dream, professor Isak suddenly decided to drive his car to the ceremony of an honorary award to him at the university instead of the pre-arranged flight to the destination, that disturbs his housekeeper, the old Ms. Agda (Jullan Kindahl) who has been in his service over 40 years. His daughter-in-law, Marianne (Ingrid Tulin) who has been staying with him for a brief period, wakes up while him having breakfast and asks to accompany him in the car as she had decided to go back home. We find out later, when the professor stops by his parents’ old summer cottage to refresh his past memories why he suddenly decided to drive to the ceremony than to fly. 

Before their stop at the cottage, through the conversation between Isak and Marianne, and her critic of him, his old traditional, masculine, selfish and self-centered views on women throughout his life despite all his achievements as a scientist. Isak is totally shocked when he learns through Marianne that even his son who has taken much after him, hates him and that he is also of the opinion that despite his benevolent exterior, he is a ruthless man, listening to no one but himself. While about to reach the cottage, Isak who has already shaken by his dream and now critics of Marrianne and his son, softens up to disclose his dream to her, but she is not interested in dreams.

When they reach the cottage and while Marianne goes for a swim, Isak sitting by the wild strawberries bush, looking at the cottage and all his youth pastime in their summer cottage flashback live before his eyes. He sees his cousin Sara (Bibi Anderson) whom he was in love with in real flesh at the young age, calling her but no response as she is still living in the young past, while he is in the present old age. Then his brother, Sigbritt (Gio Petre) who is also in love with Sara arrives and starting temptation of her and forcefully kisses her that makes her to drop her strawberries basket that she was picking, and bursts her to tears. Isak walks into the house after Sara running in tears inside, where he sees the whole family of ten children, mother and the uncle are at the dinner table eating and conversing.   

The young twin sisters who were always spying and gossiping around, break to the rest of the family, about Sigbritt kissing Sara by the strawberries patch, that upsets Sara who runs out of the room again in tears. Old Isak is witnessing all before his eyes, but unnoticed in his flashbacks by Sara and others. His daydreams are interrupted by a young girl who suddenly finds him by the bush in the present time. She is asking to ride with them with two other accompanied young men. On the road they get into an accident, passing by a careless driven car, causing the other car tips upside down in a ditch. They end up taking the couple driving the other car with them, as their car is not drivable. Finally after a short drive, Sara asks the couple who are in fight all the time, and the man insulting to the woman constantly to get off their car as he is intolerable.

Stopping for gas at a station in the village where Isak is planning to visit his old mother, he is welcome by the gas station worker and his wife who appreciate him as the best doctor whom still people talk about and refuse the payment for the gas as a gesture of gratitude. This is a paradox between the personal life of the professor, not being loved and perceived as selfish compared to his opposite positive public prestige. After visiting his mother, dozing off in the car, Isak enters his dream of facing Sara back in time, but this time she sees him and tells him heartlessly that he has turned old, while she has not changed and has a life still ahead of her. She confronts him that while he may know a lot of things, he does not know anything. She breaks the news that she is going to marry his brother and has to leave him. 

His dream follows him being led to a university classroom for evaluation of his medical skill and knowledge by an examiner. He is asked to identify a microbe under the microscope that he cannot, then asked to read a text on the blackboard that to him is meaningless and in a strange language. He is reminded by the examiner that the text is the first duty of a doctor that he responds that he has forgotten and when the examiner reminds him that is “asking for forgiveness”, he replies with smile that of course, now he remembers! He is accused by the examiner with “Guilt” but he does not understand the charge. Then he is asked to diagnose a patient in the room, that he diagnoses her as being dead, but the patient lifts up her head looking at him in laughter. The examiner makes some note in his book declaring him as incompetent and charged also with serious offenses of “selfishness, callousness and ruthlessness” by his wife who has been long deceased. 

The judge takes him out to a spot where he had witnessed his wife in crazy laughter being raped by a man, while he was watching and dis not take any action. Then after the act, his wife tells the other man that when she tells Isak what had happened and ask for forgiveness, he would say “there is nothing to forgive” as “he is cold as ice, then suddenly be very tender”. The wife would get upset at him over his hypocrisy that drives her sick, but he would respond that he understands everything and all have been his fault! When his wife leaves the scene, he is asking the examiner where she has gone, that he answers that all have gone, removed by a painless masterpiece operation. Isak asks now what would be the verdict and the punishment, that the judge responds the usual, that is “Loneliness”! 

The film ends after the ceremony at the university, when resting at his son’s and Marianne coming to him tenderly, seeming she has forgiven him and kisses him good night. Then his son comes in when Isak asks him to be nicer to his wife and considering having a child as he has been resistant to Marianne’s such wish. It seems that he’s forgive by at least his son and daughter-in-law so he can fall asleep in peace. In his dream again he goes back to his youth, meeting Sara again and this time he asks her about his mom and dad, that she takes him by a lake where his parents when young and before having children were fishing. The film concludes with the peaceful sleep and dreaming of Isak like a little boy, seemingly having reached his redemption.   

Once again Ingmar Bergman in the same year of making his other masterpiece of “The Seventh Seal” with his “Wild Strawberries” brings philosophical topics onto the screen and becomes the highly praised intellectual of cinema. Again the film is not a dry dialogue of intellectualism, but a visual masterwork with its smart flashbacks to the past through dreams. In this psychological analysis of someone’s life is revealed on a couch but through introspection and past exploration in a beautiful and skilled cinematic style. Despite the slow tempo of the film that required to be such, it is not boring but gripping and enlightening. More than 60 years, still no one could have reached to such depth of human’s psyche as Bergman did in this film and his “The Seventh Seal”. Bergman who was also understood and helped by his selected actors to convey his thought on the screen, was also assisted by music score (Erik Nordgren), cinematography (Gunnar Fischer) and editing (Oscar Rosander) in this masterpiece.   

Conclusion:

In closing remarks “Wild Strawberries” one more time will be redefined based on the following criteria:  

  1. Originality:“Wild Strawberries” is original in analyzing human’s inner psyche and introspection over the meaning of one’s life at the end through flashbacks. Bergman’s originality in two levels of analyzing a nation’s or continent psyche in “The Seventh Seal” and individual’s one in this film is not original but innovative and a rarity in cinema, not equaled even in the later years.

2. Technicality:The technicality of “Wild Strawberries” is its use of dream analysis and flashback not on a couch and through intellectual conversations, but through visual art of film. 

3. Impact Factor:The influence of “Wild Strawberries” has been on so many intellectual filmmakers mainly in Europe such as Michealngelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini, and Jean Luc Goddard and more.

4. Survival:“Wild Strawberries” has survived well to this day for being still enlightening and surprising to be made more than sixty years ago. It is still considered a masterpiece and has not lost its freshness in the subject or technique.

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