Director: Ingmar Bergman
Production: Svensk Filmindustri; black and white, 35mm; running time: 90 minutes; length: 2,490 meters. Released 26 December 1957. Filmed summer 1957 in Svensk studios and backlots in Rosunda, some exteriors shot in and around Stockholm.
Producer: Allan Ekelund; screenplay: Ingmar Bergman; photography: Gunnar Fischer; editor: Oscar Rosander; sound: Aaby Wedin and Lennart Wallin; art director: Gittan Gustafsson; music: Erik Nordgren; costume designer: Millie Ström.
Cast: Victor Sjöström (Professor Isak Borg); Bibi Andersson (Sara); Ingrid Thulin (Marianne); Gunnar Björnstrand (Evald); Jullan Kindahl (Agda); Folke Sundquist (Anders); Björn Bjelvenstam (Viktor); Naima Wifstrand (Isak's mother); Gunnel Broström (Mrs. Alman); Gertrud Fridh (Isak's wife); Ake Fridell (Her lover); Sif Rund (Aunt); Max von Sydow (Åkerman); Yngve Nordwall (Uncle Aron); Per Sjöstrand (Sigfrid); Gio Petré (Sigbritt); Gunnel Lindblom (Charlotta); Maud Hansson (Angelica); Anne-Marie Wiman (Mrs. Åkerman); Eva Norée (Anna); Monica Ehrling (The twins).
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Wild Strawberries is to Ingmar Bergman what King Lear was to Shakespeare—a study in old age and the need for an old man to discover the errors and inhumane deeds of his life and, as he cannot mend them, come to terms with his own fallibility. Lear ("four score and upward") learns the truth about himself by passing through a violent period of deprivation and madness, occasioned by the cruelty of his two married daughters. Professor Isak Borg (played by Victor Sjöström in his late 70s) is an honored physician, and he learns his home-truths through a succession of dreams experienced during a drive by car to Lund, where he is to receive yet another academic honor. He is accompanied by his daughter-in-law, Marianne, who is estranged from her husband, Isak's son. She is quite unafraid of Isak, prompting in him the self-examination that the dreams, forming the principal action of the film, represent. Like Lear, Isak Borg emerges purged, if not wholly changed, from the subconscious confrontations with self-truth. Much of the film he narrates himself as part of the self-examination, as if under some form of analysis. The concept of the film was influenced by Strindberg's Dream Play, which Bergman had directed for the theater.
The title, Wild Strawberries, refers to the fruit that symbolizes for the Swedish the emergence of spring, the rebirth of life. The motif of wild strawberries frequently recurs in Bergman's films. Isak Borg is revealed as a cold-natured, egotistical, irascible and authoritarian old man, even though the journey should be a time of happiness for him in terms of academic recognition. The most macabre of the dreams comes before the journey has even begun; it is a dream Bergman claims frequently to have had himself, that of seeing a coffin fall free into the street from a driverless hearse and then breaking open. In the film a hand emerges from the coffin and grasps Isak; he finds the face of the corpse to be his own.
During the journey by car, Marianne is very blunt with her father-in-law, whose cold nature and lack of humanity match that of his son. The professor dozes as the car rides along the country highway. A succession of dreams reveals to him the shortcomings and losses of his youth. On the journey they pass the now empty house among the birchwoods where, in distant years, Isak had spent his youth. He dreams of the loss of the girl he had loved but was afraid to kiss, his cousin Sara, who picked wild strawberries for him to share with her during their failing courtship. He eventually loses her to his more ardent brother, Sigfrid. Another stop is made for the professor to see his 96-year-old mother. "We imagined her," says Bergman, "to be somewhere between 90 and 100—almost mythical." Marianne considers her to be "ice-cold, in some ways more frightening than death itself"; Isak, then, is the product of a cold womb.
Sara is re-incarnated as a student who, hitchhiking with a couple of young men, is offered a lift by the professor and his daughter-in-law. The presence of this double excites Isak to dream of the youthful Sarah who shows him his now-aged face in a mirror, for in his dreams he remains his present age, while those from his past are seen as they were when they were young. When he begs her not leave him this time, he finds himself voiceless. She can no longer hear him. Though she leaves him for his brother, her seducer, in a later dream she takes him by the hand and shows him the joy of happy parenthood.
The professor's final dream is at once the most revealing and the most tormenting. Like a young student, he faces a humiliating oral examination which is somewhat like a trial. Those who have been most intimate with him are witnesses. He can make no sense of what is asked of him; even the female cadaver he is called upon to examine, rises and laughs in his face. He is forced to be the witness concerning his dead wife's unfaithfulness with her sensual, middle-aged lover, and to hear her bitter description of him as "completely cold and hypocritical." (There is a melancholy burlesque of this ill-fated marriage in the behavior of a bickering couple from an earlier scene.) At the conclusion of this trial-examination, Isak is condemned by the judge-examiner and sentenced to a punishment of loneliness. When he wakes, Marianne reveals she is pregnant and determined to go back to her husband, insisting on her right to have the child he, as the father, does not want her to have.
Wild Strawberries, for all the horror of certain moments, is a film full of compassionate understanding and the need for warmth and humanity. There is a compassion for this old man who cannot respond to people and who lacks the important quality of love and concern for others, particularly for women. Yet there is humor, even touches of light-heartedness, in the film, particularly in the scenes with the students and those between Isak and his aged housekeeper, who proves his match when it comes to mutual criticism. It is indeed this overall compassion that makes Wild Strawberries so memorable, crowned by the magisterial performance of Victor Sjöström, the pioneer Swedish film director.