Victor Sjostrom as Dr. Isak Bork in Ingrid Bergman’s 1957 classic “Wild Strawberries.”
I don’t remember exactly when I first saw Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries (1957), but I do know how deeply it moved me despite the fact that I was far too young to truly connect with the film’s ideas about death, regret, and the passage of time. I was almost certainly a teenager, and it is testament to Bergman’s skill as a writer and as a director that he was able to elicit such a strong response from me at that age with this story about a 78-year-old Swedish doctor.
Early in the film, just after the credits roll in fact, we enter a dream. In it the dreamer, Dr. Isak Borg (Victor Sjostrom), stumbles through a city with no people. We hear nothing but the sound of his heart beating, at first. Borg looks up and sees a clock with no hands; he checks his watch, also without hands. He sees a horse-drawn hearse speed by; it crashes into a lamppost and a coffin falls out. From inside the coffin, a man’s hand reaches out. Borg peers over the edge of the coffin only to find that it the man inside is actually himself. Each image, every sound, the rhythm of the scene: all are deliberate and expertly crafted to mimic dream language.
Striking imagery, the use of sound, and representation of complex intellectual and psychological problems are the hallmarks of Bergman’s work. But while some of his films require more work to fully understand, Wild Strawberries is very accessible. It was a major success for him in the U.S. and it’s easy to see why.
More a character study than the traditional narrative story, Wild Strawberries follows the thoughts of Dr. Borg on the day he is to receive high honors from Lund University for his lifetime of work. It begins with this dream, and goes on to include reveries, memories, and another dream as he travels with his daughter-in-law Marianne (Ingrid Thulin) and a range of symbolic characters who join them on their journey. While the film is not action-oriented and the character’s introspection is its main subject, Wild Strawberries is not remote and coldly intellectual. The most clearly influenced by Surrealism of Bergman’s work, Wild Strawberries draws us in viscerally, making use of the cinematic medium to evoke the subconscious and unconscious workings of the human mind. As such, we are able to relate to Dr. Borg on a human level, regardless of our age, cultural background, or experience.
Bergman’s work requires active viewership, a participation in developing the meaning of his films. His direction guides us, but the viewer who brings nothing to the film or who refuses to be actively engaged with it, will in turn get nothing from the film.
Bergman’s films are deeply absorbing if you let them in.
The chance to see one in a theatrical setting is rare on the Cape, so the Cape Cod Community College’s inclusion of this film in its Foreign Film Series is a great opportunity. If you’ve never seen a Bergman film, Wild Strawberries is a good one to start with, and if you’re already a fan, you will enjoy seeing it with an audience on a large screen. The screening is on Tuesday, April 1 at 3:30 p.m. on campus at CCCC, 2240 Iyanough Rd., West Barnstable.
After you’ve seen it, come back here and share your comments.