Many years ago, I had the audacity to create a list of my 100 favourite movies on IMDB without having seen a single Ingmar Bergman picture. I was more or less cajoled to watch Bergman if my list was to be taken seriously. I admit I had not heard of the adored Swedish director, but enough coaxing led me to procure arguably Bergman’s ‘signature’ masterpiece The Seventh Seal (1957). The second Bergman movie I watched a few days after my Bergman initiation was Wild Strawberries. It, like its predecessor, The Seventh Seal left an indelible mark on my psyche. Soon thereafter I went on a Bergman binge and never looked back. Suffice to say, my top 100 movie list underwent a major shake-up.
Wild Strawberries is a day in the life of an an aging professor (Isak) who is forced to confront the emptiness of his existence. But this isn’t just an ordinary day for Isak, it’s a grandiose one in his professional life because he will receive an honorary degree. So as he sets out in his car to attend the award ceremony he has good reason to be proud of his professional accomplishments and simply assume the role of contented old man. However, this ‘going through the motions’ ego trip is about to be turned on its head as the ‘expert’ professor will eventually be prescribed to assume the role of befuddled student.
This process begins when his daughter in law (exquisitely played by Ingrid Thulin) unleashes what appears to be a carefully rehearsed verbal assault on our chummy professor vividly recalling what Isak said to her and his son when they pleaded for his help. This scene is pivotal to what lay ahead on Isak’s journey. While on this day he will be at the behest of his pervasive dreams, the candidness of his family, and the intrusion of youthful exuberance; fundamentally he will be confronted with the stark reality of his past and be at its mercy to internalize it. It will be the profound realization that life is much more than professional achievement and status and that the effect he has on others is the most valuable currency there is in life.
It is the wild strawberries of life which evokes such sentiment and longing in this man. Isak at last questions what it really is to be human; something he has been devoid of doing his whole life. For me at least, this movie was a truly transformative viewing experience which no essay or review can do it sufficient justice. Probably the only reviews I have seen which come close to providing worthy synopses of Ingmar Bergman movies are The Breaking Down Bergman series.
David, the creator of the Breaking Down Bergman series told me on IMDB about how their project got started:
“My friend Sonia is a relatively new cinemagoer (at least to the degree she is now…which is several movies a week), and so we decided to embark on a “project.” At first, the plan was simply for us to watch all of the films of a director who had died, observing their growth — or lack thereof — throughout their career.
It was initially intended to just be for ourselves, but after the first movie Sonia pulled out her laptop and started to take notes. From there we had about five films of notes and nothing to do with them. Sonia suggested that we write short essays on each movie, but I didn’t see the point. I figured they’d only be plagiarized, at best, or ignored, at worst. So instead we decided to make some YouTube videos, which theoretically are more interesting and will interest a wider group of people.
A little bit of our early explanation and intentions can be found in our first video:
The series has certainly grown beyond our initial intentions, from meeting the Demon Theater folks to interviewing Liv Ullmann, so I have to say this journey has been quite unpredictable and pretty exciting for us.”
1. Akira Kurosawa to Ingmar Bergman: “A Human Is Not Really Capable of Creating Really Good Works Until He Reaches 80” (openculture.com)
2. Ingmar Bergman Names The Eleven Films He Liked Above All Others (1994) (openculture.com)