"I have no respect for mental suffering"
Bergman's Wild Strawberries unfolds over just a bit more than a day, as Professor Isak Borg travels to Lund to accept a special honor from the university. Isak is a spry 78, someone who has had difficulties with close relationships, but has been successful, both as a doctor and, we learn, financially as well.
The film is a treatise on aging and facing one's own life. On his journey, Isak dreams, experiences memories, and encounters people who, on some level or another, explain his current circumstances. Isak may only confront this reality within the stark unreality of his dreams, but the experience of the trip results in subtle change.
The deepest structure of the film revolves around one of the great regrets of Isak's life - that his childhood love, Sara, ended up marrying his brother Sigfrid. Isak is transplanted to the time of his youth, and watches as Sara tries to hold off Sigfrid's playful but serious advances. We fail to see the change, but are led to the conclusion that Sara ends up with Sigfrid because Isak remains distant, unable to achieve that closeness. On his road trip, Isak ends up giving a ride to another Sara - played by the same actress, but with a different personality and hairstyle. This Sara is accompanied by two suitors, as they find their way to Hamburg. We similarly do not see the resolution of this triangle, but before parting, this Sara playfully confesses that it is really the elderly Isak she loves. Isak knows that the Sara of his past would have chosen him, if only he had been emotionally available to her.
Bergman's strength seems to be character and relationships. Certain moments disappoint, either from a hurried attempt to get through a moment of action (the near-collision on the road) or an unrealistic overdramatization - as when Sara drops the basket of strawberries because Sigfrid kissed her. Granted, that one passes through the filter of Isak's memory, and shouldn't be discounted. Bergman does well in giving a sense of skewed reality in the dream sequences, and perhaps that's the point.
The Criterion DVD features a commentary track from Bergman biographer Peter Cowie. I've read just enough of Cowie's book to know he's done his research, and it certainly shows here through meaningful facts from Bergman's life, as well as the actors, to giving us a greater understanding of the film. According to Cowie, all Bergman's films originated in dreams, which makes a tremendous amount of sense for Wild Strawberries, given the overt plot and the importance of childhood to this aged man.
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