Wild Strawberries should be considered essential viewing for anyone, who wants to get in touch with Ingmar Bergman’s great directorial career. It’s one of those movies, along with The Seventh Seal, that discuss the theme of a meaningful journey, covered with existential dilemmas and spiritual moralities.
Dr. Isaak Borg, an old and very acclaimed professor, is about to travel from Stockholm to Lund in order to receive an honorary degree. Normally he would’ve taken the plane, but due to a eerie dream that haunted him the previous night he starts to reminisce about his whole life, and finally decides to ride there by car, just to have some time for himself and those piercing thoughts of various matters. Yet, along with him comes his daughter-in-law Marianne. In a series of honest exchange of views Isaak realizes how meaningless and full of void his life has been up to this point. He shut out all of the relationship that he had and concentrated only on his selfish life made up of hard work and materialistic needs. Even though he achieved respect in the scientific world, in the humanity’s entity he has been dead for a long time now. Emotionless and cold- as-ice, he wasn’t able to take care of any person that longed for his attention.
Somewhere along the road they stop at the house where Isaak grew up. His hazy memory shows him a few scenes from his early life, and how really bitter and depressing it has been. Without love and warmth, even from the girl he wanted to marry, he blocked his deepest emotions and became as ruthless as the people he was surrounded by. And it all passes down in the family, as it seems that his son is as heartless and dismal as his father. Thoughts of death occur on a daily basis, as if the pain of being alive was too hard to bear.
It’s really paradoxical, that the only people that ever thought of him as a nice and friendly man were those, who didn’t know him one bit: the family at the gas station, and the three young people he took along on the ride.
Bergman placed them fantastically in the story to present a sharp contrast between the cheerful young fellows and a sorrowful, nearly dead, old man contemplating his empty life. There is also a notion of the existence of God that those three characters bring onto the screen.
It’s as if Bergman wanted to evaluate Borg’s fatalism with contradicting it with the possibilities of an afterlife. His body is still functioning, but in the spiritual meaning he is long gone.
On the side of cinematography, this divine problem is also brilliantly shown by the nightmare that haunted Borg that night. He stands on a street, in a place devoid of time, where people melt and die. Then comes the metaphorical black stagecoach carrying a coffin with Borg inside. Is he still alive, or is he dead? An image that would scary anyone, I suppose.
In the end apart from deep empathy I somehow felt happy, as the final scenes provide some kind of a reprieve for Borg. Even though he lead a life of emptiness and was never kind to anyone, and valued death over life itself, at the end of the day he finally caught a glimpse of what real remorse may feel like.