Twitter Plot Summary: An elderly professor takes a road trip to pick up a doctorate, yet finds himself contemplating his life, mistakes and regrets.
Getting old is something that we must all come to terms with. Knowing that we only get one roll of the dice, you have to ensure that you live your life to its fullest extent, because there’s no reset button if you get to the end and have regrets or the belief you have not achieved your life’s goals.
Such is the theme at the centre of Wild Strawberries, one of the many great existential works from director Ingmar Bergman. Charting the life of Dr Isak Borg (Victor Sjöström), he takes a trip down memory lane, albeit a memory lane that isn’t always filled with happy memories. In other words, exactly the same as real life.
Sjöström is the key piece that links everything together, a splendid performance from a man in the twilight years of his life alongside his character. His character Isak Borg is due to receive a Doctor Jubilaris from Lund University 50 years after he received his original doctorate. On his journey he is joined by his daughter-in-law Marianne (Ingrid Thulin) and, for a time, the travelling trio of Sara (Andersson), Anders (Sundquist) and Viktor (Bjelfvenstam), Sara reminding Dr Borg of the lost love from his youth. Marianne is going through a difficult time herself, what with being pregnant and having to contend with the aloofness of her husband, Dr Borg’s son. Even here, it is clear what an impact he has had on the people around him, something that continues to be felt and ripples through time.
In some respects you could compare Wild Strawberries to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol given its journey into the main character’s past. The method of revisiting his past is completely different to Ebenezer Scrooge, but the comparison remains valid all the same. But what does it amount to, in the end? It’s clear that Bergman is discussing in detail the different perspectives behind secular and religious thought – he even goes so far as to make it blatant by having Anders and Viktor argue over it constantly. All of the characters that Dr Borg meets are in essence either reflections of his past or his personality, making this an intensely personal journey in more ways than one.
But it also suggests that, no matter your religious leanings, we only have a finite amount of time in this world and it’s best to make the most of what you have rather than descend into a damaging existence of remaining distant from the people around you and growing old with regrets. It also plays rather nicely with the notion of memory and how it can be triggered through scent and smel. The title is a reference to a wild strawberry patch near Dr Borg’s childhood home and holds particularly happy memories for him, leading directly to an immediate flashback to those days.
What can we take away from all this, apart from the fact it’s all in Swedish? Well now. It seems the prevailing attitude that misanthropy and emotional coldness is a bad thing, as is keeping yourself at arm’s length from anyone and everyone. Negative emotion will only get you so far, you’re better off flipping that around into a positive at the earliest opportunity. You’ll end up feeling better about yourself, and it will be of benefit to those around you too. Bergman is one of those rare directors who perfectly captured the idea of what it means to be alive and translated it into a clear and meaningful narrative.