For Ingmar Bergman, disappointment is perpetual and the precious joys of life are fleeting. No film more personally portrays this concurrent despondency and hope than Wild Strawberries. It is in this film that we see Bergman move from agnostic angst to an empty nostalgic surrender. It is in this film that we see him relent to the void of atheism rather than resentfully grapple with it, and what results is a desperate attempt to trace the comforts of memory. Less than a year after making The Seventh Seal, a film intensely fixated on the end of all things, this film looks regretfully and longingly at what once was. It is a reluctant acceptance that if you reject God, you have only this life to live for.
In a way, you can sense Bergman trying to console himself with this film. The film’s ending, for example, suggests that the grouchy Dr. Isak Borg has learned and turned away his past callousness in favor or a new respect for the value of life in community. To write this narrative, Bergman, too, must have had such a resolution. In tracking the remainder of his filmmaking career, it is clear from the increasingly gloomy relationships in his narratives that he found no such solace, but what I appreciate in this film is the honest reflection it gives of him at the time. What is so attractive about Bergman as an artist is that he was never afraid to say what he thought, and despite his worldviews being in constant flux, this never changed. It makes for some truly great, albeit heartbreaking, cinema.
Films like this show that, in cinema, honesty is more important than thematic certainty. It shows that films, like people, can be a process rather than a thesis. Rather than provoking malice, his films captured his own deep sense of existential confusion and any anger was directed at God rather than other human beings. He never posited to have the answers, but due to the impressive fluidity of his work, we can all, Christian and atheist alike, learn from his sincerity.
Truth be told, I don’t remember much of the film, as I think it was something you showed me before we were even married (five years ago today!), but I do remember several things. One, it was a joy to listen to, and the Swedish language made each moment and character sing like a babbling brook. Two, it is a film brimming with peace even as the character faces the end of life and death. You have included two films in your top ten that explicitly grapple with death, generativity, and legacy. Each of these films was made by a filmmaker who was hovering around the age of forty, oddly enough, and this points to the fact that these themes are frequently on the minds of many people. Although they are end of life topics, they touch each of us in a personal way as we all seek to make peace with ourselves and our Creator. Watch this rewarding film, and see if you aren’t touched to do a bit of wrestling today as well.
Also notice: Both of us have a Bergman film as our #3 of all time. We are, apparently, two peas in a pod!