We're following Erik Erikson's example in using this Ingmar Bergman classic to illustrate life-span development and its recapitulation in old age. Erikson's extensive summary and analysis of the screenplay is linked on the internal server.
I love this film, which I saw first at the tender age of 19 (I think), so naturally I'm interested in knowing what you think of old Borg (Swedish: fortress; cf. Martin Luther's ein feste berg: "A mightly fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing . . . ").
At one level the plot is a series of dreams strung together like
beads on a string and passed through Isak's mind as he journeys
regressively back home to the summer place and on to his honorary
degree. This epigenetic structure of the film made it a tour de force
for Erik Erikson, who used it for many years in his life-span
development course at Harvard; and for Carol Gilligan, who discusses
In a Different Voice (1982).
With its overdetermined symbolism of hearts/clocks beating/stopping and a coffin image as powerful in its way as the shower scene in "Psycho," the dream announces the end-of-life crisis in which Isak finds himself.
Isak: The old strawberry patch. . . .
I went toward the house and immediately found the spot, but it seemed to be much smaller and less impressive than I had remembered. There were still many wild strawberries, however. I sat down next to an old apple tree that stood alone and ate the berries, one by one. I may very well have become a little sentimental. Perhaps I was a little tired and somewhat melancholy. It's not unlikely that I began to think of one thing or another that was associated with my childhood haunts.
I had a strange feeling of solemnity, as if this were a day of decision. (It was not the only time that day that I was to feel that way.) The quietness of the summer morning. The calm bay. The birds' brilliant concert in the foliage. The old sleeping house. The aromatic apple tree which leaned slightly, supporting my back. The wild strawberries.
I don't know how it happened, but the day's clear reality flowed into dreamlike images.
. . .
Suddenly I saw her. When I turned around after looking at the strangely transformed house I discovered her where she was kneeling in her sun-yellow cotton dress, picking wild strawberries. I recognized her immediately and I became excited. She was so close to me that I could touch her, but my lingering feeling of the evanescence of the situation prevented me from making her notice my presence. (I was amused. Mental image or dream or whatever this was, she looked just as I remembered her: a girl in a yellow summer dress, freckled and tanned and glowing with light-hearted young womanhood.)
I sat for a few minutes and silently looked at her. Finally I couldn't help calling out her name, rather quietly but nevertheless quite audibly. She didn't react. I tried once more, a little louder.
Isak: Sara . . . It's me, your cousin Isak. . . . I've become a little old, of course, and do not quite look as I used to. But you haven't changed the slightest bit. Little cousin, can't you hear me?
Later (but still in the dream), after the encounter with Sigfrid ("Suddenly he kissed her rather skillfully. She was carried away and returned his kiss with a certain fierceness. But then she was conscience-stricken and threw herself down on the ground, knocking over the basket of wild strawberries. She was very angry and began crying with excitement."), Sara reflects to Charlotta on her relationship with Isak:
Sara: Isak is so refined. He is so enormously refined and moral and sensitive and he wants us to read poetry together and he talks about the after-life and wants to play duets on the piano and he likes to kiss only in the dark and he talks about sinfullness. I think he is extremely intellectual and morally aloof and I feel so worthless, and I am so worthless, you can't deny that. But sometimes I get the feeling that I'm much older than Isak, do you know what I mean? And then I think he's a child even if we are the same age, and then Sigfrid is so fresh and exciting and I want to go home.
Back in the car, Isak dozes off while the "children" take off for the woods and Marianne has a smoke.
I have found that during the last few years I glide rather easily into a twilight world of memories and dreams which are highly personal. I've often wondered whether this is a sign of increasing senility. Sometimes I've also asked myself if it is a harbigner of approaching death
Again I found myself at the wild-strawberry patch of my childhood, but I was not alone. Sara was there, and this time she turned her face toward mine and looked at me for a long time. I knew that I sat there looking old, ugly and ridiculous. A professor emeritus who was going to be made a Jubilee Doctor. The saddest thing about it was that although Sara spoke to me in a grieved and penetrating tone, I couldn't answer her except in stammered, one-syllable words. This, of course, increased the pain of my dream.
Between us stood a little woven basket filled with wild strawberries; around us lay a strange, motionless twilight, heavy with dull expectations. Sara leaned toward me and spoke in such a low voice that I had difficulty grasping her words.
Sara: Have you looked at yourself in the mirror, Isak? You haven't? Then I'll show you how you look.
She picked up the mirror that lay hidden under the small strawberry basket and showed me my face, which looked old and ugly in the sinking twilight. I carefully pushed away the looking glass and I could see that Sara had tears in her eyes.
Sara: You are a worried old man who will die soon, but I have my whole life before me . . . Oh, now you're offended.
Isak: No, I'm not offended.
Sara: Yes, you are offended bacause you can't bear to hear the truth. And the truth is that I've been too considerate. One can easily be unintentionally cruel that way.
Isak: I understand.
Sara: No, you don't understand. We don't speak the same language. Look at yourself in the mirror again. No, don't look away.
Isak: I see.
Sara: Now listen. I'm about to marry your brother Sigfrid. He and I love each other, and it's all like a game. Look at your face now. Try to smile! All right, now you're smiling.
Isak: It hurts.
Sara: You, a professor, ought to know why it hurts. But you don't. Because in spite of all your knowledge you don't really know anything.
She threw away the mirror and it shattered. The wind began to blow through the trees, and from somewhere the crying of a child could be heard. She arose immediately, drying her tears.
The third scene of this dream tour de force, Isak's examination by Alman and its aftermath in the woods, brings the love and work crises together.
Borg is told that he has been accused by his wife of "indifference, selfishness, lack of consideration." He is led by Alman to a clearing in which (compare the voyeuristic scene of the first dream) he sees his wife and her lover. Afterward, Alman says:
Many men forget a woman who has been dead for thirty years. Some preserve a sweet, fading picture, but you can always recall this scene in your memory. Strange, isn't it? (Wild Strawberries, p. 220).