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The Road Of Pilgrimage Ingmar Bergman WILD STRAWBERRIES

The road and walking can be transfigured into religious values, for every road can
symbolize the road of life and any walk a pilgrimage, a peregrination to the center
of the world
Mircea Eliade

WILD STRAWBERRIES , one of Ingmar Bergmans journey films , in which the

protagonist , Isak Borg , a 76-year-old widower who was a emeritus professor of medicine,
started a journey to Lund where he would received his installation as jubilee-doctor of the
University of Lund. Marianne, Borgs daughter-in-law ,who was disturbed by the bickering
with her husband, asked him to take her to rejoin Evald (his son). This is the beginning of
two journeys , one that will take Isak to his honoring ,and of another ,far more painful inner
journey.1 A journey as the road of pilgrimage , not for God , but for love. The movie took
place on June 1, 1957 , all the actions were completed in twenty-four hours while the story
duration was a life time of Isak.
In this essay , Im going to analyze how the film portrayed that cold familythe Borgs;
the symbolism and metaphors in Isaks dreams ; and how Isak got his salvation at the end
of the journey from the spark of life.

Harvey R.Greenberg , The Rags Of Time from Ingmar Bergman Essays in Criticism edited by Stuart
M.Kaminsky with Joseph F.Hill (181)


If you had read Bergmans THE MAGIC LANTERN2 , you would find that WILD
STRAWBERRIES is quite semi-autobiographical , for Bergman himself had a deep
alienation toward his farther and got family wounds in his early childhood.
Coldness was always characteristic of Borgs nuclear family.3 Lets first see his mother,
who , in Mariannes words,was a very ancient woman ,completely ice cold , in some ways
more frightening than death itself. The film skillfully used offscreen space to indirectly
show this image. Isak went to pay respect to his mother , accompanied by Marianne.
When they entered the house, to our surprise , what we first saw was not Isaks mother but
a 10-second-close-up of Marianne. A faint smile and puzzling sharp eyes occurred on her
face. This informed us that a new character would appear and stimulated our imagination
of the mother over the offscreen space. Then we saw her directly a wizened face ,
wrinkled brows , flashing eyes which were looking up and down, mouth sipped tightly with
deep nasolabial folds , the whole was a tart and mean old lady ( figure 1). When seeing
her photo with Isak and his brother, she gave a mild comment that Its only trash. Again ,
camera focused on Marianne s face. First was lightly surprised look , then changed into a
contemptuous smile with eyes tracking old ladys actions ( figure 2). Though we were
unable to see her , it was not difficult to speculate her poker face and indifferent attitude.

figure 1

figure 2

Laterna Magica (1987); The Magic Lantern: An Autobiography as translated by Joan Tate (1988)

Richard A.Blake, Salvation Without God , from Ingmar Bergman Essays in Criticism edited by Stuart
M.Kaminsky with Joseph F.Hill (174)

So far , it had became quite understandable for Isaks coldness , because he inherited
his mothers legacy the emotional detachment from others. In Bergman words , Isak
was a tired old egocentric, who d cut off everything around him. Speaking of the
successful shaping of Isak , the biggest part owe to the acting by Victor Sjstrm.
He appeared to be using method acting 4in his performance. Being an older man, Victor
Sjstrm had no problem conveying the mannerisms of Isak. Without saying a word he
was convincingsparse silver-white hair , sagging eye bags, thin-framed glasses, neat
tie, thick black windbreaker,all the making-up contributed to the shaping of an old pedant.
Whats more , he did a perfect job in conveying his emotional state through his facial
expression and carrying himself in a dignified way, in which an old professor might.
There was a scene in the car where Isak and Marianne had a long conversation. Isak
mentioned casually that a bargin is a bargin to insist the indebtedness between he and

meanwhile he kept a mawkish feeling that his son always respected him. Thus

when Marianne stated flatly But he also hates you . Isaks expression , caught in full
close-up , is one of sudden , total horror ( figure 3).5 The slack eyelid suddenly tensed up ,
showing a pair of frightened eyes ; lips trembled slightly keeping speechless. All is a face
filled with subtle sorrow. When Marianne was complaining his ruthless attitude toward her
early recourse , Isak raised his eyebrows from time to time , muttering I said that ? A
strong sense of pride and dignity kept him from admitting any mistakes. In one
word ,Victor Sjstrms skilled performance vividly created an inconsiderate old egotist
who was unconcerned with others , or in Mariannes description who was as hard as

Method acting is any of a family of techniques used by actors to create in themselves the thoughts and
emotions of their characters, so as to develop lifelike performances.

Harvey R.Greenberg , (181)

As the saying goes Like farther like son, Evald was just the image of the dark side of
Isaks character without the charm and dignity of old age, merely pompous.6 He was
always put in medium shots , because not like Isak , he had almost no expression (maybe
inherited his grandmas poker face).In addition, we could only see his back or side face in
the two important conversations , one with Marianne, the other with Isak. In this way the
director implied his emotionless and ice-cold. In the scene Evald had a quarrel with
Marianne , the background was obviously an artificial setting , for trees were blurry and still
in a rainy windy weather . The low-light made lighting more natural thus enhance the
authenticity. The gloomy atmosphere was exactly what was in the twos hearts. Evald
was back to us , speaking in a cool voice from which we could judged his glassy-eyed
face. He looked down on Marianne occasionally which revealed his arrogance ( figure 4).
In the conversation with Isak , he never turned to him face to face. A big attached shadow
created sharp contrast between he and Isak who was in bright side. Lacking of eye
contact, reluctant to open his frozen heart , he built a wall around himself.
I would like to quote a line to summarize the Borgs , that is There are light years of
distance between them.

figure 3

Richard A.Blake, (175)

figure 4


In WILD STRAWBERRIES , world is consist of black and white. However by using
lighting and framing the director made it filled with tension. The most fantastic and colorful
part should be the dream sequences which were full of metaphors and symbolism.
The first dream at the opening of the film was a nightmare of Isak . This is a typical
scene that contained large number of death message. In the dream Isak walked through
an empty city ( a powerful metaphor of the protagonists spiritual condition7 ) . The highcontrast image made the city either black or white. A combination of film stock, over
exposure , and laboratory processing created a bleached-out look ( figure 5).8 Everything
was in deathly silence. The above mentioned brought a sense of visual anxiety to the
audience. He passed beneath an enormous clock , under which hung a pair of smashed
glasses. The hands of the clock were gone, his own watch as well . Obviously , it
symbolized that his time was running out , his world decaying.

figure 5
Camera panned with Isaks path in a long shot , which implied his confusion, aimlessness
and helplessness, to some extent created suspense. Beside, this long shot made it clear
that Isak was alone , as all men must be at the end. As Isak turned back , there appeared
a man in black who had a horribly withered face (In the film script, the man is faceless) He
collapsed at once , with a foul looking fluid oozing from his clothing. I think this represented
Isak s ambiguous self identity , for he had almost opposite reputation in strangers and

Harvey R.Greenberg (180)

David Bordwell ,Kristin Thompson , Fim Art (the 8th edition) the McGraw-Hill company (163)

relatives. Maybe he looked strong outside but his inner world was vulnerable. Symbols of
death grow more undisguised until Isak was placed in his own coffin, dragging himself into
the grave.9 Camera shot him in a low angle which brought a feeling of constriction to the
audience. The fast cut (close-up) between Isak and another he in the coffin built a tense
atmosphere and fully demonstrated his fear towards death ( figure 6). Given an immersed
sense of death ,we were plunged into that horrible world. And some how understand the
desolation of man who was in his declining years.
figure 6

The third dream was the most sophisticated and sombre one. A clever use of editing
and cinematography successfully added strange colors to the film. Dream started with a
fade-in that thousands of birds hovering in the air setting a chilling tone. We failed to
judge the weather for everything was in dark. The faint light just enabled us to see the
figures, Isak and Sara ( cousin he used to expect to merry). Reverse shots between them
made their conversation more like a trial. After Saras leaving , a superimposition led to the
scene that Isak went through the woods to chase her. lt was such a creepy shot, selective
focus together with wide-angle made the background trees blur spots ( figure 7).

figure 7
The piano sounded lightly , Bach s The Well-

Harvey R.Greenberg (181)

Tempered Clavier . It served as background music until Isak entered Saras house , we
suddenly knew it was her who was playing the piano a conversion between
extraneous music and diegetic elements. Later, the piano changed into violin which
became background music again in order to keep rhythmic continuity. Finally it came to the
real trial a harrowing examination. The Kuleshov Effect was used in this sequence.
Isak looked in the microscope to identify bacterial specimens, but the following shot was
an extreme close-up of an eye. Then the camera back to Isak again. Though quite odd ,
we linked them together and got the conclusion that he saw his eye in the microscope. At
last , he failed in the exam. But the test pointed out one important thing , which was vital to
the theme of the film , that was Isak forgot the fist duty of a doctor to ask forgiveness.


I still want to say something though they are nothing to do with film art. In Isaks
journey to ask forgiveness, to recover love , some people played a quite important role ,
or should I say, they saved him. Agda, his housekeeper , an lovely old lady who had
accompanied him for decades. She endured his eccentricity without any complaints. To
some extent her concern made up for his lack of maternal love. Marianne was the most
human and feeling of the characters10. She accepted Isak s behindhand love when his
son refused. The three young people in the journey whose passion liked sunshine gave
out their love to Isak without any hesitation. Their optimism infected him. The couple in the
gas station taught him about gratitude and awakened his desire for love. They were the
sparkle in his life.At last Isak got his salvation , a salvation without god.


Richard A.Blake, (176)

In summary , WILD STRAWBERRIES successfully shaped figures characteristics by

using space , acting and framing. A hereditary coldness of the Borgs left a deep
impression in audiences mind. Skillful editing and cinematography as well as the
application of metaphors were taken as methods to create colorful dreams. The narrative
was linked up by Isaks monologue. In one day , or may be a life time , he finally
completed a pilgrimage towards love , a road leads to reconciliation.
Love, all like, no season knows, no clime,
Nor days, months ,years, which are the rags of time.11


John Donne