It’s been sixty two years since Ingmar Bergman released WILD STRAWBERRIES, his touching tale of Isak Borg, an old professor travelling to Lund from Stockholm to receive an honorary doctorate for his works in the profession. Fear of loneliness, and more precisely, the fear of the inescapability of time, haunt the mind of Isak as each new traveller he encounters prompts him to revisit his past.
Swedish cinema legend Victor Sjöström plays Isak, the grumpy elder man, whilst Ingrid Thulin plays Marianne – his daughter-in-law married to his son. The pair show an evident disdain for each other. Marianne doesn’t approve of the ‘irreverent egotist’ and his treatment of others, including herself. Isak seems to care only for himself – yet his love for his son is clear, and his attempts at reconciliation with Marianne appear to work. When the two come across Isak’s old home he is reminded of a sweeter time. Whilst reminiscing he is approached by Sara, a young, attractive hitchhiker trying to get to Italy with two men, Anders and Viktor. Coincidentally, Sara shares the same name of an old flame of Isak, whom he lost to his brother. The fivesome then encounter a bitter and argumentative couple – and Isak is reminded of his own marriage.
These vignettes pepper the film as the travellers near their destination. Each new person serves as a bitter reminder to Isak of the life he use to live. The titular red fruit stands in as a metaphor: the sweetness of his memories aged and rotted over time, and now he can only gaze back into his memories with the knowledge that he may never feel that joy again.
Despite this, each dream, nightmare and hallucination heps Isak to understand that he still has his life to live, as a happy man. All the clocks in the film have no hands, a sign of Isak’s fear of his own time catching up on him – he doesn’t know how long is left for him. Bergman plays with the idea of his characters going on journeys, not just in the physical sense but in a sort of metaphysical state of awareness. Is Isak’s journey to receive the award just that? Or is it perhaps his one last chance to reminisce about those whom he loved and who love him? The film ends with Isak finding contentment with his life, a subtle grin spreading across his face as he remembers his mother and father by the lake as a youngster. The last glimpse of Isak is his smile. And when the picture fades to black, I shared that same expression.