The films of Ingmar Bergman are, at best, illusive fever dreams. There is serious argument to be made, based both on the statement of Bergman himself and also much critical analysis, that his films were largely based on the dreams of the great director. Much of his imagery is illusive, difficult to discern, and secondary to whatever his films are about. Wild Strawberries is a mysterious, dreamy film, that is a wonder to behold and experience. It is an odd experience that at times feels completely incoherent and yet revelatory.
So much of the film’s imagery is odd and dreamy — which, in my limited experience with Bergman, seems par for the course.
I remember that, midway through the film, there is a dream sequence. I remember the hearse carriage pulled by black horses, the clocks without hands, the man with no face, and finally the main character walking into a class room. Well, now I must back up. The main character, an older man in his last years, was previously a doctor and is soon to receive an award for his long career. Much of the film seems to center around his self doubt and self-worth. Anyway, in this dream sequence he wanders into a class room and is brought to a dead body laying in a chair. He is told to inspect the body but as he stands over it, looking down on it, the body opens its eyes and begins to laugh at him: mocking his ineptitude at the very thing he is set to receive an award for.
The film mainly takes place as the man drives across country with his daughter-in-law and some teenagers they pick up on the side of the road. The daughter-in-law is divorcing his son, whom she claims is a product of his father (not a good thing), and the three teenagers are in a very sad love-triangle which spirals in and out of control.
Also, midway through the film, he stops the car at a house where his family once stayed the summer; meanwhile, he has flashbacks to his childhood and the childhood love and affection he experienced there.
Piecing together the whole of Wild Strawberries is difficult as it seems to be more than the sum of its parts. Everything builds on everything else in an exponential manner. Yet the connecting factor is the old doctor, around whom everything hinges. The daughter-in-law blames her marriage falling apart and her husband’s whole personality on the doctor, the three teenagers seem to define and redefine their relationships based on the doctor and how he reacts to things, and the doctor is all the while trying to figure out who he is and where his worth in life comes from.
This is a difficult film to pick apart and understand. Bergman packs the film full of difficult imagery and dialogue, weaving character relationships into knots and then untying them with a butcher knife. Yet the film is unsettling and incredibly marvelous to watch.