To compare “Wild Strawberries” to a story that’s a bit more grounded (yet still part fantasy), what instantly comes to mind is “A Christmas Carol.” Though that classic is much more exaggerated, it shares that reflective spirit, sense of personal regret and un-fulfillment and the desire to make amends. The difference is that in “Wild Strawberries” we need no ghosts – - only Ingmar Bergman as our guide.
Isak is a very old professor on his way to Lund, Sweden with his daughter-in-law to receive an honorary award, when in his aging state he’s confronted by dreams of his childhood and consequent past regrets. On the trip, he also meets some vivacious young people and a bickering couple who continue to steer him toward a path of using his last days/months/years to bring meaning into his life.
Released at the same time as Bergman classic “The Seventh Seal,” “Strawberries” is also incredibly contemplative and full or incredibly philosophical dialogue. Both films confront themes of mortality, but “Strawberries” is the more hopeful of the two. Although we pity Isak and the film’s other characters who seem to have failed miserably to suck any joy or positive meaning from life, there’s nothing imminently bad or unavoidable — there is great capacity for betterment.
Bergman’s excellence as a director resonates throughout the film through its opening scene with ticking clocks and first major dream sequence on the barren streets to the final zoom- ins and close-ups. His every shot is a portrait of an emotion or at the least of a man caught somewhere between the past and death. Like all great classic/black and white directors, Bergman understand the powerful moments of his story and reserves his best just for them.
Although Bergman creates more pity than empathy (though it could be my fault I’ve always struggled to really find personal epiphany in viewing his stories) and his language more intentionally mystical at times than intrinsically inspired, he manages to capture the uncertainty he’s trying to address better than anyone else; His portrait of emotion brings us closer to life’s toughest questions than any other director has ever dared.
It’s the hopeful ending, however, that really makes “Wild Strawberries” a great film. Despite Bergman showing us a mirror that’s very tough to look at for an extended period of time, he never suggests that we can’t look into it and change whatever it is we don’t like. It’s that outlet that makes the thematic difficulty of the film all that much easier to bear.