Have you ever had daymares? These are the anxiety dreams you receive when you drift off during the day, laying on the couch with one eye slightly open and only a glimmer of awareness that you are indeed in a state of sleep. These dreams can be the most vivid and the most stressful. From the looks of Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 Swedish film Wild Strawberries, I would gamble that Bergman is fully versed in the dream logic of daymares. After waking up from a hellish, symbol-laden nightmare that would have Rod Serling and David Lynch salivating with envy, 78 year-old Professor Isak Borg wakes up in a cold sweat. The nightmare has a confused Borg walking the empty streets of Stockholm. He glances up at a street clock and is bewildered at the lack of clock hands. Same goes for his pocket-watch. He sees a man standing motionless nearby, and when he puts his arm on his shoulder to grab his attention, the man turns around, faceless, and drops to the ground. A horse-drawn hearse tears by, and a wheel dislodges and careens towards Borg. A coffin spills out the back and a shaken Borg approaches it with ill-ease. Glancing at the corpse in the coffin and pulling him up by the lapels, Borg stares at his own lifeless self.
Upon waking, Professor Borg sets out on a long journey by car, from Stockholm to Lund to receive an award from his university. Coming along for the ride is his daughter in law Marianne. Marianne is in the first stages of her pregnancy, and she is blunt in her dislike for both of the Borgs. She finds the Professor arrogant and greedy and is considering leaving his son, fearing he’s going to turn into the old man. In fact, his son can’t stand his father either. Along the way they stop at his old cottage, and he tells his Marianne about the wild strawberries that once grew in the fields surrounding the house. He then falls into a “waking dream”, walking the grounds of his past while his family and friends run about and sit down for dinner. There’s the young Sara that he loves, wonderfully picking strawberries for a gift-basket for her uncle’s “Name Day”. He watches as his past unfolds, and it’s mentioned, not shown, that his beloved Sara gets entangled with and eventually marries his immature and boastful brother. After waking, Borg meets another young Sara (played by the same actress as his past love), a bubbly “cheeky virgin” hitching a ride to Italy with two young men, both seemingly in love with her. Borg is coyly smitten, and takes them along for the journey with Marianne. On the road, they get into an accident with another vehicle, and when their VW flips over (damn VWs!), they hop in the crowded car as well. This couple, however, is a far cry from the fun and games of the travelling hitch-hikers. These are two dour guilt-racked Catholics, the husband is verbally abusive towards his suffering wife, and the toll is too much on on Borgs own guilt, and Marianne bluntly gives them the heave-ho.
Borg suffers another daymare at his mother’s house, a pitstop on the way to Lund. His mother is shrewd and cold, scoffing at Marianne for not being with her husband. His mother gives him a gift - a clock without hands. The daymare is familiar to anyone with doubts about one’s chosen profession in life. In Borg’s case - it’s suffering through a medical exam, viewed by his peers. His insecurities and fear of failure are on full display. After waking up, he begins to accept his lot in life, he sees his reflection in his cold and lonely mother and his aloof son. He accepts his award at Lund, caring not for the pomp and circumstance of the festivities. After bidding his travelling companions adieu, and coming to a certain peaceful place with his son, he turns in for the night, dreaming peacefully about a family picnic. In one of the rare moments of the fim, Borg smiles, radiantly. Fin.
Victor Sjostrom as Isak Borg shines bright in opposition to Bergman’s trademark doom and gloom. Sjostrom only acted in a handful of films, he was a prized silent film screenwriter and director in Sweden. He carries Wild Strawberries the length of the film, his often charming and playful presence carries with it a deep undertow of sadness and regret. Sure, Borg may have been a successful doctor, living in a nice house in the Swedish countryside, but his past is marred with lost opportunity and here he is, running out of time. He’s a man from a lost era, an era where men buried their secrets in drink, infidelities and other roguish behaviors. Therapy was for the weak, self-acceptance was a battle. Men struggled and fought it out in their dreams as they slept, something Freud knew all too well. Wild Strawberries, a smaller and less grandiose film than Bergman's The Seventh Seal, which came out the same year, both share a similar theme - men looking at the last months of their lives, and searching for the meaning of it all.