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In Ingmar Berman's film masterpiece Smultronstallet (or Wild Strawberries'
B&W, 1957), the protagonist, an elderly professor who is facing death, has to
come to face to face with a long life that has failed to answer the
important questions. He is old now and faced with his own inadequacy and
Bergman introduces three young people into the drama to introduce life's most important question that of the existence of God. The old man gives them a ride. One of the young men is thinking about becoming a parson; the other argues that God doesn't exist. The old man offers no opinion to the debate. He is silent, but it is a loud silence. It's a silence that reveals an amazing dimension of loss the loss of year upon year of not coming to terms with this all-important question.
In one of the final scenes, Bergman masterfully closes in tight on the aged face of Professor Isak Borg (played by Victor Sjostrom). In that shot, we can see the whole universe in his eyes and all of its cares in the bags beneath them. Only Bergman could have directed that scene only him. It makes Smultronstallet one of the most important films ever made. That one scene, better than any other that I know, captures loss' on celluloid for all future generations to witness. If you see it, you may find yourself having to look away.
The imagery in Smultronstallet is unparalleled, except by Bergman's own Sjunde inseglrt, Det (The Seventh Seal, 1957). Look for the handless watch, the corpse wagon, the sparseness of the first scene, the car windows turning to black ominous signs are everywhere. Notice the clues that point to Bergman's existential philosophy (the twins write a song for a deaf man as futile as Sisyphus' labor!) and the redemption themes (Izak pierces his hand as he looks into the window, or the line: `A doctor's first duty is to ask for forgiveness.'). Notice also the outright defiance of the divine presence that he has bred into his son (`I will not be forced to live one day longer than I want to.').
Izak is ready to die, but it seems that, for him, life is more forbidding than death. He is a living corpse, dead already in nearly every way. All of these factors conspire to create a masterwork of pure art, and one that gets richer with each repeated viewing.
The film is also cathartic in the sense that Greek drama was cathartic a warning to the men of ancient Greece to avoid the tragic flaw that undoes the hero - and may be a fateful knock on the door of your undoing as well. Have we answered the question that Izak has not? If not, Izak is us. Look hard - very hard - at Izak. Do you like what you see? To quote a line from the film: `Is there no mercy?' `Don't ask me.' I hope that all of us will fare better when confronted with the film's important question.