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Creeping Consciousness

Sudhir Raikar | Mumbai |

Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries (1957) occupies an enduring place of pride in world cinema, thanks to its uniquely introspective theme that arrives at the doorways of reconciliation if not redemption through a detached probe of Freudian character. Sudhir Raikar pays tribute to the chef-d'oeuvre in cinemascope.

Bergman's fascination with Sjostrom's directorial venture The Phantom Carriage is obvious, something that must have deeply influenced his faith in Sjostrom to play the 76-year old Professor Isak Borg, the principle protagonist of Wild Strawberries.
 
The film covers Borg's unplanned road trip from Stockholm to Lund where he's to collect his honorary doctorate being conferred upon him to celebrate the golden jubilee of his distinguished career as a medical scientist. During the journey, Borg also visits a few fast-fading markers of his past viz. his family summer home, a sleepy pastoral town where he earlier practiced as a general physician and the antique collection of his old mother.
 
Borg's introspection is further accentuated by the respective realities and conflicts of his co-passengers. The most significant of the lot is Marianne (Ingrid Thulin is simply brilliant) his level-headed daughter in law whose forthright appraisal of Borg's insensitivities plays a crucial role in his sedate awakening that in turn helps Marianne herself reconcile with her husband Evald towards the end. A weird couple highlights his own troubled marriage with his now dead wife. A chirpy wanderer called Sara reminds him of his childhood cousin Sara, a lady he loved, who became his elder brother's wife. (That both Saras are lookalikes seems needlessly dramatic, like it did in the Hindi film Gharonda where Sreeram Lagoo's deceased wife and second wife were both played by Zareena Wahab.)
 
All triggers evoke different memories, conscious recalls as well as dream-state awareness that influence him to dissect his revered peripheral stature in the diffusing light of his personal trials and tribulations. Ironically, he's a bacteriologist by qualification whose principle job is to identify specimens under the microscope. Unlike the professional probe, the realization here is discernibly prickly but with every effort that he makes towards accepting his frailties, he comes closer to the footpath of pacific reconciliation.
 
The moment he uncovers a few veiled truths of his nature, he sees some of them mirrored in his mom's conventional diktats and son's rebellious traits. He also detects a sense of social alienation wrapped in his intellectual progression, a fact that now hurts him most in the final years of his life. The new realization makes him actually yearn for a peaceful co-existence between the son and daughter in law.
 
While the opening horse carriage dream highlights the inevitability of death through its surreal negation, (the Borg inside the coffin has come to claim the Borg floating aimlessly in a zone of lifeless blocks and handless clocks) the concluding dream of a tranquil family outing by the lake conveys a subtle sense of closure in Borg's soul searching voyage en route many diversions, much like the creeping growth of wild strawberries through forests, fields and lawns.

It can't be a coincidence that the protagonist of Wild Strawberries shares his initials with the film's director. Borg's true-to-life predicament comes from Bergman's personal contemplation of life's larger issues. No wonder, this film has inspired a host of Woody Allen movies and even Satyajit Ray's Nayak.
 
Every time you watch Wild Strawberries, the furrowed face of veteran actor-director Victor Sjostrom seems to convey something new, indeed befitting for what was his last screen performance. Bergman keeps him centre stage throughout and with such delightful upshots that have enriched the cinematic medium like never before.
 

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