You know what, I’ve had a good life. Old Jack has had many a warm-hearted moment and no shortage of sexily-sexy ones that my off-spring would rather never got mentioned at the Christmas table. But Tragic Ted…oh, poor Tragic Ted. Empty of warm feelings all his days, cold of heart and advanced in accountancy skills. I wander past his room somedays and think of taking him on a redemptive road trip. Unfortunately, he’s got chronic diverticulitis right now and I’ll not have that in a contained space let alone one you can’t get his arse out of at speed.
So, old Jack here, in a moment of bored kindness, wandered the YouTube and found Wild Strawberries. Ingmar Bergman was stuck in a ward for two months, apparently, when he slapped together this tale of a professor in his late 70s, filled with fear of death and regret at his emotionally Scrooge-like mentality, on a road-trip to a pompous ceremony in his honour. Well, his and many others, but the doff of the cap to his lifetime as a doctor-scientist is the target, and as empty a goal as his life has been. Seemed a good one for Ted, so I risked it: iPad and a chair by his bed and we dived in.
Old Professor Izak Borg (Victor Sjöström) has a bad dream. He ambles down a forbidding street to a boarded-up house, catches sight of a handless clock (oh, the moment of death cometh), then a horse-drawn hearse clip-clops into a lamp-post, and throws a coffin to the floor. Out pops an arm and the dead Izak grasps at the living Izak. I tell you, Tragic Ted was nearly airborne from a fart of recognition. He’s had that dream. More tightly edited, he says, and in HD, but the same thing.
So…freshly informed by his sub-conscious that it’s nearly all over, Old Izak manages to travel from Stockholm to Lund in a big old banger with his crazily-beautiful daughter-in-law (who doesn’t like him), some trendy young ‘50s things (who do like him, the girl Sara (Bibi Andersson) having exactly the same face as the cousin he loved as a youth…and lost to his passionate brother), a bitter-sour modern couple at the end of their relationship and his memories. If the human metaphors for a cold, unlived life weren’t enough, he then visits his mother.
Marianne, the crazily-beautiful daughter-in-law, stares unnervingly at the cold old woman: heartless to the death of all but one of her ten children, treating old photos and their box of toys as rubbish, and…oh dear…this woman made Izak’s personality…and he made his son’s…and…Marianne’s pregnant with the next generation of coldness… There’s a divergent flashback to her breaking the news of her pregnancy to Evald, Izak’s starchy boy, and the ugly wheel of this family brings Marianne to tears.
Tragic Ted asked for a break at this bit. We were both sold on the gorgeousness of the film. Its black and whiteness, the Swedish beauties (Ingrid Thulin as Marianne breaks your heart on sight), the 1950s kitsch energy and tense hairstyles. But the beats of an old man’s life, his features flickering from cold, to warm, to pained regret…well, it was all a bit much and Ted needed some alone time. Of course, this may have been down to an intestinal spasm, but I think the beautifully, almost cheerily (in places) regret needed some daylight.
I guess we all look out from these bland rooms with some sadness. With their grumbling beds, rails and ramps, they tell us we’re nearly done. Ending is a regret in itself, but if you look back and see only failure to show passion, to grasp real love, to avoid betrayal from your nearest and dearest, well…redemption’s the game, isn’t it?
Tragic Ted came back and we watched the final beats of Bergman’s complex mishmash of flashbacks and Victor Sjöström’s amazing performance. The director and star (near the end of a career spent forming Swedish cinema and wrenching Hollywood into silent-drama maturity – Lillian Gish! The Wind! He directed it!) gave us the redemption in all the subtle ways that make life worth it.
SPOILERS! Marianne works things out with Evald, Izak goes full Scrooge and buys a turkey (okay, he learns to apologise and tries flirting with the housekeeper) and Marianne acknowledges the change by telling him she likes him. Izak made it through.
There’s a kindness to the film at its close, beautiful, telling and something to revisit if I make it to 90.
Izak’s life diverged when he was rejected by Sara when she was out picking Wild Strawberries. Tragic Ted’s diverged when he was caught Blowing the Help; a relationship, he says, he couldn’t pursue because he had exams. I think there’s a remake in there somewhere: about regret, if not the redemptive charms of love and understanding.
I left Tragic Ted to his commode.