Dreams and memories are a potent part of the human psychology. A waft of a familiar scent, a particular word or a simple image can conjure up one’s past. And, for many, these memories and dreams remain the most personal parts of one’s life, the storehouse of life’s most special, influential and memorable moments. Wild Strawberries tries to evoke that personal feeling, tries to give the audience a personal look into the film’s protagonist.
The film takes place over the course of one day as Dr. Isak Borg (Victor Sjöström) makes his way to be recognized by the University he’s worked at most of his life. As he makes his way there, he reminisces about his past, remembering the days of his youth. The people who surround him on his journey remind him of friends and family long past and his moments are often consumed in deep reflection of distant memories.
While the film effortlessly floats from present, to dreams, to memories, the disparity of events displayed never help craft a cognitive or cohesive force to unify these memories. They’re fleeting glimpses, moments that the audience never sees the full repercussion of, dreams that grapple with mortality and memories that are almost the waking nightmare of a man already in the clutches of death.
These vignettes might intentionally serve only to give the audience the suggestion of this man’s life, but the problem is that the full weight and significance of these moments for Isak never sink in and grasp the audience. And when put in conjunction with the conversation with the traveling companions he gathers, it becomes unclear whether or not these memories are moments of shame and failure or fleeting glimpses of happiness long gone.
It’s as if there’s a thick cloak of ambivalence and distance Isak wears, one that the audience only barely gets to glimpse past, even though they are allowed to abide in his most personal dreams. The man beneath seems broken and weary, but his present self is often agreeable, somewhat to the point that it’s hard to believe certain characters loathe and pity him.
It’s as if there’s this untraceable facet to his character, a face the audience never sees. The one these people hit at suggests a stern, rough man who’s seeped in a strict regime of discipline. The man the audience follows is docile, open and somewhat reserved. It’s as if there’s a huge gap in time, the last twenty to forty years of this man’s life, that the film doesn’t bother to account for.
Wild Strawberries is a film desperately trying to craft a compelling and empathetic character for the audience to watch, but it almost defeats the way people around him treat him. Instead, the audience only sees the face of one man, half a man. The other is alluded to, his origins might even be outlined in the events of his younger days, but he’s never in sight.
This dissonance culminates in a scene where Isak dreams of his life being put on trial. He’s baffled by the accusations made against him and so is the audience. Who was this man that these charges can be levied against? Was he really that way? Has his dreams and memory lied to himself? Can the audience not get a grasp of Isak because he cannot even honestly face what he himself is? Perhaps. But even then, the moment of true confrontation never emerges, perhaps because it never will in Isak’s lifetime.
© 2011 James Blake Ewing