Ingmar Bergman: The Virgin Spring (1960) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
6Dec/100

Ingmar Bergman: The Virgin Spring (1960)

Each Tuesday Andrew will be going through every available film of Ingmar Bergman.


Andrew COMMENTARYThe next few weeks are going to be hard for me.  The Magician was one of Bergman's last forays into any feasible positive aspects of faith and spirituality.  Now he'll be spending a large chunk of his career attempting to do what the knight in The Seventh Seal could not - kill God inside of him.  The Virgin Spring showcases a world that seems dictated by faith, but it may not be Christianity that is what drives the events that unfold.

After Bergman's towering successes with The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries he was free to begin making films that plumbed every inch of his misbegotten soul. The Virgin Spring is a solid step in this direction, showcasing his increasing weary nature of faith in the modern world and taking us back to a time in medieval history where the tenants of one faith are slowly being substituted for another.

The plot of The Virgin Spring is fairly simple, but chilling.  Young Karin (Birgitta Pettersson) is sent out by her parents to deliver candles to the church for the day of the Holy Mother.  Accompanying her is Ingeri (Gunnel Lindblom), a sensual and seemingly possessed woman who is taken care of by the Karin's family and who's behavior is barely tolerated.  Ingeri prays to Odin silently to come down and give her a sign, and she is pregnant out of wedlock with a man that danced with Karin the night previous.

Regardless of personal faith, nature is ready to crush life at a moment's notice.

On the way to the church Karin and Ingeri have several strange run-ins with strangers.  One is a nearly feral old man with one white and one black eye and tells Ingeri that his name is long forgotten.  Keeping in line with Bergman's treatment of spirituality, it's left fairly ambiguous as to whether this is an old man who has been left alone for too long, or the tattering remains of the god Odin, long forgotten by his followers.

After travelling further Karen is flattered by three herdsmen who beg her to stop.  The lust in their eyes betrays their intentions to us, but not the pure Karin who wants to simply feel appreciated by the strangers.  In a nearly silent montage she is raped, then beaten to death as Ingeri watches terrified from the trees.  As chance would have it, they continue their travels and end up in the house that Karin's parents Tore and Mareta (Max von Sydow and Birgitta Valberg) are staying at.  The herdsmen know not that these are Karin's parents, and they do not know that they raped and murdered their only daughter.

That is, until one of the herdsmen presents Mareta with the dress that Karin was wearing.  She silently regards the dress then tells Tore of what she has learned.  After beating himself and praying to God, Tore locks the three herdsmen in the building where they are staying, and brutally murders each of them.  The family is finally joined by Ingeri, who lagged behind in fear of the herdsmen, and the three come across the body of Karin.  Tore begs God for forgiveness for what he has done, and a small spring erupts from where Karin lay dead.  A sign from God?  Perhaps, but Tore may not be forgiven.

Countless horror films have been built from this story, but many forget that it's about the turbulent exchange of faiths more so than the violence.

The interplay between Ingeri's paganism and the new sense of Christian righteousness that Mareta champions find a battleground in Tore.  Karin's rape and murder force Tore to decide whose tenants he wants to embrace.  Is it the sensuous pleasures promised by the god Odin, who demands punishment; or the eternal happiness of Jesus, who demands absolution?  In the end, Tore has it both ways and may have damned himself entirely.  Throughout the film the fires of hell are never far behind.  They seem to be under Ingeri's control at the beginning of the film, and at the end the scenes of Tore murdering the herdsmen are bathed in this flame.

Who's faith is really "correct" in this world?  Or does it simply matter that one has some kind of faith?  Ingeri feels that she may have accidentally brought on Karin's death by wishing a sign from Odin, but Karin would not have been assaulted had she not been on her way to church to pay her holy respects.  But after the attack both pagan and Christian souls feel pity and remorse for their action and inaction, and it seems that the only truly evil one's are the herdsmen.  One is a mute child who's only crime is to watch, but since he does nothing to stop he too is murdered by Tore.  Another speaks in tongues and has to be translated by his brother.  As the child is the only one that learns anything of the spirit and of Hell, he is also the only one who may have been partially redeemed because of that experience.

The collaboration between Bergman and his longtime partner Sven Nykvist resulted in some horrifying imagery here, and combined with Gunnel Lindblom's knockout performance as Ingeri, really set the stage for many intense moments.  Characters frequently look possessed as though forces outside their control are driving their actions.  Then there's nature, a force that seems beyond everyone's control, but is in tune with the suffering and happiness of Karin.  When she is happy the flowers bloom, when she is threatened the limbs reach out for her, and when she dies the heaven's cry and snow falls on the land.

Is God listening to Tore?  And if s/he is, whose god is it?

The Virgin Spring still ends with some hope for Bergman and the general concept of faith.  I don't believe he was ever fully successful of exorcising God fully from himself, despite his vocal wishes, and the ending shows that tiny spring of hope blossoming fully.  But this is not to last.  The complicated moral terrain of The Virgin Spring hints at the depths of his suffering and lack of faith.  Slowly he will crumble, and we will watch as he tries to take us into the pits of his fear along with him.

Next week begins his descent with Through A Glass Darkly, the first in his trilogy about his perceived silence of God.  It'll be a cheery one, so stay tuned!

The Films of Ingmar Bergman

The Virgin Spring (1960)
Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman.
Starring Birgitta Valberg, Gunnel Lindblom, Birgitta Pettersson, and Max von Sydow.

Posted by Andrew

Comments (0) Trackbacks (0)

No comments yet.


Leave Your Thoughts!

No trackbacks yet.