Ingmar Bergman: Summer with Monika (1953) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Ingmar Bergman: Summer with Monika (1953)

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Summer with Monika - Title

Andrew COMMENTARYOne part of Summer with Monika spells out their relationship well before any of the fighting sets in.  Harry (Lars Edborg) and Monika (Harriet Andersson) have fled the comforts of civilization to embrace each other on sweaty nights on an isolated island.  Harry and Monika, crumpled together in a pile of dubious comfort to the both of them, start talking about what their kids would do, and what they would look like.  If you're fantasizing about kids, you're not ready for kids, and if you're not ready for kids, you shouldn't  be considering them.

Summer with Monika is the story of their decay.  A few days ago I looked at Summer Interlude with its suggestive images that hinted at The Seventh Seal to come.  The film that was most readily comparative for Summer with Monika is the devastating Scenes from a Marriage.  Both Scenes and Monika refuse to romanticize the notions of younger couples, be they freshly amorous in the teenage sense or barely on life's long road in the adult one.

Monika is a teenage fantasy gone awry.  Harry was just a timid man living under his father's shadow in the family business.  I loved how Bergman literalized this by having Harry's father loom over him constantly from a window at their job and then literally casting his shadow on Harry and Monika during a private moment when he arrives home in the dark.  Even if it's not as ominous as some of Bergman's other place-setting (going back to Scenes, that nervous opening interview) it at least shows the oppression that Harry feels that he was under.

One of Bergman's talents lied with the way he could make certain moments intensely erotic. There are many effective, if less subtle, examples of this in Monika.

One of Bergman's talents lied with the way he could make certain moments intensely erotic. There are many effective, if less subtle, examples of this in Monika.

It's important to think of those moments as the strain Harry thinks that he's being put through.  Really he's just another stupid kid that doesn't want to do what he's told and blows up the situations through his mind accordingly.  Monika, by contrast, seems to have a more pragmatic approach to her pleasure and is delighted to find someone who doesn't force himself on her so readily.  Contrast the way that Harry approaches Monika, trying desperately to light her cigarette after a few different failed attempts - to the approach of every other man in her life who tries to force themselves on her physically.

There's a much different story that could have been told here about two unmoored people who find some kind of unity in each other.  But Bergman's story takes the darker approach in how Harry and Monika, if not the worst thing that could have happened to one another, aren't the guideposts to a stable and healthy life.  Yes, they have their very real problems at home, but both are shown as capable of fighting back to some degree, and instead decide to flee their homes for less comfortable land.

This is where I find the visual approach interesting.  The middle sections, where Harry and Monika are traipsing about in a seemingly perfect island setting, are constantly reminded of how difficult this decision is.  They seem to spend most of their time on the rocks that form the island terrain, never getting comfortable anywhere but the boat (a constant reminder of their families).  Bergman clearly feels some empathy toward their decision to reject their blood and go out to sea, but puts constant reminders in our view of just how difficult and painful a decision this is going to be.

I love this image as it shows Monika and Harry's relationship in summary - two shadows grasping at an image of each other.

I love this image as it shows Monika and Harry's relationship in summary - two shadows grasping at an image of each other.

I do love the contrast of the images of pleasure and pain versus the young and the old.  Harry and Monika's impetuous decision is delightfully contrasted by the drunken escapades of a trio of old codgers.  They delight in each others company and when they decide to get into some mischief by lightning some fireworks they step back and realize they need to go home.  Our loving duo never have this kind of revelation, instead lighting further fires by getting into fights or stealing from some of the island homes.  Their immaturity hurts more than their future, it hurts the people unfortunate enough to come into contact with them.

Even with everything positive I've said here, I wasn't as taken with Monika as I was with Summer Interlude.  It's somewhat due to the lack of growth anyone in Monika has.  I realize it's part of the point to show how these children playing adults don't understand what they are doing after Monika has become pregnant.  But it feels like they still stay static to the people they were before the pregnancy.  Monika eventually goes back to her whims, and Harry returns to the same dutiful subservience he had before the summer but he has a child to care for now.

One thing that I feel Bergman's films do better than many others is make us acknowledge the way the passage of time affects us all.  I didn't feel that with Monika.  There are things that I love about it, especially Andersson's performance, but there's a level of accountability for their actions that is missing.  The child is a prop more than a life-changing event, and while that does lead to an excellent scene of Monika lamenting her post-motherhood situation, it barely seems to affect her.  Or Henry, for that matter.  It's that lack of permanence in the transient, so much as Bergman knew we live to leave, that keeps me from really embracing this one.

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The Films of Ingmar Bergman

Summer with Monika - TailSummer with Monika (1953)

Screenplay written and directed by Ingmar Bergman.
Starring Lars Edborg and Harriet Andersson.

Posted by Andrew

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