"Most Bergman novitiates will probably start with "The Seventh Seal," but "The Virgin Spring" is one of his most easily approachable films and a good intro for those unfamiliar with Bergman's ouevre. The film has more plot than later Bergman works, which makes it accesible for American audiences (indeed it won the Academy Award for Best foreign film). The story concerns the rape and murder of a young girl on her way to church, and the revenge exacted on her killers by the girl's family. Bergman took the idea from a Swedish folk ballad and transformed it into a dark medieval tale of murder, vengeance, religion, and finally, redemption and forgiveness. The film contains many items which are hallmarks of the Bergman style (overt use of symbolism, the questions of faith and the existence of God) as well as marking the early work of the incredible Sven Nykvist, Bergman's chief cinematographer. The scenes of violence are contrasted with scenes of tranquil beauty (Karin riding through the forest, the final tableau). Many critics regard this as a minor work in the Bergman canon. While that may be, it remains a dark, beautiful entry in a challenging body of work. It may be minor, but it's still Bergman."
The Problem of Evil
G. Bestick | Dobbs Ferry, NY USA | 03/11/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
Bergman was the son of a Christian pastor and a lifelong atheist. He spent considerable intellectual capital trying to work out why humans were so desperate for a God. He also devoted significant artistic effort to depicting a world where people call out to God but God doesn't answer.
The Virgin Spring is set in medieval Sweden, a time when Christianity was ascendant, but some people still prayed to their old pagan gods. In the opening scene, Ingeri, a foster daughter, invokes Odin to call down a curse on Karin, the favored only child. In the next scene, we see the patriarch Tore (Max Von Sydow) and his wife Mareta (Birgitta Valberg) praying to a lurid statue of Christ on the cross. The rest of the movie goes deep into this tension between the forbearance of Jesus and the bloody justice of the Norse pagan gods.
The story, based on a 13th century Swedish ballad, is simple and stark. Karin, accompanied by Ingeri, sets off to deliver some candles to the church. While riding through the woods they get separated. Ingeri meets an old hermit, a pantheist, who shows her his secret stash of magic relics. Repulsed, she flees deeper into the forest. Karin meets two goatherds and their younger brother, and offers to share her lunch with them. They lead the naïve girl to a glade by a stream, and there they rape and murder her. They strip her of her fine clothing, intending to sell it, and flee.
Unfortunately for them, the first farm they come to is Tore's. Unaware of what has happened, Tore gives them dinner and a bed for the night. After dinner, the goatherds offer Karin's blood stained dress for sale to her mother. Hiding her shock, she hurries away to tell Tore. Without hestitation, Tore prepares himself with a purifying bath, then bursts into the guesthouse and takes revenge on the goatherds. In a final act of rage, he kills their younger brother as well.
Ingeri returns during the night, and the next day she leads them to Karin's body. When Tore lifts up his daughter's corpse, an underground spring gushes forth from beneath her. In a masterful scene, shot almost entirely from behind Tore, we watch him absorb the emotional impact of his daughter's death like a body blow. He raises supplicating hands to demand of his God why He let this happen. He then decides to build a sturdy church on this spot. It's his way of trying to control and appease the inexplicable evil that has descended upon his life, and, perhaps, his way of atoning for the evil he has done in return.
Christianity has struggled for centuries with this simple question: if God is so just, all-powerful and merciful, why does he allow so much evil to exist in this world? Christianity's most pernicious and effective response is found in the story of Job. It's pernicious because it blames the victim for his own misfortune, which is all the justification generations of psychopaths, warlords and totalitarians have needed to inflict their evil on innocent people who can't or won't strike back. It's effective because it locates the response to misfortune in the only place a human can control, which is his own reaction to what befalls him. Bergman, like Dostoievski's great apostates, cannot respect a God who allows the rape and murder of a young girl. Not respecting, he also doesn't believe.
For Bergman, nothing exists beyond human actions and their consequences. Tore knows that killing the goatherds won't assuage his anguish, and that killing the boy is morally questionable at best. Yet neither he nor Mareta hesitates in the slightest when it comes time to take revenge. Bergman is showing us what a difficult God this Jesus is. As Dostoievski pointed out so brilliantly in The Grand Inquistor chapter of the Brothers Karamazov, Jesus is both too much like us to obey without question and too pure in his responses to emulate successfully. In the end, having taken a bloodthirsty, pagan revenge, Tore is praying to a God whose example he can't follow and who can't or won't protect him from the suffering of this world. These intellectual contradictions and emotional conundrums are the polluted springs from which flowed the dour, life-denying Christian Protestantism inflicted on Bergman as a boy.
This is the first feature length collaboration between Bergman and Sven Nykvist. Nykvist captures the war of sunlight and shadow that occurs during early spring in the northern latitudes. He also provides some vivid tracking shots through the latticework of the unleafed forest. Lingering closeups on faces became a Bergman trademark. Here they work to great effect, showing us Karin's spoiled innocence, Ingeri's conflicted resentment, Tore's ambivalent rage.
The Virgin Spring is one of Bergman's greatest achievements. By refusing to impose a viewpoint on his simple story, he gives us the room we need to absorb its tragic and universal dimensions. This movie stays with you long after the credits stop rolling.
BEFORE IN THE BEDROOM THERE WAS THIS MASTERPIECE
anonymous | United States | 10/15/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The similarities between In the Bedroom and The Virgin Spring are uncanny, considering that Bedroom is not based on this story of a parental revenge. I've seen The Virgin Spring several times and I never get tired of it. There is always something new to discover in it. When Ingmar Bergman is good, he is great. When he is great, he is incomparable. This is one of his greatest creations. The black and white cinematography is stunning. In addition to the visual beauty of this film, the story is so compelling, so devastating ultimately, that I defy anyone who
does not cry from the soul in the end. This is a movie made by a master. It is one of the two or three best movies about the so-called dark ages that I have seen. One of the others is The Seventh Seal, also by Bergman coincidentally, which explores life, death, faith, justice, cruelty, revenge, and, of course the transcendental power of love. In The Virgin Spring, Bergman explores all of these and other related themes with such brilliance that he has managed to create a film that is completely entertaining, enlightening and spiritually uplifting. I can't boast about it enough. Do yourself a favor and get this movie, I assure you you will never forget it!"
Divine justice and a miracle...in an Ingmar Berman film?
Breyel | MALAYSIA | 02/15/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It is surprising. Yet, this is the gist of "The Virgin Spring", a film based on the 13th century Scandinavian ballad "Tore's Daughter at Vange", recounting the rape of a virgin girl, the father's revenge and a spring miraculously flowing from the spot where she is killed.
What at first may seem an ordinary tale becomes a sublime morality play, thanks to director Ingmar Bergman's incorporation of symbolic images, psychological tension and imaginative cinemagraphic techniques, fittingly designed so as to complement cameraman Sven Nykvist natural, three-dimensional style. Bergman then puts this all to great effect by pitting Christian virtues of kindness, purity and familial love against the savagery and superstitions of Norse paganism.
He portrays New Testament symbols through the patriarch Tore (Max von Sydow) reciting grace while sitting at the centre of the dining table in a manner reminiscent of Da Vinci's portrait of The Last Supper. His wife Margeta's (Birgitta Valberg) piety is shown when she prays before a crucifix, then inflicts pain upon herself to suffer Christ's agony. Their daughter Karin's (Birgitta Pettersson) innocence is reflected in a clean-faced girl dressed in a silken dress made by "fifteen seamstresses" and the grace she recites before the goatherds when she breaks and shares bread with them.
In contrast, paganism is portrayed in the pregnant foster sister Ingeri (Gunnel Lindblom) whose face is besmirched and dressed in an unadorned and dirty garment. She curses Karin by invoking the Norse god of death and war Odin, then places a toad in a loaf of bread (symbols of death and the devil), not so much out of pagan ritual, but jealousy and spite of her. When Ingeri meets a sinister old man whose home in the ford is filled with Viking idols, he foretells the fate of Karin and the goatherds as though he were Odin answering her supplication. Lastly, the coarse, ragged and filthy goatherds trample the gleaming white candles Karin intended to deliver to the church, signifying their savagery.
To delineate goodness from a filmic point of view, Bergman shows nothingness all around to focus attention on the actor's character role. The scene of Tore wrestling a lone birch tree to the ground and stripping its branches is one such example. He does this also when Karin is riding a horse and the sea is set in the background. This is Bergman at his best painting a metaphor of Karin's purity and the father's rite of purification. We see this motif again at the end when Ingeri gathers the spring water into her hands and cleanses her face as though to absolve herself.
As for evilness, the depiction of the rape scene is disturbing, just as it should be, but not as overtly graphic as many films have since become on this subject. The scene, which was edited when it was first shown and released for subsequent home videos, is shown in its entirety to underscore the violation of Karin's chastity, the despicable crime and wickedness of the goatherds.
The same holds true of Tore avenging Karin's rape. Bergman doesn't bloody the camera lens. He lets us see the patriarch's tense facial expressions and brute physical strength as he thrusts the dagger into one brother, burns another in an open fire and throws the youngest against a wall. It is Old Testament vengeance exacted for a sin, equally as violent as the rape, but at the same time it is Bergman's way of adding psychological tension and posing a moral dilemma to the viewer. Who has the right to kill another human being? Why did God let this happen?
For some, the death of their only child in the forest may prove too heart wrenching. Others may find solace in the spring that gurgles forth once Tore lifts Karin's head -- hence the title, "the Virgin...Spring". Interestingly, there is a church and spring in Karna, central Sweden said to be the spot where this incident occurred, just as Tore vows to God he would build as penance for the deaths of the goatherds.
So, there you have it, a tense, thought provoking and cathartic film! It's one of Bergman's best, and the perfect companion film to "The Seventh Seal".
Moreover, Criterion has put together a rather comprehensive DVD package. With this superbly remastered film is a 28-page booklet featuring essays from film scholar Peter Cowrie and screenwriter Ulla Isaksson, along with a letter from Bergman on the controversial rape scene and the poem "Tore's Daughter at Vange".
This director-approved edition also includes: * Audio commentary by Bergman scholar Birgitta Pettersson * Introduction by filmmaker Ang Lee * Video interviews with actresses Gunnel Lindblom and Birgitta Pettersson * Audio recording of Bergman at the 1975 American Film Institute seminar * Optional English dubbed soundtrack * English subtitles
A great Introduction to Bergman films
theonlyreviewthatmatters | atlanta | 03/30/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I am just becoming acquainted with Bergman films. This was the first one I ever saw. I liked it better than the Seventh Seal. I've also seen Wild Strawberries, which I also enjoyed. The Virgin Spring, in my opinion, is the strongest of the three.
Like someone else said in their post, I can never get tired of this film. It is remarkable how you can always find something in a film that you didn't see the first time. I think that film is beautifully crafted. It's beautiful visually and the story is very compelling.
A brief synopsis of the film: the story is set in 14th century Sweden. Sweden is in a transition from Norse pantheism to Christianity. A young girl, Karin, and her foster sister, Ingeri, set out on their way to church one day so that Karin can offer some candles to the Virgin Mary. On the way to Church, Karin and Ingeri have a small disagreement. It seems that Karin was enjoying herself too much at a dance the night before, and that the man who may be the father of Ingeri's child had flirted with her, thus making making Ingeri jealous. So Ingeri stays behind and Karin goes alone. Before Karin reaches the church, she meets up with two desperate goatherds and their little brother. Karin is very friendly but also very naïve. She feels pity for the goatherds and offers to share her lunch with them. They accept her offer only under the condition that she joins them. She agrees, not realizing what they really have in mind. It's obvious that as she is eating with them, Karin begins to feel uncomfortable with the way the two older goatherds have suddenly changed their demeanor towards her and the way they are looking at her. Eating is the last thing on the minds of the two men. They both rape her and then one of them kills her by hitting her over the head with a club. Ingeri has managed to find Karin, and she watches as the goatherds rape and kill her. It's obvious at this point that Ingeri does not really and truly want Karin to be harmed, despite her previous wishes. She watches in frozen horror, too shocked and frightened to do anything to help her sister. After it is over, Ingeri runs back home, but she is too afraid and feeling too guilty to tell her foster parents right away. She hides until she is found by her foster father. In a strange twist of fate, the goatherds end up asking for shelter at Karin's home. During the course of the evening, Karin's parents learn about what has happened to their daughter, unbeknownst to the goatherds. Despite their Christian beliefs, the parents exact their revenge on the two men. Sadly, the father also cruelly kills the younger brother. The boy is not responsible in any way for Karin's rape and murder, and he is also a victim. He is only guilty by association in the father's eyes. Immediately after killing the boy, the father realizes that he has gone too far. He later promises to God to atone for his sins.
This movie is just so powerful. It made such an impact on me. I was Karin as a young girl. I was naïve and bit spoiled and coddled as a child and teenager. I was also resented by siblings. I mean, my siblings loved me and still do, but I understand the situation between Karin and Ingeri so well. In the beginning of the story, Karin seems vain, selfish, and naïve. She's pretty and more privileged than her foster sister, Ingeri. I felt so much pity for Ingeri. Ingeri is never allowed to forget that this family is kind enough to take her in as one of their own. She is also "damaged goods." This is medieval Sweden and Ingeri is unmarried and pregnant. She feels very much trapped in the world that she is in, and there is no hope to escape it. It is never revealed who the father of Ingeri's child is. We don't know if she is pregnant because she was raped or if she has willingly engaged in sex before being married. Karin even makes an insulting remark to her early in the film about her condition. Karin asks Ingeri if the baby "hurts" her, and Ingeri tells her that she will find out for herself one day. Karin then offers a mean retort. She tells her that when that day does come, she will be married with "honor" and mistress of her own home. (Ouch!)This probably will not be the case for Ingeri!
Early in the film, Ingeri's jealousy and pain make her wish for something bad to happen to her sister. I think that these are normal human emotions. When something bad does happen to Karin, Ingeri is immediately sorry.
This is a wonderful, sad, timeless film that is truly a work of art."