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Review: The Virgin Spring (1960)

The Virgin Spring (1960)

Directed by: Ingmar Bergman

Premise: Set in 14th Century Sweden, a peasant girl is raped and murdered by group of bandits. By chance, the bandits unknowingly take shelter with the victim’s family. When the parents discover what has happened, they take revenge.

What Works: The Virgin Spring is a beautiful film about sin and redemption. The film sets up conflicts between what is considered respectable and civilized behavior and the carnal or primitive urges of human nature. By setting the story in the 14th Century, the film is able to amplify this theme by using the conflict between the emerging Christian culture and the traditional pagan beliefs and use the symbolism of each in understanding and complicating the motives of the characters. The family’s high regard for Karin (Birgitta Pettersson), their naïve, virginal daughter, in part leads to her undoing as her insulated upbringing leads her blindly into the bandit’s trap. By contrast, the family’s disdain for Ingeri (Gunnel Lindblom) the older daughter who has become the black sheep of the family by getting pregnant outside of marriage, is reversed as the family comes together in mourning. At the same time, the killers are portrayed sympathetically in their demise, especially the young boy (Ove Porat) who never touches the girl and yet becomes a victim of the family’s revenge. The finale of The Virgin Spring elevates it above an ordinary revenge narrative and into a meditation on the problem of evil as the father (Max von Sydow) comes to terms with what he has done. Despite the darkness of the film’s storyline, the conclusion allows the possibility of hope.

What Doesn’t: Like most of Bergman’s films, this is a slow moving film. It is paced appropriately, but contemporary viewers should be aware of the film’s style and not expect the hyperactive nature of television.

DVD Extras:  The Criterion Collection edition of The Virgin Spring includes a commentary track, interviews, an introduction by Ang Lee, an English dub soundtrack, an AFI Lecture by Bergman, and a booklet.

Bottom Line: The Virgin Spring is a slow but beautiful film and essential viewing for fans of Bergman or those interested in comparing the work of filmmakers like Wes Craven to their early influences.

Episode: #232 (March 22, 2009)