Analysis - The Spiritual Tempest of Bergman's The Virgin Spring

Faith and cinema often intersect.   Art is a reflection of the human experience, and faith, be it acceptance or rejection, is an integral part of everyone's journey.  Conflicting dogmas are the heart's blood of Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring, a patient, horrifying excursion into depravity, violence, and spiritual desolation.  Part dissertation on the perils of vendetta, part exploration of Sweden's bloody past, this is a film that delves into the sub-basement of the mind, opening doors to the cosmos in an effort to explore both the futility of control and the complex relationship between heritage and newfound enlightenment.  

It is commonly believed that Odin's representation in the film is akin to a symbol of the devil.  While this is most assuredly accurate, a deeper examination reveals the presence of the old god, along with the pagan sorcery of Ingeri as entities impossible to escape.  Odin's avatar is repugnant, both in appearance and action, and yet, his presence does not deter Ingeri's arc.  The placement of the scene is integral to the framework of Bergman's design.  A vagrant god tempts a supplicant and is rebuffed.  It is this act that sends Ingeri into the woods and perhaps influences her actions during the rape of Karin.  This is one of the many ethical and spiritual quandaries of the film, but it is also the most important.  Despite being nearly molested by an incarnation of a god she secretly prays too, Ingeri still curries for its favor as she watches the murder of Karin.  While the ending sees Ingeri cleansing herself in the spring, this truth cannot be forgotten.  Perhaps it is a statement on the mutation of belief in the face of widespread indoctrination.

The differences between Ingeri and Karin are of import.  Ingeri is soiled, pregnant, and vengeful, contrasted against Karin's pristine innocence.  At face value this juxtaposition is natural, representative of the supposition of new age Christianity within Sweden.  However, as the narrative winds towards its cacophonous denouement, Ingeri's rituals are presented as intrinsic to the culture.  Many still worshipped the old ways in private, and Ingeri's arcana is symbolic of the impact such rituals had on the melding of two opposed ideologies, forever altering the future.  While Von Sydow’s Tore's undeniable success and station are tied to his beliefs, his divine undoing and subsequent redemption are steeped in the origins of his culture.  The violence, specifically in his execution of a child are emblematic of sacrifice, a practice that is common in both paganism and the early origins of Christianity.  This truth suggests that Bergman, and screenwriter Ulla Ikkason were interested not only in the divide that created their reality, but also in the profane marriage of such polar ideals.  

The loss of innocence is perhaps the most straightforward theme.  The build up to Karin's violation and murder is expertly crafted, using various angles and physical cues to foreshadow the impending doom.  One of the more intriguing ideas is the presence of a child.  While not complicit, the child is a spectator, yet, traditionally, children are viewed as incapable of legal agency, thus relegating them to bystanders.  The choice to include the child as a casualty of Tore's wrath is implicit to the film's quizzical mantra.  Tore's rampage spares no one, perhaps emulating the court of public opinion that discards youth in the wake of political or religious agenda, not unlike the current landscape of American discourse.  

The final component is the elements.  Fire, earth, water, and wind are ever present throughout the happenings, simulating a natural adhesive to all of the estranged human elements on Bergman's fractured tableau.  Longtime collaborator, Sven Nykvist's angelic cinematography looms over the proceedings in an almost nonchalant manner.  Nature and rustic civilization are presented as a snapshot, a moment in time in which irrevocable acts of transgression are committed, and nature remains a timeless observer.  Water is everywhere, while fire is controlled and even manipulated by humanity. Earth is more than a foundation, it is a location: The site of the murder is transmogrified into a potential holy site while wind innocuously weaves itself into certain compositions.  The finale joins these opposing forces, signifying the human counterpart of Bergman's reality: A world joined by the past and present. 

The ultimate result is a jarring piece of existential cinema.  Yes, religion and faith are paramount to the story, but the question of faith in the face of the unthinkable is the focus.  Do the gods care or is humanity on its own?  The presence of the spring hints at the reality of a greater machine, yet its existence does not undo any of the acts that precede it.  This could hint at a greater plan or more pointedly it could be symbolic of our predilection to justification.  Mores and faux pas are the surface of almost every interaction within this small universe of despair and the dermis of social and religious conscription is most certainly a player at Bergman's table of the damned. The result?  A film unlike anything before it. 

--Kyle Jonathan