‘The Virgin Spring’ 1960
Yesterday’s Bergman film, The Virgin Spring (1960) was more intense than Persona (1966) or Fanny and Alexander (1982). More intense even than Hour of the Wolf (1968), which had a disturbing, deranged edge to it, which I found similar in style to aspects of the film Orson Welles made of Kafka’s The Trial (1962). In amongst the confusion and fear, and the nightmare of everything turning against the protagonist, was the quality of surrealism.
In The Virgin Spring there’s nothing surreal about it at all. It is brutal. And given that it is 1960, and has no gratuitous nudity or violence, it is benign by comparison to the horrors of A Clockwork Orange (1971) ten years later, and Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) fifteen years later.
I watched The Virgin Spring without English subtitles – I didn’t understand the dialogue – and the effect of the imagery building up an intense language of its own, filled me with horror. The unfolding story of an innocent who is raped and killed by two depraved men is a precursor to the much-maligned Charles Bronson revenge-movie, Death Wish (1974). In the world of film, fourteen years is a long time. In 1974, when Bronson goes after the men who killed his wife and raped his daughter, it is because the justice system can’t give the men the penalty they deserve. It’s not dissimilar to the justice that Max Von Sydow meters out to the men who raped and killed his daughter, Karin. Töre and Paul Kersey are similar men. Töre’s murderous rage builds within him while he sits, with the point of his dagger upright as it digs into the wooden table in front of him, watching the perpetrators sleep. Then he kills them, including the boy – brutally.
Max von Sydow’s character regrets his actions more than Charles Bronson’s character.
The New York Times reported on February 10, 1960 (from Stockholm, Sweden, Feb. 9) –
“Ingmar Bergman, the director, and the Swedish State Film Review Board were rebuked here today because of the brutality shown in Mr Bergman’s new picture. . The [Swedish] newspaper suggested editorially today that there was no artistic reason to depict a rape and four murders so realistically and at such length.”
I suppose there’s not, unless you’re trying to make a point. The validity of that point, through the eyes of Bergman, Winner and Kubrick, should still be debated. I think it is still worth discussing (be it 1960, 1971, 1974 or 2017)
the depiction of violence in film for its own sake (box office and increased social awareness) or the film’s sake (art). – Powers, 2017