The harrowing, violent and psychologically wrenching The Virgin Springs would possibly rank amongst Bergman’s bleakest films – which is saying something, I guess! A dark and disturbing exposition on crime and punishment, the film was rooted in Christian theology while being mindful of primal human instincts. This adaptation of a medieval Swedish folktale begins with the pretty, naïve and nubile Karin (Birgitta Pettersson), daughter of deeply religious landowner Tore (Max Van Sydow), being sent on a trip to the nearest church, which is basically quite far off, to perform certain chores, accompanied by their vicious and hateful maid servant (Gunnel Lindblom). On the way she is brutalized and killed by two bestial, poverty-stricken men representing a different social order; and, as coincidence has it, they then take refuge at Tore’s home. And when their crime gets revealed, the grief-stricken father exacts a revenge that is nearly as devastating as the crime they had committed. This grim and disconcerting tale, however, ends on a hopeful note completely at odds with what had transpired until then. The excellent B/W photography by Sven Nykvist perfectly captured the mood, atmosphere and tone of this film laden with strong religious motifs and symbolism. Sydow gave a powerful turn as the father who let a moment of uncontrolled rage to mask his judgement and religious bend of mind. Bergman perhaps deliberately chose a victim as representative of innocence and purity as the young girl in order to make the moral choice of the viewers extremely difficult, and that made this an even more troubling and illuminating watch.
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Religious Drama