A Life History: Revisitation and Reinvolvement
Erik Erikson


The choice of a screen personality as a truly meaningful model of a human life calls for an explanation. The fact is that this film was regularly used near the finale of a Harvard course called "The Human Life Cycle," because of the to tally convincing way in which it presents an old man's survey —in memories, fantasies, and dreams—of the stages and the places of his development as a child, a man, and a doctor. And since then we have come to prefer this moving picture to any other life history or case history at our disposal, for it illuminates them all while ever again adding most artful credence to the assumption of some vital involvements typical for what we believe to be universally given stages of life. All this seems to be deeply understood by Ingmar Bergman.* But we know that in briefly describing his work, which obviously needs to be seen and heard, we make the reader take a double chance: with our review of the motion picture as well as with the "fictitious" life offered in it. Yet, we would claim that students faced with any story of a life as presented in more "scientific" media, such as case histories or statistical summaries, are confronted with no less of a combination of freedom and constriction on the part of their reporters. Of these, we have mentioned the necessity to guard their subject's privacy, while attempting to prove as logical and trustworthy their method of selecting their "data."* All this, taken together, may well make, on occasion, for more distortion than clarification. And when we consider a research study of the kind described in this book as consisting of the life data entrusted to academic investigators, mostly in interviews, by the surviving members of a representative group of parents in Berkeley, California, it must be obvious how cautious we have to be in our publication, especially in describing often highly confidential details we ourselves have every reason to consider to be among the most vital or dynamic experiences in those lives. But there is also a more positive reason for the choice of a work of art for our purposes. Our own approach forces us, from the outset, to keep in mind the question of what determines the overall coherence, the "gestalt," of a whole life. Here we may well take into account the larger fact that artistic works of greatness have a way of presenting in a convincing form some total truths about life, which rarely characterize other reports and abstracts of a human life, making it truly a life history—within the generational process.

Here we may point out, too, that our great teacher Sigmund Freud named one of his most salient observations in daily clinical work the Oedipus complex, which describes the fate of a son figure in a classical drama. (This proved revolutionary, even if today some of us would not wish to let the father, Laius, get away so easily with blaming his own actions entirely on his little son's threatening intentions, which the oracle had prophesied.)

To summarize, we believe that we can best begin to demonstrate more pictorially some of the dynamics of the interwoven stages of human life, as they culminate in old age, by outlining the scenes and the themes that reveal, in Bergman's drama, an old man's search for his life's transcendent meaning; and by claiming that all old people are involved in some such search, whether they—or we know it or not.

It is, then, important and very helpful for our purposes that Dr. Borg's story begins with a time in his life when something seems to have made him acutely curious regarding themes in his life. We thus first see him at the age of seventy-six sitting at his (most orderly) desk in his suburban apartment in Sweden, starting a journal of a sequence of events he had just lived through. The first "event," of al I things, is a frightening dream he had in the night preceding this special day, on which he was planning to travel to the university town of Lund to receive, at a "Jubilee" ceremony, the highest Swedish award for a physician: an honorary degree crowning him with a famous black cylinder for having been a doctor for fifty years. It is a sober man who now, on returning from that trip, reconstructs for himself one after the other his state of mind when awakening from that dream; his leaving for Lund, and a series of astonishing experiences, and dreams, on the way there; and the great ceremony itself. At the end, we will see whether what "moved" him on that day to such a special sense of self-awareness was only the expectation of the great honor that was awaiting him with all the ritual symbols of a professional superidentity, or whether there was somebody or something that forced him to recognize in himself some decisive lack of vital involvement in his old age.

Dr. Isak Borg, as we first hear him identify himself, is a retired Swedish doctor and, of course, a Lutheran: a mighty fortress in Swedish is a vaeldig borg. He is the only one left of ten brothers and sisters—a rare survivor, then, as was once typical for the oldest individuals alive, and a high-class "elder" rather than one of numerous "elderlies" of today. His very first sentence, it so happens, lands us in the middle of one of the terminological quandaries to be dealt with in this book, for we assign to the dominant (psychosocial) tension of the last stage of life a certain syntonic sense of integrity, as well as a dystonic one of despair. And the doctor's first sentence is "At the age of seventy-six, I feel that I'm much too old to lie to myself."* There follows a but—"But of course I can't be too sure"—and a cautious rationalization of his self-isolation or (in terms of our study) his disinvolvement. All he asks of life is "to be left alone and to have the opportunity to devote [him]self to the few things which continue to interest [him]." Here he mentions golf, detective stories, and the latest developments in his "beloved" science: bacteriology. This is the only use of the word beloved.

As to his family, he has a son in Lund, also a doctor, who has no children. His mother is ninety-six; she and he seldom see each other. His (now all dead) brothers and sisters left some children and grandchildren, with whom he has "very little contact." His wife is dead: the marriage was "quite unhappy." As for his present company, he refers only to his ~ "good housekeeper," an old woman. Finally, he calls himself b an "old pedant" who detests emotional outbursts, women's tears, and the crying of children. All of these simple themes will become significant as we proceed. He, at this point, tells of a dream that "befell him"—a nightmare, in fact, and apparently one of a whole series in recent years.

Dr. Borg's dreams, of course, "must be seen." But so must all the events. We can underline only some themes that point to this old man's deep, if not altogether conscious, old-age despair.

The Nightmare

One early summer morning (and in Sweden this can mean 2 A.M.), Dr. Borg dreams that he is taking his regular morning stroll in streets unusually empty for a weekday. Even on the sunny side, it is chilly, and his footsteps echo in an absolute silence. The big clock over the door of the watchmaker-optometrist has no hands, and when he holds his own watch to his ear, he hears his own heart beat. On turning back toward home, he "to his joy" sees someone, but it is a man who proves to have "no face" (it actually is a face with tightly closed eyes and mouth) and who at that moment collapses and then disappears into the pile of clothes on the street.

The dreamer now finds himself in a strange part of the city. An approaching hearse begins to sway and rock, like a baby's cradle and, indeed, makes a noise reminiscent of a baby's cry. Finally, a coffin is thrown out on the street, and as he peers into it with fearful curiosity, he sees a corpse inside, which looks like himself and (with a "scornful smile") grabs his arm: this wakes him up. One is left with a rich symbolism of life and death even his own corpse, trying to lure him toward his certain fate, and, close to it, the most delicate cry of a newborn baby.

The Decision

Awakening from all this "senseless horror," Dr. Borg makes a decision that will immediately bring him into confrontation with Agda, his only slightly younger housekeeper (for forty years). We learn of his decision as he confronts her with it, not without arousing some conversational themes illustrating what in our work we call the "disdain" (and only too obvious) "self-disdain" of old people. When he hurriedly enters her bedroom, apparently not quite covered up by his dressing gown, she sits up and asks, "Are you ill, Professor?" When told of his decision to travel to Lund by car instead of by air, as had carefully been planned, she complains that he is ruining "the most solemn day" of her life, and in the exchange that follows he eventually says, "We are not married," to which she responds, "I thank God every night that we're not"—decades of bickering condensed in minutes.

Bergman's genius now has sketched the daily circumstances of Dr. Borg's old age, all contained in an isolation that is about to be gloriously interrupted (but possibly only interrupted) by his drive to the crowning ceremony in the cathedral at Lund. In the next moment, however, a new person appears. As Agda pointedly turns her back on Dr. Borg and his coffee, a door opens and a beautiful young woman (wearing pajamas and smoking a cigarette) appears: it is Marianne, the wife of Dr. Borg's son, Evald. (She apparently has been staying for some weeks with the doctor and Agda without any full explanation for her being away from home.) She must have heard, through the walls, of his plan to go to Lund by car: "May I go with you? . . . I want to go home." "Home?" Isak asks pointedly. "Home to Evald?" But he agrees, and she withdraws again, to get ready.

We cannot at this point help asking ourselves what stage of life this Marianne must be representing. All we know about her so far is that she is childless. Yet, her age suggests that her stage of life, and Evald's, is that of generativity versus stagnation, which provides the psychosocial dynamics for a strong wish to take care.

The Departure

But now we have the privilege of seeing this couple drive through an early Swedish summer morning around a suburban circle and into the country. And we witness Bergman's mastery in making of an automobile a moving stage for human confrontation.

It begins, in all that beauty of the passing landscape, with some leftovers of a rather disdainful emotionality that is hard to take from such a handsome couple of mature faces seen next to each other in the front seats of a car "conversing" without being able to confront each other directly. But obviously, also, both conversants feel a need to be honest with each other.

It all begins with the petty issue of whether she may smoke a cigarette, and this leads him to talk disdainfully of women smokers. She tries to shift to the topic of the weather; on that, they agree, there will be a storm, indeed. She asks for his "real age"; he claims to know what she is thinking of, namely, some money Evald owes his old father. He insists that Evald knows he owes it to him, for his son and he share some principles; and now she lets him have it: yes, but Evald hates him, too. Isak, for a moment, looks thunderstruck. But she now confesses that she had a month earlier come to ask him for help and that in reply he had used some truly nasty phrases, such as "suffering of the soul," "spiritual masturbation," and "quacks and ministers." Finally, they both laugh somewhat relaxedly—and, unbelievably, he says he wants to tell her a dream—the dream, no doubt, just reported. But she claims to have no interest in dreams. All such talk, then, seems to reflect some typical trends in the feeling of old and middle-aged individuals as they are testing out some more or less healthy disdain and rejectivity, and yet also to reveal their need for each other as fatherly and motherly friends, respectively. But why now, and on that trip? This we have yet to learn. In the meantime, we can only conclude that Marianne seems eager to confront him with his obsessive involvements and with his lack of vital ones. (But what, indeed, is she so deeply involved in herself!)

The Strawberry Patch

Isak suddenly (or so he says) decides to turn into a small side road, down to the sea. This he does "by impulse," he claims even in his journal, but it will be clear presently that that little "side road" leads to one of the scenes to be revisited and which prompted him to take the car in the first place.

Driving down that winding road, Isak repeats his offer to share things with her: he wants to "show her something." But she sighs quietly, and as a large old yellow summerhouse comes into sight among birch trees she declares its style to be a bit ridiculous and excuses herself: she wants to "take a dip." Isak explains that this is the house in which his family spent the summers of his first twenty years; and he begins to have a "strange feeling of solemnity." In fact, he is looking for a particular spot he had wanted to show her—yes, a patch of wild strawberries" He finds it and, now alone, sits down to eat some berries slowly, as if they contained some consciousness-expanding essence. And indeed, the real scene and dreamlike images now begin to fuse, and the old mind's involvement in memories comes out in scenes that a motion picture can convey especially well. He suddenly "sees" her: Sara, his erstwhile sweetheart, a "lighthearted young blonde" in a "sun-yellow dress" gathering strawberries. She is so close he could touch her—if he dared. And then, he sees his (one year older) brother Sigfrid in a student's cap coming down the hill. Soon this brother declares he is going to kiss Sara on the mouth. She reminds him that she is "secretly engaged" to Isak. But after a while he suddenly kisses her "rather skillfully" and is kissed back "with a certain fierceness." Now she cries desperately, pointing to all the spilled strawberries and, especially (and rather symbolically), to a red spot on her dress. Thus Isak obviously made himself relive events typical for his crisis of intimacy (versus isolation) crisis decisive in late adolescence and in young adulthood. On the outcome of that crisis, we have claimed, depends much of the ripening capacity for love. (And indeed, we have heard Isak already testify to the unhappiness of his marriage.)

The Summerhouse

But now his daydreaming—for that is what we call such mixtures of open-eyed dreams and memories (here made very dramatic and beautiful by what the cinema can do with it all)--makes Isak reach even further back into his childhood. No words can match what Bergman can do, when he suddenly lets the at first "sleepy" facade of a house come alive, with a Swedish-Norwegian flag above it all, and a gong suddenly bringing to life a large number of people, all ready for breakfast. Isak, invisible in his own dream, remains a distant stranger in this "new old world." He hears somebody say that he is out fishing with his father, and he feels a "completely inexplicable happiness in this." But his brothers and sisters are all there, along with an aunt who apparently is the loud and commanding head of the household and its law and order; and there is also old (and seemingly somewhat childish) Uncle Aron, whose birthday it is. A couple of redheaded twin sisters ("as identical as two wild strawberries ") in loud unison announce the secrets of the day, among them the fact that Sigfrid had kissed Sara, whereupon Sara runs sobbing out into the hall, where she tells a sister who wants to help her that, yes, Isak was "so enormously refined" and "extremely intellectual," but that he would kiss her only in the dark.

Inside the dining room, though, the vitally gay and yet very orderly breakfast culminates in a festive acknowledgment of Uncle Aron's birthday. The twins have composed a song and now sing it for the totally deaf man. At the end, the aunt suggests a quadruple cheer. All hurrah. And then they seem to see Isak's father appear in the window. That, apparently, is too much for the dreamer himself; abruptly, Isak stands alone, now back where he was: at the wild-strawberry patch with a "feeling of emptiness and sadness"—of despair, maybe?

The Modern "Children"

Suddenly, as if she had jumped from a tree, a most real and modern young lady in shorts and a boy's checked shirt stands there: She is "very tanned," and her blond hair is "tangled and bleached by the sun and the sea." She sucks on an unlit pipe and wears "wooden sandals on her feet and dark glasses on her nose." And she asks him whether the yellow house is his shack and the car by the gate his jalopy. Her name is (yes) Sara, and she is on her way to Italy. Dr. Borg, enjoying their conversation, declares without hesitation that he would be "honored" if she came along to Lund in his car. Then Marianne reappears and joins his amused welcome: and this collaborative care for a youngster made for the "first contact" between them. As they go back to the car, however, they find two young men, obviously Sara's co-wanderers, waiting, and Isak tells them, "Just jump in." As it turns out, they are young men in training: Victor for a medical degree and Anders for the ministry. In driving on and in looking at them, and especially her, in his rearview mirror, Dr. Borg tells this new Sara of the old Sara, his first love, who is now seventy-five; the modern Sara says she cannot think of "anything worse than getting old"—and then abjectly apologizes. Then, by way of introduction, she humorously declares herself a virgin trying to decide which young man to marry. Here one must remember the role that the sun of Italy then played in the search for identity of young northerners. The conversation makes it clear that the studies assigned to the two young men underscored two conflicting ideologies, a scientific and a religious one, and her choice of one of them will obviously to a large extent determine her identity, as a doctor's or a minister's future wife, and thus her fidelity— the personal strength emanating from a solution of one's identity struggle. For the trip, however, the young men have agreed not to argue about science or about God. And so, this new generation of passengers adds to the stages of life that old Dr. Borg must apparently still come to terms with—his choice of a professional identity as a doctor—before he can truly face the existential identity of old age. All this will be played out significantly and even enjoyably later during the drive.

The Accident

Steadily ahead, then, is the country road. At a moment still full of laughter over Sara's sincere repentance because of her remark on aging, Isak, in trying to negotiate a blind curve, suddenly sees a little black car coming right at them. As both cars jam on their brakes, "ours" goes safely off the road into a pasture, while the other one, overturning, falls into a ditch. A middle-aged couple climb out of it, miraculously unhurt, but continuing a quarrel that apparently caused the mishap in the first place. In meeting Dr. Borg, they take full responsibility for the accident: the woman, who was driving, confesses that she was about to slap her husband when it happened. But now they continue to make bitter fun of each other, especially in regard to their ideological position in life: in no time, she refers to him as a "Catholic," and he calls her a "genius at hysterics" and a believer in psychotherapy: both ideological failures, maybe—and thus an incompatibility?

The young men and the husband succeed in turning the little car right side up, but then one front wheel rolls off: "A true picture of our marriage," remarks the wife. Well, Isak asks them to come along (on the folding chairs), to the next gas station. Once in the car, however, the wife starts to sob, and her husband makes such indiscreet fun of her that Marianne asks him to leave her alone. But he continues his disdainful attacks until his wife suddenly slaps his face. At that moment, Marianne slowly but definitely stops the car and, pointing to a nearby house where there might be a telephone, tells them to get out—for the children's sake. In our terms: her sense of care does not permit her to let such careless and uncaring behavior continue in the presence of the young. Here she speaks up for everybody's parenthood. Alman, from the roadside, apologizes quite downheartedly. The drive continues.

Midday, Midlife

As midday is reached, so, apparently, is Isak's midlife: and here we really learn of "Dr. Borg." Everybody now needs fresh supplies, beginning with the vehicle that carries them across the map—and the stages of life. So they stop at a gas station, which proves to be well selected. The strong blond owner, Akerman, immediately recognizes Dr. Borg and assumes that the occupants of the car are his children and grandchildren; but he also confesses to have been a patient from his birth on, of the "world's best doctor"—as were all his brothers and as was his wife, Eva, who is described as beaming "like a big strawberry in her red dress." This seems to be a significant variation of the movie's title, for Eva is indeed pregnant, and Akerman then and there suggests the' they call the baby Isak (they have only sons). Is our Isak going to be a godfather before he becomes a grandfather? But here we are reminded that what we call generativity can, in different lives, be fulfilled by different ratios of procreative, productive, and creative services to mankind. And it makes Isak very thoughtful to be in that noon hour in that part of Sweden, apparently a landscape with a "wide view" and "rich foliage." And so he whispers to himself (possibly not without being heard by Akerman) that perhaps he "should have remained here," in such a small community, where he apparently practiced medicine for fifteen years and is now remembered by everyone as a doctor who truly "cared"— that is, before he became more academic: a not atypical old man's mourning for an abandoned part of his identity.

The Pensive Meal

For lunch, the occupants of the car face each other around a large table on the open terrace of a nearby inn with a magnificent view. Their waiter, too, was once Dr. Borg's patient. The doctor, with the help of some wine, tells anecdotes "of human interest," and they are "a great success." Eventually, Anders rises to recite a poem on the Creation and its Creator, whereupon Viktor reminds him of their forbidden subjects—and there they go again: rationalism versus religion. But Sara is touched by Anders's recital and says that she always agrees with the one of the two "sweet boys" who has spoken last. Isak keeps still, but in the next moment, just after Marianne lights his cigar, he begins to recite something, too. It begins, "Where is the friend I seek everywhere? Dawn is the time of loneliness and care," and it ends with the help of both Anders and Marianne: "In every sign and breath of air, His love is there." To which Sara remarks, "You're religious, aren't you, Professor?"

We will return to this scene. But if we related its pensiveness to the whole course of life, we would have to say that the religiosity maturing in old age contains a need for a belief in an ultimate other whose logos reveals itself in human life. Viktor, the rationalist, seems to have an inkling of this as much as does the monotheist Anders, for it is at the end of adolescence and the beginning of young adulthood that such figures of a significant other can be represented by charismatic leaders or creative voices as well as by gods. Such shared others are a necessary counterpart to the sense of "I" and of "we" that matures in adolescence.

But here we must repeat that, developmentally speaking, the lifelong sense of "I" and of "We" first emerges at the very beginning of life out of the bonding experience of the mother (or the significant maternal person), whom we therefore call the primal other. And so, the scene by Lake Vattern makes all the more "sense" when Isak, after a long silence, abruptly announces that he now will visit his mother, who lives nearby. Marianne declares she would like to come along.

The Mother Revisited

As we turn from the lakeside scene and its ultimate perspectives to a revisitation of Isak's mother, now nearly a hundred years old, we must notice, besides—or, rather, within—the great drama, those smallest gestures of which Bergman is such a master. We noticed that, just before Isak's recital, Marianne lit his cigar for him. Now, on the way to the mother's house, Marianne takes his arm and he pats her hand: truly, for such proud individuals, gestures expressing some mutual trust. But—and how often Bergman makes us introduce a new scene with but—when it comes into view, the mother's house proves to be surrounded by a stone wall "as tall as a man"; inside, everything seems somewhat unreal, like a set in an old theater. The mother is dressed all in black. She seems well aware of his "great day," and greets her son "with both her hands stretched forth"—and he kisses them. But when she sees Marianne she wonders whether that is his wife and, if so, whether she should "leave the room immediately.... She has hurt us too much." Corrected, she wants to know why Marianne is not at home ("with her child").

Now she points to a large box, which Marianne brings to her: it proves to be filled with old toys, and she seems to know to which of her children and grandchildren each toy once belonged. But for a frightening moment does she not seem to find the children themselves in the box rather than their toys and things? Then she enumerates her offspring: ten children, only Isak alive. Twenty grandchildren, and only Evald visits her—once a year. Of her (God knows how many) great-grandchildren, she has never met fifteen. She must remember fifty-three birthdays and anniversaries every year. Her great fault, she now concludes, is that she has not died, for everybody is waiting for her money—certainly a frequent, if not always confessed, trend of mind among the oldest. At any rate, as some thunder rumbles, she concludes that it does not "pay much to talk." In fact, she asks, "Isn't it cold in here?" and adds, "I've always felt chilly as long as I can remember. What does that mean? You're a doctor? Mostly in the stomach. Here." Soberly, Dr. Borg blames her chill on her low blood pressure.

As they get ready to leave, the mother requests their advice concerning just one last item in the box: her father's gold watch. And, yes, the dial is handless! Isak thinks of his deadly dream of the night before, but then the visit ends with an episode indicative of some trust and caring: the mother trusts that the watch can be repaired, for she wants to give it to her grandchild Sigbritt's boy, who will be fifty soon. And Isak, having kissed his mother good-bye, notes that her face is very cold but "unbelievably soft" and "full of sharp little lines." She has lived a long life. As they walk away from the place, Marianne again takes Isak's arm and he "is filled with gratitude toward this quiet, independent girl."

Three Dreams

When they return to their car, Isak and Marianne find an utterly disgusted Sara close to tears: the boys, down the hill, are still "slugging it out" about their ideological ultimates: Couldn't they "skip God and pay some attention" to her? But soon they are all back in the car, with Marianne at the wheel. The sleepy Isak blesses his luck in having her beside him as a reliable chauffeur. Now he can take a nap—but not without a series of dreams—"extremely real and very humiliating" to him.

In recording these dreams in his diary, Dr. Borg denies "the slightest intention of commenting on their possible meaning," and states his attitude toward such matters: "I have never been particularly enthusiastic about the psychoanalytical theory of dreams as the fulfillment of desires in a negative or positive direction. Yet I cannot deny that in these dreams there was something like a warning, which bore into my consciousness and embedded itself there with relentless determination." Involvement, then! And he adds, "I have found that during the last few years I glide rather easily into a twilight world of memories and dreams which are highly personal. I've often wondered if this is a sign of increasing senility. Sometimes I've also asked myself if it is a harbinger of approaching death."

These reflections of Dr. Borg happen to correspond to some of Bergman's own opinions as expressed in the introduction of the book of screenplays from which we are quoting here. There Bergman states, "Philosophically, there is a book which was a tremendous experience for me: Eiono Kaila's Psychology of the Personality. His thesis that man lives strictly according to his needs—negative and positive— was shattering to me, but terribly true. And I built on this ground." All this may seem to call for some methodological discussion on our part; but nobody is being "psychoanalyzed" in our account. We are using a great work in order to find in its dramatic dynamics a confirmation and a guide in our attempt to formulate some of the developmental logos of the stages of life as we have come to chart them in an expansion of psychoanalytic thought. In their own dramatic logic, the doctor's dreams seem to make deeply "life-historical" sense (as he realizes without the help of any psychoanalyst), for as it takes him back to the strawberry patch near the old family house, and (in a moment) to his classroom in medical school, we will see that deep down he is aware of the distant rigidity of which Marianne accused him: Does he begin to realize that in his old age he must yet relax the kind of forced integrity that has characterized his very first self description? But dreams are visual experiences par excellence, and here they are dramatic scenes as well. So we can only attempt to state in brief summaries what Isak seems to be trying to tell himself by making his own dream figures confront him.

1. Back at the wild-strawberry patch, Sara is sitting near Isak, and a little basket full of wild strawberries is between them. She looks at him for a long time and then speaks to him in a grieved and penetrating tone that he can hardly hear. Has he ever looked at himself in a mirror? She pulls one out from under the basket and makes him face himself. How old he is; and he must die soon, whereas she has a lifetime before her. Now he seems offended, she continues, for he cannot bear the truth. She has been too considerate with him. He only thinks he understands. "Look at yourself in the mirror," she says, then tells him that she is about to marry Sigfrid. He should try to smile. "It hurts." She concludes, "You, a professor emeritus, ought to know why it hurts. But you don't. Because in spite of all your knowledge you don't really know anything." Sara throws away the mirror, and it shatters. Through all this, he sits there knowing that he is old, ugly, ridiculous. He, the Jubilee Doctor, can only stammer when he tries to answer her. She cannot hear his words; but "they don't really matter."

Then, a baby cries somewhere. Sara arises. She had "promised to look after Sigbritt's little boy," and, ignoring Isak's plea not to leave him, she runs up to the arbor and cradles the child: "My poor little one, you shall sleep quietly now. Don't be afraid of the wind. Don't be afraid of the birds, the jackdaws and the sea gulls. Don't be afraid of the waves from the sea. I'm with you. I'm holding you tight. Don't be afraid, little one. Soon it will be another day. No one can hurt you; I am with you; I'm holding you." All this time, she cries. And Isak wants to scream until his lungs are bloody.

At the end of Isak's visit to his mother, we remember, Sigbritt's now grown-up boy was going to get from Isak's mother her father's watch—repaired. Here, Sara takes care of Sigbritt's boy. Does the Sara of this dream remind him of the mother he himself experienced when he was an infant— and she was young? But, of course, he had lost her, as any infant loses the primal other when he grows up and watches, her motherliness directed toward the subsequent children.

There follows a dream scene at the door of the house behind the patch: Sigfrid is calling Sara, and she, with the baby, runs to him. The "blackened" day begins to clear, and there is piano music. Isak presses his face against the window, as he sees a mature and formally clad Sara share a festive dinner a deux. Isak taps on the window but is not heard. Somehow he cuts a hand: the cut looks like a stigmatization. Needless to say, the dream dramatizes again the sense of isolation that is the dystonic counterpart to the intimacy that Isak has missed so much as a man.

2. With the power of a blinding moonlight, the dream now changes totally. The same door opens on another scene, and there stands a frigid Mr. Alman. We saw him last, standing by that roadside ("like a schoolboy who had been scolded") apologizing for his and his wife's atrocious behavior. Now he is, apparently, himself a kind of judge, an examiner who, politely and stiffly, invites Isak to his old polyclinical lecture-and-examination amphitheater. There is a totally still audience of youngsters, including Anders and Viktor with their Sara. Having studied Isak's examination book, and (he too) having silently looked at him for a long time, Alman gestures him to a microscope and asks him to identify a bacteriological specimen. All Dr. Borg can see in the microscope is his own "absurdly enlarged" eye: "I can't see anything." Then Alman points to the blackboard and asks him to read something printed on it in large but "foreign" letters. Dr. Borg cannot read it. Alman reads it for him—"A doctor's first duty is to ask forgiveness"—and now concludes, "You are guilty of guilt." (Does this mean sin?).

Throughout all this, Dr. Borg tries to find excuses: the microscope is no good; he is a doctor, not a linguist; and now he claims that he is an old man with a bad heart. But the examiner declares that there is nothing about Isak's heart in his books and continues, lighting a lamp over the face of a woman (Mrs. Alman) and asking him to diagnose her. Dr. Borg declares the patient to be dead—and she laughs loudly about it as a great joke. Alman's overall conclusion in regard to the examination is "That you're incompetent." The Jubilee Doctor!

But then he adds that Isak also was accused of "indifference, selfishness, lack of consideration"—and all this by his wife! Dr. Borg's final excuse: she is long dead. But Alman asks him to come along and leads him into a forest.

3. In the light of a moon resembling an "inflamed eye," Alman and he enter a world of dead trees, oozing mud, a porous ground, and snakes. The scene that follows (how much of it is memory, how much dream?) seems to reveal, with all dramatic means, what a foreigner Isak is and how hysterical his wife was in matters of passion: in that forest "where snakes seemed to well forth from the swampy, porous ground," we hear a woman's giggling gradually turning into uncontrollable laughter as she flails the air in trying to escape the advances of a virile but somehow disgusting man —a man who "tries to pull the pins out of her hair" and speaks to her "as if to an animal" while she is "crying, rocking, and swaying." Suddenly, she is completely still, as she "receives" him "between her knees." Then they sit there, he with his cigar and she thinking what would (or will) happen if she told Isak about this. He will say, she predicts, "You shouldn't ask forgiveness from me. I have nothing to forgive." And again, "But would he ever ask for forgiveness?" She may accuse him of a "sickening" nobility, and he will offer her a sedative, claiming that he understands.

Then Isak dreams that Alman calls his dreams "a surgical masterpiece," for "everything has been dissected"—a "perfect achievement of its kind." Dr. Borg asks what the penalty is. He is told, "Loneliness, of course." "Is there no grace?" he asks. But that his examiner does not claim to know. And then he disappears.

4. There is one more brief scene where Sara once more "materializes." "If only you had stayed with me" is all he can say. He tries to follow her, but she moves "so much more easily and faster" than he. And then she, too, is gone. So is the moon. And Isak wants to cry with "wild, childish sorrow."

The Son 's Despair

On awakening, Isak finds himself in the car alone with Marianne, in another beautiful Swedish countryside. The children "are out picking flowers" for him, the jubileer.

"Good Lord!" he says. But he uses their moment alone to tell Marianne about his dreaming: "It's as if I'm trying to say something to myself which I don't want to hear when I'm awake." To her question "And what would that be?" he answers, "That I am dead, although I live." To this she reacts violently: "Do you know that you and Evald are very much alike?"

Isak: "You told me that."

Marianne: "Do you know that Evald has said the very same thing?"

Isak: "About me? Yes, I can believe that."

Marianne: "No, about himself."

Isak: "But he's only thirty-eight years old."

Marianne: "May I tell you everything, or would it bore you?"

At last!

Just before she came to visit him, Marianne had wanted to tell Evald something and, as we now witness, had driven him to the beach, the sea "merging with clouds in infinite grayness." "So now you have me trapped," Evald admits and wonders whether her secret is another man. No, she says, "I'm pregnant," and adds, "I shall have this child." They both feel cold. After sitting "quietly for a long time" and "whistling soundlessly," Evald marches through the rain down to the beach and stands under a tree for another while. Finally, she goes to him, and he says (icily, calmly, it seems) that she must choose between him and the child: he cannot accept what may force him "to exist another day longer than he wants." He thinks he was an unwelcome child, and is Isak sure he is his son? She tries to tell him that his attitude is wrong. And here it comes again:

"There is nothing," Evald says, "which can be called right or wrong. One functions according to one's needs; you can

Evald: "You have a damned need to live, to exist and create life."

Marianne: "And how about you?"

Evald: "My need is to be dead. Absolutely, totally dead."

This is Marianne's story. All Isak can do is ask her whether she wants to smoke. And smoking helps her confess that she finds his mother's ice-cold state of mind "more frightening than death itself"; and now Isak declares himself dead while living, and Evald is just about to. But she says, "I want my child; nobody can take it from me. Not even the person I love more than anyone else." (She will not stand for generational death, then.) Isak records that Marianne's gaze at this point was "black, accusing, desperate": "I suddenly, felt shaken in a way which I had never experienced before.' But what he says is simply "Can I help you?"—which is what she hoped to hear in the first place, when she came to visit him. So here, at last, a latent theme decisive for this whole drama has come into the open. You may remember that in that very first dream, we seemed to hear a baby's cries right in the swaying and rocking noise made by the hearse; this meant to us (and I hope, to Bergman) that the doctor in Isak could not help being at least intuitively aware of Marianne'` pregnancy, even if he was too "dead" then, to face it. But much has happened since then to revive the Borgs.

On to Lund

And now it is time to drive to Lund. Marianne blows the horn and starts the motor. The children appear with a far' bouquet of wildflowers, and Sara solemnly hands them to Isak through the car window, declaring how impressed the are that he is so old and has been a doctor for so long: "one who knows all about life and who has learned all the prescriptions by heart," whereupon she curtsies and kisses him on the cheek. Then they all board for the last stretch of the trip.

As they arrive at Evald's house, everybody is there waiting, but Isak first notices "a small, round woman," Agda: so she had made it by plane. And though she still is somewhat sour ("the fun is gone"), she proves to have played her preparatory role most efficiently. Evald is all dressed up for the ceremony and the dinner: he is pleased to see Marianne, who, when asked whether she wants a room in the hotel, asks, "Why?" and proves ready to share Evald's bedroom "for one more night." And yes, she will go to the dinner, too. We thus face, on that last day of our visit there, a whole series of the simplest and most sensible personal and generational encounters, of the kind that also make this dynamic movie a stage for an ordinary display and interplay of all human emotions. At the end, they are made only more convincing by this very special, ceremonial day.

Now they all drive to Lund's beautiful ancient cathedral (more recently, Hammarskjold was buried there). Let Dr. Borg describe the overall setting: "Trumpet fanfares, bells ringing, field-cannon salutes, masses of people, the giant procession from the university to the cathedral, the white dressed garland girls, royalty, old age, wisdom, beautiful music, stately Latin sentences which echoed off the huge vaults. The students and their girls, women in bright, magnificent dresses, this strange rite with its heavy symbolism." Isak, in a most dignified way, goes through the ceremonial motions, delightedly seeing "the children" in the applauding crowd and Agda and Marianne in the invited audience. He really continues thinking of the "day just lived (and dreamt) through" and concludes that there is a "remarkable reality in this chain of unexpected untangled events," while all the noisy festivities now seem "as meaningless as a passing dream!" But soon he, too, stands at the altar—top spot of it all—to be crowned with that famous black hat.

Day's End

For the banquet, however, he is too tired, so he takes a taxi home. There Agda has everything prepared for the good night that he needs; and he feels great warmth for her. So, as she helps him undress, the new honorary doctor does ask for forgiveness: "I'm sorry for this morning." She responds, "Are you sick, Professor?" After a while, he, even more daringly suggests that maybe it is time that they address each other with "du " which would correspond in the English speaking world to the mutual use of first names. But she wonders what people would say and, anyway, begs to be "excused from all intimacies." Retiring, she leaves her door ajar, in case he wants something.

Lying down to sleep, Isak hears musical noises and, indeed, getting up once more, sees the "children" down in the garden, singing and guitarring. Then Sara loudly voices the truly final word: "Goodbye, Father Isak. Do you know that it is really you I love, today, tomorrow and forever?" Isak replies, "I'll remember that."

Then Evald and Marianne come home for a moment, because she has broken a heel. Isak calls Evald in and asks what is going to happen between them.

Evald: "I have asked her to remain with me."

Isak: "And how will it . . . I mean . . ."

Evald: "I can't be without her."

Isak: "You mean you can't live alone?"

Evald: "I can't be without her. That's what I mean."

Isak: "I understand."

Evald: "It will be as she wants."

But a remark regarding his loan (remember?) is misunderstood by Evald, who assures Isak that he will get his money back. Then Marianne comes to sit on his bed for a moment, and Isak's senses seem to have been activated by it all, for he notes that she "smelled good and rustled in a sweet, womanly way." To her, he says only, "I like you," and she declares, "I like you, too, Father Isak." And yet what essential matters have been settled between them—and their generations!

Finally, alone, Isak "hears" his heart and his old watch, and the tower clock, as it strikes eleven: one hour before midnight. But there occurs one more what? The technical term would be daydream, for it is a dream that one might well have while awake. Here, however, the dreamer happens to be awake near midnight, and Isak, when recording it, feels that he must explain. Whenever he is restless or sad, he tries now, he tells us, to "recall memories of his childhood to calm down." That night, he wanders back again to the summerhouse and the strawberry patch and to everything that he "dreamed or remembered or experienced" that day. It sounds like a visual lullaby that he now imagines; a "warm, sunny day" with "a mild breeze coming through the birches." Down at the dock, his sisters and brothers are romping with Uncle Aron and applauding when the red sail goes up. Now Sara passes by and, seeing him, comes running and says, "Isak, darling, there are no wild strawberries left. Aunt wants you to search for your father. We will sail around the peninsula and pick you up on the other side."

Isak: "I have already searched for him, but I can't find either Father or Mother."

Sara: "Your mother was supposed to go with him."

Isak: "Yes, but I can't find them."

Sara: "I will help you."

And Sara now takes him by the hand and leads him to "a narrow sound with deep, dark water."

What Isak sees there is his father fishing and his mother reading a book, as distant from each other as these activities demanded. When Sara sees that he has noticed his parents she drops his hand and suddenly is gone, obviously leaving him to his own experience of ultimate or, rather, primary recognition.

What we really mean to suggest here is that one's sense of "I," which is the center of our awareness, is first experienced in infancy when the mother is recognized as a recognizable "you": thus, she becomes, as we have said, the primal other in our life. There is a limited series of other "others" throughout life, beginning with the father, who thus can contribute an ideal model for such father figures as charismatic leaders and, of course, God. At any rate, Isak, after having looked for a long time at the pair, tries to shout but "not a sound" comes from his mouth. All this is, incidentally, described in terms of the historical time: his father is dressed like a gentleman fisherman and the mother wears a big hat. At last the father sees him and waves, laughing; and the mother looks up from her book, also laughs—and nods.

It all ends thus: "I dreamed that I stood by the water and shouted toward the bay, but the warm summer breeze carried away my cries and they did not reach their destination. yet I wasn't sorry about that; I felt, on the contrary, rather lighthearted."

One cannot help hoping that Isak's lightheartedness is in the service of the peaceful sleep we think he has deserved after that day. But we also hope that the total experience of Borg is apparent in the choice of his words. He was, after all, a professor, an esteemed teacher. His field was bacteriology, which demands exactness and attention to detail. As an adolescent and very young man, he also found pleasure in the reading of poetry, an enthusiasm he wanted to share with his young cousin Sara.

He tells us that for the first twenty years of his life he spent the summers at the house on the shore with his siblings and cousins. It was apparently a stimulating, unusually lively environment. The early years of our old doctor, about whose childhood we otherwise know very little, were thus, we can assume, rich with sensory experience. These enlivening exposures to natural stimuli are enduring and remain acute components of memory long after fact and number have for many become vague and perhaps unimportant. The poems of elderly persons have repeatedly demonstrated this persistence of sensory memory. It may be a vital component of all daydreaming in old age. At any rate, Dr. Borg's dreams and half-waking fantasies are exceptionally vivid in every sensory detail. We can appreciate this lively involvement in his environs as we follow him from one stage to another.


Since we posit hope as the first basic strength to be nurtured in infancy—a strength that in its turn supports all the earliest as well as the future development of the individual —let us now consider the matrix into which this particular child, Isak Borg, was born. We would assume that the matrix is naturally made up of the environs and the caretakers. How much does the film story reveal to us of the space in which Isak spent his first years? The summerhouse and its spacious and desirable location suggest that the family winter home must have been more than adequately upper bourgeois. One would imagine a nursery used in turn by the ten children a' they arrived. Isak, one assumes, was physically well taken care of. Babies are not born equal in physical endowment, but Isak was probably a husky infant who grew into an aging man in apparent good health. In any case, he outlived all his siblings.

His mother, who one assumes was his primary caretaker, gives every evidence of being a physically exceptional woman, having produced ten children and remained very much in charge of her life. The gas station attendant speaks of her, at ninety-six years of age, as "a miracle of health and vitality." But she is cool and distant and states explicitly, "I've always felt chilly." However, Dr. Borg tells Marianne a surprisingly observed detail about her that reinforces our earlier suggestion. He says of his mother, "Her senses are as sharp as those of an animal in the woods." This kind of sensory acuity would have been a component of the mutuality of shared experiences between infant and mother and may have provided early stimulation for this child. Babies were usually delivered at home in those days and breast-fed, if not by the mother then by a wet nurse. It is thus reasonable to assume that for a year or so his senses—touch, smell, and taste, as well as sight and hearing—were actively involved in his milieu.

It is not clear in the story how many older and/or younger siblings Isak had. However, in the birthday scene some of the children seem very young; yet although he is the only survivor he is not the oldest, since his mother speaks disparagingly of his older brother. Did his young mother have time to devote to this perhaps middle son, time to be playful with him, or was he well washed and bedded and left a good deal to himself? the day we witnessed will eventually see him somewhat more "reinvolved" in human life than he appears to be in his initial self-description. For what could have caused in him the daylong experience of such a self-confrontation, if not a wish for some involvement? We believe that this was caused by a combination of the celebration and of Marianne's pregnancy, in addition to some kind of age-specific spiritual readiness; none of this seems to be sufficiently expressed in the kind of withdrawn wisdom and compulsive integrity that characterize the original introduction to his diary. At any rate, Marianne's now-generative passion and her true caring demanded of Isak's self-confrontation more than an "adjustment" to his old condition, and more than an acceptance of reality: we call actuality what reinvolved him and those closest to him that day, as became so clear in the simplest and yet also most "related" interactions of the final scenes.

Or, maybe, too, there is a problem of historical relativity in all this: the historical period in which Dr. Borg reached old age makes it still quite plausible that he, as such a rare survivor in his family and in his community, should be something of a classical elder with a withdrawn integrity and with something of a pseudo-integrity like the one he describes, but today one wonders what more vital involyement in private and in communal affairs could be expected of such a man. (Lund Physicians for Social Responsibility?) Maybe, also, we can trust Marianne to continue insisting that even at his age he develop somewhat of a grandparental generativity both in personal affairs and in the community. It may, in fact, just be that fate was waiting for a daughter figure to take on the generational role in the Borg family and to teach both of these astonished doctors something about fatherhood.

In the preceding section, we reviewed Bergman's film scene by scene, indicating which stage of Dr. Borg's life cycle is being relived by him in the service of reremembering his life story in terms of his old age. It may now be clarifying for us to indicate explicitly, at the risk of being somewhat repetitious, how his "restored" life history permits us to reconstruct the various stages of life as first lived by the growing and maturing Isak. Let us see, in fact, how Dr. Borg expresses in his own words the tensions between the syntonic and dystonic aspects of each stage as well as the strength then to be fostered. We will turn to the original script for clarifying details and for the English version of the Swedish dialogue.

First we must remind ourselves that Dr. Borg is still alive at the end of the film and as a legendary figure remains for us immortal. He is only falling asleep peacefully at the end of the last scene. The tension between the syntonic and dystonic pulls will, then, continue for him, and, indeed, he can continue to develop new strengths if favorable experiences offer themselves and if he is ready and able to accept change —and age.

It is also good to remember that the entire story of Wild Strawberries is based on Dr. Borg's own journal, which, he tells us, he began to write on the day after his trip to Lund. One of the remarkable aspects of this account, however, is the devotion to the experiential detail, the sensual, exact description of sound, sight, touch, and even taste and smell. Such perceptive acuity is rare in didactic accounts, being found outstandingly as an attribute of the work of the artists of the world. There it must be an integral element in the expression of all the art forms. The artistry of Bergman's Dr.

. . .

at the luncheon party with the youngsters and Marianne— a poem that is a hymn of faith and is well known to her and Anders, the young theologian.

He recites:

Where is the friend I seek everywhere?
Dawn is the time of loneliness and care.

Anders continues:

When twilight comes I am still yearning
Though my heart is burning, burning.
I see His trace of glory and power
In an ear of grain and the fragrance of a flower

And Marianne ends:

In every sign and breath of air
His love is there.

The revelatory experiences of the day's trip, it seems, have moved this old man deeply, for later, at the ceremony in Lund, he ruminates about the day, planning to recollect and write down everything that happened. He says, "I was beginning to see a remarkable causality in this chain of unexpected, entangled events." Is such causality not an article of scientific faith? And later, in the final scene, he stands by the water and shouts toward his parents, who are far away and involved in their own affairs (as usual?). They fish and read on an opposite bank and do not respond except with a slight, waved greeting. Yet their very presence, even at such a distance, must have been reassuring for their last surviving son. He says, "Yet I wasn't sorry about that. I felt on the contrary rather lighthearted." In fact, he goes to sleep smiling peacefully.

The whole picture, then, actually ends on a note of hope.

Indeed, in the final scenes at least some essential reconciliation with his son is promised. Even Marianne's simple "I like you too, Father Isak," is a gift from this determined young woman whose faith in generativity he has learned to prize and respect. And, of course, there is the vitalizing promise of a grandchild.

Early Childhood

With the second stage, which introduces the development of musculature and experiments with independence, the environs as well as the relationships of the toddler expand. We really see Isak Borg only as an old man. He is present as observer in all the scenes of which he must have been a part in his youth. But he moves freely, if with appropriate caution, for he knows well that in old age it is contraindicated to fall—doctors know that old bones are brittle and break all too easily.

No longer confined to restricted safe spaces, to crib or playpen, the toddler may explore larger environs and becomes a more involved member of the family—joining siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins. And the Borg family was obviously an extended one, whose members shared at least their summers. This offers many challenges for a youngster, such as older figures to admire and emulate, but also competitors and persons to be jealous of.

The demands on a toddler are also more severe. This is the period for bowel training and the struggle with caretakers as to how and when and where these eliminating functions may take place. And there are penalties for defying the social norms that the adults impose. Shaming is the device used most freely by families to enforce social rules, and name calling is resorted to with implications of lack of control, uncleanness, gluttony, selfishness, carelessness. This kind of shaming can be weathered if there is also adequate supportive encouragement and some good humor. More deeply injurious are the doubts and aspersions that the youngster encounters from older siblings and adults concerning the adequacy of actual physical or mental capacities.

Throughout this period, keen sensory awareness can support in the child a true and appropriate sense of available abilities so that a strong willfulness may be maintained along with a social compliance, which also offers its rewards.

It would appear that Isak throughout his childhood struggled perhaps stubbornly or even rebelliously to exert his right to be himself. He is in his old age a very independent and strong-willed character with well-defined inflexibility and some presumption.

The young Sara may be expressing the extended family's characterization of young Isak when she bewails his "fineness," his "intellectuality," and his wanting only to "read poetry" with her. Perhaps it is his "difference," a solitariness, that sets him apart and appeals to her idealism.

As an old man, however, Dr. Borg speaks out his plans and wishes very decisively. Following his nightmare dream at the beginning of the film, Dr. Borg awakens at 3:00 A.M. He says, "I knew immediately what I should do." He then wakens Agda and tells her, "I'm taking the car . . . I'll drive down to Lund with my own two hands." He is seventy-six years old, and the drive to Lund takes fourteen hours. He plans to go alone. Agda, equally strong-willed, and he then spar, which he cuts off with, "We are not married, Miss Agda.... I'm a grown man and I don't have to put up with your bossiness." No reticence here. He is master of his house and of himself.

Miss Agda and he have together successfully provided him with excellent physical care he is vital, strong, and willful. But an underlying shame, doubt, and confusion are clearly manifested in the dream scene with the inquisitor when he is examined. He defends himself by trying to evade responsibility for this medical matter since his professional acumen is at stake. "There is something wrong with the microscope." "I'm a doctor, not a linguist." Finally, when his bravado fails, he pleads almost childishly, "I'm an old man and must be treated with consideration."

The theme of early-childhood shame as experienced in old age is most painfully expressed when the older Sara forces him in a dream scene to look in the mirror she offers him and shows him his face, which looks "old and ugly." She follows this by saying, "In spite of all your knowledge you don't really know anything," another telling blow to his intellectual pride. This dream theme is, no doubt, suggested by the way Marianne unhesitatingly confronts him.

He boasts readily of his relationship with his son. They are very much alike, he claims, and understand one another in an intelligent, practical way. However, his face looks stricken when she replies to this cool information with the indictment "That may be true, but he also hates you." She seems to respect this strong, controlled old man but also to recognize the destructive quality of the ruthless willfulness with which the son has been obliged to contend.

Play Age

The third stage is the age of play, and the child's matrix of being includes not only the extended family and close friends, peers, and playmates but also the environs of the play school or kindergarten. Games, fairy tales, and songs stimulate the imagination and open the doors to vicarious experience. Inventiveness and initiative are offered free play, but within limits that protect the space and rights of others. The overstepping of these limits is frowned upon by the milieu and the offender is made to feel guilty. By way of an active imagination, one learns to empathize with the sensibilities of others and be respectful of their purposefulness.

It is imperative at this third stage to establish a working relationship with materials and learn to trust their lawfulness and reliability. Mistrust of the world of matter and things is self-limiting and maladaptive. It is also of great importance to become able to differentiate actuality from fantasy by virtue of the reliability of trustworthy sensory experience. Should the fantasy world appear safer than reality, it can become a refuge and result in purposelessness.

How can we visualize Isak at this age relating to the challenges of imaginative play and initiative and coping with restraining social strictures?

We have been aware that throughout the dream fantasy sequences old Dr. Borg is the observer of the youthful scenes. He is apart from the actors and watching a little anxiously but keenly. Only once does he indicate he wants to make himself heard, and at that point he wounds himself on a nail. Perhaps this was the nonparticipator stance he slowly began to assume throughout his childhood. In his differentness, he may have become the visual recorder. His dreams in old age are remarkably vivid, inventive, and minutely recorded in each sensual detail. This role of the observer is a necessary one for the writer and the artist, as well as for the scientist. One wonders throughout about his father as role model, for this is the stage Freud designates as that of the confrontation with the Oedipus complex. Isak's father is seen only once in the film, fishing on the bank of the water—a solitary activity and a very remote figure.

At the beginning of the eventful day we are following, the decision at 3:00 A.M. to drive to Lund seemed both willful and improvised. The story continues in this vein when Dr. Borg decides to turn off and visit the old summerhouse. "Suddenly I had an impulse," he says. There he also quite willingly falls into the plan of taking along first the modern Sara and then her young companions. He initiates the luncheon party with them and is drawn into their squabbles and antics. He is involved, almost playful, and amused. At the bare suggestion of the gas station attendant, his old patient, he apparently decides also to visit his mother, or was this an essential part of his plan in deciding to drive? For some reason, one would not have expected such flexibility from this disciplined old man. The dreams that awakened him seem to have propelled him into asserting his aliveness and self-assertiveness. When Marianne says, "You are an old egotist, Father.... you have never listened to anyone but yourself... you are hard as nails.... We who have seen you at close range, we know what you really are," he tries to laugh off her judgments. When, however, Marianne reacts to his statement "I'm sorry you dislike me" by saying, "I don't dislike you. I feel sorry for you," he is incredulous and again tries to defend himself by claiming to be only amused and noting "her odd tone of voice and lack of logic." This suggests, one senses, a kind of sweeping defense against the judgments of womankind in general.

Later in the dream—when the inquisitor, Alman, forces him to agree, very reluctantly, that "a doctor's first duty is to ask forgiveness"—he acts only stubbornly compliant and confused. When that is followed by the accusation "You are guilty of guilt," all his defenses seem to crumble.

His stance is that of a very humbled man as he then is forced to view again the scene with his wife and her lover in the forest, and as he hears her accusations against him he ages perceptibly—with guilt and shame.

School Age

The development of the basic strength of competence is fostered in every society in the years of schooling. Industriousness is encouraged for the sake of the survival of the individual and of the community. A sense of inferiority, which is its opposite, is adaptive and syntonic only insofar as it provides appropriate modification of any overestimation of capacities. Overestimation of competence can be as maladaptive as underestimation. What is required is accurately perceived capacities, as judged by keen, trustworthy senses.

The school years provide an extended matrix of school and work groups, of teachers, "bosses," of skills carried on outside school and the beginning of a sense of community membership. At this point, trust in one's own tested physical, mental, and social capacities is essential. The earlier experiences with materials, tools, and processes that have been promoted by playful imagination, supported by willpower, and guided by purposefulness reinforce one's approach to all study. But the dystonic also curbs and modifies: mistrust, shame, and guilt are essential so that the individual may avoid egocentricity and ruthlessness. In order to acquire skills and all knowledge necessary for the dominant technology, learning must be mastered and a respectful estimation of masters and teachers is mandatory. An appropriate appraisal of incapacities leads to genuine humility, a prerequisite for teachability, but also the basis for genuine appreciation of the skills and creativity of others.

It is easy to imagine that young Isak Borg found in study and all intellectual pursuits a rewarding and satisfying chal lenge. The isolation of book learning may have offered him a refuge from his siblings and more extroverted peers. With language as a tool, he could give form to his imaginative life with words and take pleasure in the expression of the poets he seems to have enjoyed. Later young Sara says of him, "Isak is enormously refined and moral . . . he wants us to read poetry together . . . he's extremely intellectual." His concentration and hard work in school must have given him considerable prestige at home, as well as advancing his hope of becoming a student of higher learning in the upper levels of academe. It also permitted him to remain the scientifically skeptical, detached observer of others.

At seventy-six, Dr. Borg is physically competent and practical. To have undertaken a fourteen-hour drive, without an apparent moment of doubt in his capacity to manage it alone, offers evidence of his sense of confidence in his physical and mental stamina. He wears glasses only to read and write, smokes little and then only cigars, "a manly vice." He always has a rope in the back of his car, he claims, in case of need and skillfully manages its deployment after the accident. His skills are not limited to those of the intellect. He even mentions that he takes pleasure now and then in a game of golf.

There can be little doubt as to Dr. Borg's sense of competence in his old age—after all, he is being awarded an honorary doctorate for fifty years of medical practice with distinction. He describes himself as someone wishing to devote himself to "keeping up with the steady progress" made in his profession. "My life has been filled with work and for that I am grateful," he says. In fact, he has taken great pride in his sense of competence, which makes the blow of his failure at his examination by Alman and the verdict of "incompetent" all the more severe.

In reflecting on his whole life, however, one must note that this work competence has been bought and maintained at a high cost. He has undeniably been incompetent as husband, father, and father-in-law. He especially fails Marianne when she comes to him for help. "Don't try to drag me into your marital problems, because I don't give a damn about them —everyone has his own troubles" was his uncaring and prejudiced response. Such an attitude suggests a possibly maladaptive sense of overriding self-satisfaction that tends toward emotional impassivity and dullness.


With emerging adulthood, a young man is challenged to relate to society and its technology and to the world of ideas, ideals, creeds, and symbols. It is important for him to identify himself with life goals worthy of commitment and fidelity and to do this with an appropriate knowledge of his capacities. The sturdy strengths of hope, will, purpose, and competence, which result from the earlier balancing of these stage-specific syntonic and dystonic tensions, will now support these new vital commitments. But this is a demanding step to be taken, and it is easy to become confused and uncertain about one's life role and one's firm sense of "I." There will inevitably arise challenges of loyalty, self-trust in relation to peers, groups, country, and ideals with, one would hope, appropriate mistrust of simplistic approaches and resolutions. Identity confusion with a constant shifting of temporary identities is maladaptive. However, a premature and inflexible commitment may foreclose possible choices of great promise. A total dedication to one cause that is maladaptive for others and oneself may lead to a rigid fanaticism. Where competencies have been developed and, with them. predilections that accord with one's capacities and society's needs have been carefully weighed, one's psychosocial identity may initially be wisely molded.

It seems that young Isak Borg made such a felicitous commitment. He had the intellectual capacities for the prolonged and arduous study demanded of the medical profession. He was healthy and strong. He had keen senses and the trained ability to observe with detachment, which, we suspect, he had practiced for many years. He valued scientific inquiry and chose a role of great prestige in the eyes of society and his intellectual peers.

After fifty years of medical practice, he appears to be well satisfied with his choice and his performance; and, indeed, society is ready to bestow on him a high honor in recognition of his professional fidelity.

As he awakens from the first challenging dream sequence early in the morning, he sits up in bed and says, "My name is Isak Borg. I am seventy-six years old. I really feel quite well." On muttering these words, he feels "much calmer." This is surely a statement tantamount to a "station identification." He later tells us that he is the only survivor of ten children, a Lutheran and a Swede, and, above all, a doctor. "If for some reason I would have to evaluate myself," he says, "I am sure that I would do so without shame or concern for my reputation." His sense of his own integrity, at any rate, seems to be high.

However, every man has more than one role to play in life. His work is his professional role. Dr. Borg seems to have sidestepped a real involvement with his many other more personal roles. In an egoistic and single-minded way, he shows no mitigating identity confusion and has experienced little identification with his roles as husband, father, and father-in-law.

In the very first dream, his recognition of the corpse as being himself is obviously startling and painful. He has, old as he is, not yet faced many of the aspects of his personal identity or of his mortality. Indeed, on this very day, when his professional role is supremely confirmed, his own inner sense of identity cohesion, as challenged by his daughter-in-law's confrontation, forces this man to face a certain inner confusion. At this final stage of his life, such confusion could make his generational role highly problematic. But the end of the film indicates some promise of possible new identity potentials in the roles of grandfather and godfather.

Young Adulthood

In reviewing Dr. Borg's life stages, we have indicated how his matrix of personal relationships widened with each step. The circle of potential intimacies has consistently increased to involve caretakers, siblings, extended family, peers, teachers, and the idealized identity models of legend and all literature and history. With adulthood, the individual is first ready for an experience that involves commitment and fidelity capable of culminating in mature love. This presupposes the sharing of life, work, and productivity nurtured by the bond of adult sexuality and a sense of common goals. It therefore demands two already defined identities, neither of which becomes really submerged under the dominance of the other, although each may be both modified and expanded.

We have little evidence in our sparse data of any of Isak Borg's intimate relationships with siblings or friends. Only Sara seems to evoke a deep yearning for a young, caring, feminine figure in his life. This is such a needy, hungry reaching out that it evokes the sound of a crying baby, which is repeated in the film at critical moments of despair. Only with the modern Sara, in his old age, is he able to have a playful relationship, which she induces by her own carefree, humorous manner and spirit.

Indeed, the dystonic elements of isolation and even of exclusivity seem at the sixth stage to be conspicuously prominent. Some exclusivity in intimate relationships, we have postulated, is expectable and sympathic. But too much with little or no intimacy to balance can support a malignant tendency to extreme exclusivity.

Early in the film he says, "I have of my own free will withdrawn almost completely from society." A sweeping relegation of all nonprofessional relationships to the far edges of his life involvements. In his house, he carries on what appears to be a consistently ambivalent relationship with Agda, his faithful housekeeper for some forty years. She maintains order in his environs, freeing his time for walking, golf, and his ongoing professional studies. Is she, perhaps, a replacement for the efficient, bossy, matriarchal aunt of the summer-cottage scenes?

He attempts firmly to keep Marianne at a distance with his unwillingness to listen to her plea for help on her arrival. On the trip, he undertakes to maintain this chill with his cool "Please don't smoke." "There should be a law against women smoking."

His marriage, as he says, was quite unhappy, which is an understatement of the first order, since it was a fiasco and apparently, as his mother suggests, a family disgrace. In this connection, it is interesting to note that during that part of the trip when the Almans live out verbally their miserable relationship for all the occupants of the car to witness, Dr. Borg remains stiffly, dumbly frozen. It is Marianne who takes charge.

After this scene, as he sleeps and dreams of the examination room where he is failing humiliatingly to answer questions correctly, he demands consideration because he is an old man with a weak heart. Alman merely answers him, "There is nothing concerning your heart in my papers." Indeed, one might say the same of the data concerning his intimate relationships revealed in this film and its story of his past. And Alman strikes home cruelly when he adds to his indictment that Dr. Borg is incompetent because he diagnoses a live woman as dead.

The young Sara tells us how clearly she responds to his need for her and is also restrained by her respect for his youthful control and integrity. But she is reaching out for intimacy and tenderness herself, and he is unable to respond. Sara says, "Isak is so refined. He is so enormously refined and moral and sensitive and he wants us to read poetry together and he talks about the after-life and wants to play duets on the piano and he likes to kiss only in the dark and he talks about sinfulness." However, she continues, "But sometimes I get the feeling that I'm much older than Isak, do you know what I mean? And then I think he's a child even if we are the same age...." And again we sense the hunger of young Isak for the replacement of a very early unrequited love relationship, about which he remains nostalgic. So Sara is courted and won by Sigfrid, almost, as she implies, against her better judgment.

And what may we infer about his choice of a wife? She is portrayed as a very beautiful and sensuous woman. He still has her photograph in front of him on his desk. Did he believe that with such a woman he might overcome the sense of coldness developing in him as part of his birthright? Evald's account of himself as "an unwelcome child" with "indifference, fear, infidelity and guilt feelings" as his "nurses" does not portray his mother as a warm and mothering person. Needy, passionate, she may have been completely frustrated by the Borg aloofness.

Dr. Borg, the scientist, though obviously drawn to her initially, maintains a professional detachment toward Karin, his wife. She tells us, "Now I will go home and tell this to Isak and I know exactly what he'll say: Poor little girl, how I pity you. As if he were God himself. And then I'll cry and say: Do you really feel pity for me? and he'll say: I feel infinitely sorry for you, and then I'll cry some more and ask him if he can forgive me. And then he'll say: You shouldn't ask forgiveness from me. I have nothing to forgive." How ingrained these words must have been in his memory, since he repeats them verbatim in his dream! Karin is infuriated by the patronizing superiority of these statements and adds, "But he doesn't mean a word of it, because he's completely cold." The husband then becomes doctor and offers to bring her, his patient, a sedative and says he understands everything.

The penalty for such indifferent presumption, Alman says, is "loneliness." Borg is not unmoved and asks, "Is there no grace?" Alman knows nothing about such things and leaves. Isak continues, "I wanted to cry with wild, childish sorrow."

All this is very bleak. However, early in the picture, in the dream sequence about the summer when he observes that he is not present in the birthday scene, he hears someone say, "Isak is out fishing with father," and he says, "Oh, yes, Father and I were out fishing together. I felt a secret and completely inexplicable happiness at this message." Here, then, must have been at least one cherished intimacy of his childhood. If his father, as may be suspected, was also somewhat of an isolate, perhaps this formed a meaningful bond between them.

His acceptance and tolerance of the three young people as they suddenly appear is surprising and heartening. The dreams, the exchange of words with Marianne, and the dreamy fantasy at the summerhouse have already introduced an active leaven.

At the end of the long day, there is considerable evidence that some of his defensive barriers are crumbling. His self chosen isolation has at least been successfully invaded. But the absence of true intimacy in any relationship has remained his greatest personal defect. In this, he is stagnant, and such a central lack can only impoverish his generational role in adulthood and in old age.

A greater capacity for empathy and playfulness than one might have guessed is reevoked through his sensuous relationship with the three Saras. The reexperiencing through memory and fantasy are apparently strong antidotes for the encroaching despair and possible acceptance of cool numbness in aging that old Mrs. Borg exemplifies.


Now we have reached the years of the stage of generativity, which encompasses a long period of responsibilities demanding stamina and dedication. The challenge is to be productive in all manner of ways, and the strength to be developed is that of care.

Caring embraces taking care of whatever one produces— children, of course, but also all that one does or makes or is part of. It involves playing an active role in the social institutions that create the coherence of a given social structure at a given historical time. Not to be in any way productive and participant in the social network in which one lives and works and loves must result in stagnation—a sense of the end of growth, both personally and as a member of the community and the greater polls.

Whenever and under whatever conditions, the adults of a given society owe the younger generation the safeguarding of the opportunities and the conditions in which the basic strengths can be developed. They provide the foundations for all future generativity, creativity, and productivity.

We have assumed that young Isak Borg pursued with dedication his own medical training quite early and that he became an excellent family doctor. The testimony of the gas station attendant and his pregnant wife is clear and spontaneous: "Here you see Dr. Borg in person." "This is the man that Ma and Pa and the whole district talk about." "The world's best doctor." And he expresses his nostalgia for those younger days. He looks out at the valley thoughtfully and says, "Maybe I made a mistake." "Perhaps I should have remained here." What a boon in old age to have some element of past generativity acclaimed and applauded. Resting on one's laurels is not altogether supportive unless they are occasionally freshened up.

Dr. Borg is noticeably moved by this encounter, and perhaps pleased that these appreciative remarks have been overheard by his passengers in the car. His young ax-patients, however, draw him back to the present, insisting on making a gift of the tankful of gas and calling attention to the young wife's pregnancy. They even point forward enthusiastically to that future in which their newborn son will be named Isak and he will be asked to stand as godfather for their child.

It is the gas station attendant who assumes that Dr. Borg is about to visit his old mother. Had he really planned to? Certainly, it was not included in the original plan to fly to Lund. But now he and Marianne face this old, isolated woman. Procreative she had been, although perhaps not by choice. Now she is alone and cold. Had she rejected her progeny and the world around her, walled in behind her high enclosure? Or were her aloofness and apparent uncaring so blatant that those who might have played a caring role were repulsed? Marianne, who represents life and vitality, is horrified. Seeing his mother through Marianne's candid eyes and the symbol of the faceless clock shock Isak Borg, whose threshold of vulnerability has already been lowered. They leave arm in arm: she, seeing, perhaps more readily, the source of some of his coolness; he, coping with a glimpse of what his future on his present course could hold. They remain in touch, for later in the story he says to Marianne, "How can I help you?" and even offers, "Won't you have a cigarette?"

But the dystonic has taken its toll—the interest of this only surviving child in his mother has been anything but warm even though he is a physician. His son is more than half frozen and full of hate, and his daughter-in-law is only slowly managing to reengage her father-in-law in vital human relationships. In his many nieces and nephews, he has no interest whatsoever. He says, "I have very little contact with my relatives," and he is the "elder" of a large clan. There are no friends, and he chooses a sterile solitude. This stage of generativity involves the responsibility to care for and care about children, family, work, and community—as the Hindus say, "the maintenance of the world." Since his days of family practice, after which he seems to have become more academic and scientifically oriented, our aging doctor has concentrated exclusively on the maintenance of Isak Borg.

There is, however, a compelling symbol of hope, for Dr. Borg maintains in his household and in his presence a fecund Great Dane bitch obviously the mother of newly dropped puppies—surely an archetypal figure of an undeniably potent canine mother goddess. Did he breed Great Danes and not even mention it as an interest, a very lively involvement for his old age?

Old Age

We have elected wisdom as the word that symbolizes the strength of this last stage of the life cycle and have used the words integrity and despair to represent the opposing poles that characterize the tension in the psyche. Integrity we chose because it seems to describe the aging individual's struggles to integrate the strength and purpose necessary to maintain wholeness despite disintegrating physical capacities. It also suggests the need to gather the experiences of a long and eventful life into a meaningful pattern. Old age is a time for remembering and weaving together many disparate elements and for integrating these incongruities into a comprehensible whole. This integrating has been going on throughout the life cycle, especially as each crisis is faced and as strength is generated by the process of resolution itself.

In the same way, elements of despair have inevitably been ingredients of every struggle for balance between the syntonic and dystonic pulls of each stage. To have experienced this world and our human inadequacy to deal with one another and our mutual problems in living and growing is consistently to know defeat. To balance this pull of despair, which may well increase with waning strength, we need to muster all the ingredients of the wisdom we have been garnering throughout the life stages.

Some of these components may be isolated and defined, but the genuinely wise have in some way managed to integrate them all. The oldest and wisest elders understand that situations are complex and that many factors have to be weighed and distinguished. Prejudice is maladaptive and presumptuous, for with age one is forced to concede how little one knows.

This knowledge is the fertile ground (humus) in which humility and humor are bedded and nourished. Both are vital for survival if the syntonic and dystonic elements are to be balanced and wisdom is to emerge. Resilience to inevitable change and loss is also demanded as a high priority, since this period of life is one of constant adaptation to new situations.

A major challenge is the maintaining of the acuity of the senses so that the body remains actively and safely involved in the affairs of the immediate environment and the larger world and so that relationships remain sensitive, sensual, and sustaining.

How does Dr. Borg measure up to these demanding qualifications of the strength of wisdom? Judged by his own statements, he could be described as both disdainful and presumptuous. To Marianne he says, "I have no respect for suffering of the soul, so don't come to me and complain. But if you need spiritual masturbation, I can make an appointment for you with some good quack, or perhaps with a minister, it's so popular these days." With this statement he mocks Marianne's suffering and annihilates psychiatry as well as the ministry in devastating terms. All this is said before she has really been heard, so that he is guilty of the most careless prejudgment. His disdain for psychiatry and the ministry, two major fields of human care, causes one to wonder about such blatant defensiveness. We learn later what memories he is trying vigorously to wall off from his consciousness.

His embattled yet dependent relationship with Miss Agda points to her as another butt of his scorn. He speaks of her, somewhat his junior, as "that old woman," "that bossy woman," and as an "immensely power-hungry old sourpuss," even when he is talking to himself in his journal.

He knows, it seems at times, little of humility, and yet in his own dream he is deeply humiliated by Alman. It is with the young people that a certain lively humorousness comes into his expression and into his whole benign attitude toward their exaggerated affects and stances.

However, Dr. Isak Borg is still a man of vitality and capable of active involvement in his life and affairs, so there are a number of hopeful signs that he may yet reconcile his life experience and develop a more integral wisdom.

He ruminates at the final ceremony and makes, as he says, "a plan to recollect and write down everything that had happened." "I was beginning to see a remarkable causality in this chain of unexpected, entangled events." Isak Borg has been stimulated into looking at himself and his long life. He prides himself on his ability to probe, to identify, to make a diagnosis. All of the events of the day now being recorded in his journal in such unflattering detail should come to his aid and lead him to new insights.

And the future offers new experiences for self-healing, growth, and change—the more open relationships with his son, with Marianne, even with Agda. And a new generation, a grandson and a godson, will awaken and release perhaps old sources of care, love, and fidelity.

After all, Dr. Isak Borg "feels quite well," as he himself says, and he is only seventy-six years old and a surprisingly resilient man.

The prognosis is encouraging.


"No less than a whole life," we said when choosing to present Bergman's movie. But to this we must eventually add "and not less than a whole communal setting." For it is necessary to permit involvements to assume what we have called the actualized and mutualized character, which alone can make them truly vital. Only in a communal context can we judge how the same individual's relationships have remained developmentally underinvolved or whether, in the course of a lifetime, they have become defensively disinvolved. Furthermore, we have learned that old age brings with it an effort to get reinvolved in typical patterns of living, as it were, in the past.

We have seen how Bergman's moving film confronted Dr Borg—and us—scene for scene, with the stage-bound in volvements of human beings of different ages. This, in fact has guided us in enumerating those relationships that are ready to evolve from the first to the last stage of development and yet remain apt, in the course of any life history, to become disinvolved—and this to the disadvantage of the individual as well as a loss to all those involved with him Disadvantage can here be too mild a word: we have, in fact learned to "diagnose" such alienation either as maladaptive if readaptation is still possible, or as malignant, if something has really atrophied in the person and in his relationships For, as we must now add, all these stagewise relationship can be truly judged only within the context of the custom of the communal culture; and, indeed, the movie's sequence of scenes tells us a lot about some of the special meanings of the stages as lived in the Sweden of that day. At the end, in the splendid ritual of the Jubilee, and not without our doctor's amused embarrassment, we witness that grandiose ritual display which simultaneously involved not only Sweden's academe but also her nationwide church and even her army's cannons in the honor done to a few truly old medical survivors. Finally, we come to realize that this drama involves us so deeply because the interplay of the grand ritual of a communal ceremony combines with that long day's intimate generational interplay so "naturally" that it draws the old doctor beyond his psychosocial identity into an acute involvement in the problems of his existential identity. However, we will remember that this comes about only because of the determined and vital involvement of his daughter-in-law in her own life crisis of generativity.

We have recently seen a document to be signed by the contributors to a psychoanalytical publication in which they are expected to promise (no doubt, on good legal grounds) that all case material has been sufficiently disguised to be unrecognizable—even to the patient.

This and subsequent quotations are taken from Four Screenplays of Ingmar Bergman, trans. Lars Malmstrom and David Kushner (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960).