Ingmar Bergman’s most beautiful film. Released in 1960, and winner of the Best Foreign Film, The Virgin Spring is Bergman at his best.
The film is based upon a 14TH Century Swedish ballad:
TORE’S DAUGHTER AT VANGE
Tore’s daughter in Vange deep
Did one morning too long sleep;
Mass she missed, she slept it thro’.
But God will surely bless her too.
To the loft Mistress Martha goes
– cold is the forest air –
Karin, her daughter, she arose,
– When green the trees are there.
Her daughter wakes with eyes awide
Prepares to Kaga Church to ride.
Proud Karin sits upon her bed
Platting her golden locks about her head.
Proud Karin dons her silken robe,
A work of fifteen maidens sewed.
Proud Karin dons her blue cloak bright,
She rides to church now it is light.
She rides around a giant tree,
Now three herdsmen does she see.
They say to her, “Come be our wife,
Or thou shalt forfeit thy young life.”
“Do not lay a hand on me,
Or my father’s wrath ye’ll see.”
For thy kinsmen care not we,
We’ll kill them all as well as thee.”
The herdsmen three took her to wife
And then they took from her her life.
They took her by her golden hair
And dragged her ‘neath a birch tree there.
They took her by her golden head
And left her ‘gainst a birch tree, dead.
And on that spot her body lay,
Burst forth a spring, so legends say.
They stripped her of her golden robe,
Into their bundle was it stowed.
Her body in the mire they lay
And with her garments went away.
When this foul deed had they done,
They took the way that she had come.
They went along that wooded lane
Until they Vange Village came.
They came up to the farm of Tore
And found the farmer at his door.
Tore stood outside all clad in hide,
He came and let the men inside.
Then went they into Tore’s homestead,
Where they partook meat and bread.
A thought in Tore’s mind did turn:
Why does my daughter not return?
Ere Martha joined her man in bed,
The herdsmen came to her and said:
“Wilt thou have this silken robe,
Upon which some nine maidens sewed?”
Martha saw the robe in horror,
It filled her heart with deepest sorrow.
Martha kept herself from weeping.
Approached her man who was sleeping.
“Awake now, dearest husband mine,
For they have killed daughter thine.”
“They have her robe, I know her fate,
This strikes my heart a blow so great.”
Tore to avenge his daughter’s life
Rushes on the men with unsheathed knife.
He kills one, he kills another,
Now he falls on the little brother.
Now Tore casts his knife away.
“O Lord, forgive my deed this day.”
“How can I this deed atone?
To God, I’ll build a church of stone.”
“Gladly shall we do such work
– cold is the forest air –
Karna shall we call the kirk.”
– When green the trees are there.
Set during the time when Christianity is phasing out Nordic pantheism/paganism, and the struggle that ensues from the clash between Christianity and paganism in medieval Sweden, the film depicts a day in the life of a Swedish farming family: Tore (father), Mareta (his wife), Karin (their spolied and naive blonde-haired daughter), Professsor ( who has taken refuge at the family’s farm), the family maid; and Ingeri, the dark-haired, Odin-worshipping adopted daughter of Tore and Mareta.
Ingeri is pregnant, and the situation that has led up to her condition, is left to the viewer’s imagination. Ingeri has contempt for Karin because of her favoured status in the family, and as the only child of Tore and Mareta, and when Tore and Mareta instruct Karin to take votive candles to church for the Virgin Mary matins, Karin asks if Ingeri can accompany her. The parents allow them both to leave, telling them both to be back before dark.
Ingeri is told to prepare lunch for their departure. While putting their meal together, Ingeri sees a toad on the floor, picks it up, and puts it into an already halved loaf of bread. She intends for Karin to eat it. Before leaving, Karin has dressed in her finest embroidered clothes to present the votive candles to the Virgin Mary. They set off. As they go on their journey, Karin and Ingeri have harsh words between them about the men Karin danced with at a dance the night before. Karin slaps Ingeri, but, she apologizes to her. They come to an area to rest. They discuss marriage and Karin tells Ingeri that she will remain a virgin until married. Ingeri questions her that what if the man grabs her around the waist, or forces himself on her, then how will she keep her virginity? Karin states that she will fight him off. Ingeri says the man can still overpower her because he would be stronger than Karin, but, Karin pooh-poohs Ingeri. They continue on to where they meet a sorceror who still clings to the old pagan, Odin-worshipping beliefs. Ingeri becomes fearful of them continuing on, as it is now getting darker, and the forest has become foreboding to her. It does not help that as they came to the sorcerer’s home the girls saw a raven, a harbinger of doom.
Karin reassures Ingeri that she will get the votive candles to church in time to honor the Virgin Mary, and she asks the sorcerer to allow Ingeri to remain behind. Karin sets off, alone.
Not too long after her departure, Karin comes upon three herdsmen—–three brothers (two older men, and a young boy of about 9-10 years of age.) Unbeknownst to her, the men conspire to get Karin off deeper into the forest near a glade they know of. She consents. They come to the glade, sit down, Karin prepares the lunch for them, and instructs them to say grace first. While eating with them, she realizes they have ulterior motives to harm her, and she attempts to leave. Too late she realizes she is trapped. The older men attack, drag her to the ground and rape her, while the younger brother looks on in horror. After she is raped, Karin is in such shock that all she can do is stagger and moan at the loss of her innocence/virginity. One of the brothers, to end her suffering, picks up a tree limb, and brings it crashing down on her head, killing her. They strip Karin of her embroided clothes, leave her body, and threaten their younger brother with severe punishment if he leaves the goats they were tending. They go off, but, the younger brother starts off after them, but not after he has covered Karin’s body with some handfuls of dirt.
The brothers eventually make their way to Tore’s home, but unbeknownst to them, they have entered the home of the man whose daughter they raped and murdered. The three brothers spend the night, after having dinner with the family.
Later, when in the night Mareta hears a cry, she finds out from the Professor that the older brothers slapped the young brother (because of their fear that he would give them away.) Upon entering the room where they were sleeping, Mareta is offered her deceased daughter’s vestments by one of the men. He states that it belonged to their deceased sister, and they wanted to give the clothes to Mareta because they felt that she was a woman who could appreciate such fine cloth that surely “was sown by nine maidens.”
Mareta keeps her composure long enough to leave the room, starts grieving for her dead child, and in her foresight, bolts shut the door of the room where the herdsmen are residing, thereby locking them in. Mareta goes to Tore and tells him that their daughter is dead, and shows him Karin’s clothing. Tore gets prepared to wreak vengeance upon the men. He goes to the cellar, there sees Ingeri, who had made her way back home, hiding in fear. She tells Tore what happened, and how she did not attack the men with a rock she had in her hands, because of her animosity towards Karin. Tore instructs Ingeri to start a bath for him. He goes outside, tears down a birch tree with his bare hands, and later begins the process of cleansing himself before he commits his vengeance upon the men.
Tore kills the two older men and their young brother. He, Mareta, the maid, the Professor, and Ingeri go out to find Karin’s body. Upon finding her body, Tore is overcome with guilt at his vengeance upon the men who took his daughter from him. In his asking God for forgiveness, Tore promises to build a “church of stone and mason” upon the ground where his daughter was slain. As Tore and Mareta cradle their only child in their arms, they lift her body up, and from underneath where Karin’s head was, a spring starts flowing from the ground.
Hence the name of the movie.
One major aspect of the film is the dichotomy of Ingeri and Karin.
Ingeri: the used, dark, and debased girl.
Karin: the blonde, pure, and exalted girl.
Ingeri has been used and impregnated and is left to fend for herself in the world, alone. She has been discarded because she is pregnant, and as she states that the man is stronger, she has most possibly been raped or been the victim of sexual coercion. Ingeri is looked upon as a fallen woman, and will get no help or respect for the rest of her life. Even Karin’s father, Tore, allows himself to be naked in Ingeri’s presence as he readies himself to destroy his daughter’s rapists. This treating her as a thing, a table, or a dog, implies that she has no right to be respected for her sensibilities as a fellow human being.
Karin on the other hand, is the poor innocent lamb. She has been deflowered and cannot suffer this world anymore, and therefore, she must die, poor lamb, and cannot be allowed to live with the consequences of the rape. She is the one who must figuratively be thrown from the cliff, the birth of a nation girl who has suffered a fate worse than death.
For Karin, many tears would be shed.
For Ingeri, none.
We the viewers are made to feel sorrow for Karin, but none for Ingeri.
In the end, both girls have been wronged by a woman-fearing society, which in its culture, is no more different from many other societies around the world who consider virginity as the only value that a woman or girl has to offer.
Here, presented in its entirety, The Virgin Spring is a film about the coming to an end of the pagan worship of Nature, the pantheistic beliefs in the Norse gods of Thor, Odin, Freyer, Loki, and many others, and the advent of Christianity, and its monotheism. The film addresses the questioning of faith, the questioning of the existence of God, how can God allow cruelty and sin to occur in the world, and the hypocrisy of a double standard world that puts so little value on the lives of women and girls.