Criterion Commentaries: “The Virgin Spring”

Michael O'Mealy

When not playing a game of chess with Death, or spying on his neighbors through binoculars, Michael works as a graphic designer.  Michael splits his free time between redesigning his website, and writing about his two passions: film and baseball. Ever since studying screenwriting at Syracuse University, Michael’s grown particularly fond of releases by The Criterion Collection, but don’t take his word for it, view his profile here

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2 Responses

  1. I saw this for the first time last September during a Criterion Collection viewing challenge.  I knew its premise ahead of time, and kept putting it off.  The violence is brutal, and both the attackers and onlooking sister are demonstrably excited by it, creating an atmosphere of near fetish.  And yet, the camera is decidedly cold and uncaring; we see the attack, even in some closeups, but never do we feel as though anyone in the world cares what is happening, that we ourselves should merely observe.

    It took me a few months to digest The Virgin Spring, and I suspect that’s a common reaction to this film, which may have accounted for Bergman’s disillusionment with it, especially in light of the relative ease with which so many other entries in his filmography found adoring audiences and favorable critics.  In the film world, instant reaction is the only one that matters and The Virgin Spring is almost guaranteed to fail to elicit a favorable knee-jerk response.  It needs time to germinate.

    As an aside, I would say that I believe this features a much more fascinating discussion of God than the much-heralded Seventh Seal.  Make no mistake; I have nothing but admiration and good will toward The Seventh Seal; it became an instant favorite for me.  But I think that questioning one’s relationship with God because of one’s own suffering is a different kind of conversation than re-evaluating God because of the suffering of someone you love.  Consider God is Love.  What does it say about how strongly one loves another, that harm to that other causes one to question one’s relationship with Love?  These are simple questions to ask, but worthy of answers from people far more enlightened than me.

    It goes well beyond Tore’s vengeance, which would likely seem satisfactory to most viewers.  We all like to believe that we would avenge our loved ones, and that it would be rewarding to do so.  What The Virgin Spring dares to subject us to is the notion that vengeance is but one part of the aftermath of such a tragedy.  Contrast this with Taken, where Liam Neeson sets out to rescue his daughter, takes down the bad guys, etc.  Audiences ate that up with a spoon because it reflected their fantasies of how they imagine they would handle such a situation.

    The Virgin Spring tells us that even if we did all that, the effects go much further and deeper.  Whatever one calls it (justice or vengeance), it is not in itself a conclusion.  Tore knows this in the end, when he abandons his pagan ways, as they have failed him.  Is Christianity a purer source of answers?  Not for me to say, but what matters is that Tore is so desperate to find a way out of his despair that he would turn his back on the only religious doctrine he had ever known.  He chooses to explore the message of faith, hope and love instead of losing himself to the darkness.  It sounds trite, obvious and easy, but it is not.  We are privy only to Tore taking the first steps on his new journey.  It would be fascinating to learn what became of him.