I saw a film!

Holy crap! A Bergman movie? Yep. A Bergman movie. A real movie, art with messages and things happening that make you feel extremely conflicted.

One of the things that always gets me about this kind of film is that it’s basically seventy years old and it seems to have taught nothing to anyone. Our parents didn’t care. Their parents didn’t care. Generations go by perpetuating the cycle of disappointment and abuse. Sorry, I got ahead of myself, let’s dive in, shall we?

Monika and Harry are burgeoning on adulthood, already fed up with menial, degrading jobs working for careless louts who abuse them. Monika gets sexually harassed at work with hands up her skirt and full-on buttheads trying to rape her on top of the bins of potatoes. Harry’s abuse is more the conventional sort of generational threats and insults as he processes and delivers orders for a dish company, a situation that calls for him breaking things time to time and of course this is intolerable to his bosses who have little respect or care for him. Just life for many. They aren’t slaves, but they are grovelling wage slaves, and the evils of plain people imposed on each other is hard to stomach let alone comprehend. The young are easier to abuse, but their fantasies are also more difficult to process in terms of realistic expectations. In other words, we are more prone to believe our escapist fantasies when young.

Monika and Harry meet, they make a plan to see a movie. It’s a terrible movie involving wealth and beauty and filling their heads with asinine mollifying dreams of success. In the process, we’re also let in on our protagonist’s home lives, which are claustrophobic and depressing. Noisome children dominate the tiny apartment where Monika lives, on her bed in the kitchen, she can’t sleep a moment late and is abused by a drunken father, who, while he slaps her for her insolence also weeps drunkenly for her as an emotionally confused poppa. The father has brought home a cake and wishes to dance with his wife, celebrating their anniversary, but even this is undermined by the fact that he’s drunk, and disrespected, and of course, a laborer who can only afford a tiny cake for the whole family. So we see the generational plan. Grow up here and replicate it later.

The new couple, Harry and Monika have no place to go. They try enjoying their coffee and cigarettes (Sweedish dietary staples!) as best they can in not so private places, but no place affords them even a modicum of peace, or indeed warmth (it’s Sweeden cold out!). Eventually they move into Harry’s father’s small motorboat which affords them a tiny space where they can embrace and dream about some kind of freedom. And in fact, they leave the town and motor away, billowing blue oil smoke (the boat is in bad need of a ring job) and land on a fairly remote beach where they do a bit of very low-end camping. I could watch Monika naked and tip-toeing on the rocks all day, and indeed her lovely figure is a touchstone for Harry’s rebellion from the miseries of his already endlessly intolerable young life. Can you name a better spark for rebellion?

Of course, their minor escape develops into something absurd and unforeseen, as they are attacked by a rival who attempts to burn the boat and fight with Harry for reasons difficult to understand. So there is no escape and pain follows them. Soon enough they’re sneaking into a nearby wealthy person’s pantry to help themselves to some food. Monika is soon enough pregnant and the pleasant freedom wanes into frustrated fast-developing requirements (the mushrooms, free for the collecting, are no longer satisfying!). Love is not enough.

Finally, the young lovers putter their stolen boat back to the city, surrender to the world, and we fast forward to a bleak apartment life with a baby (called June, Monika hates her name but thinks June is a wonderful name! It’s my mom’s preferred name too!). Harry and Monika fight, have no future plans, have little to look forward to. Harry has a job in which he travels and is away for days at a time. Monika takes a lover.

As this is revealed to us, she turns to the camera, and stares us down, challenging our judgment. At first I was sure she was turning tricks. But no, she’s only had it with her life and fighting for anything to give her excitement. When she is caught, in a painful sequence of Harry seeing this rival lover (it is especially this particular young rival of Harry’s we’ve seen before), we are not just meant to be angry at her, we are also meant to understand that the predicament is cyclical.

Stupidly enough the movie posters of the time highlighted this idea of it being a story of a “bad girl”, as if Bergman made a kind of sexy exploitation film. But if that were the case, what was the point of all the backstory? The real culprit in all of this is, of course, poverty. Monika even has the line after she’s fled the house she was stealing food from during their camping, “Why do some people have all the luck!” She doesn’t specify what she’s referring to, only that she knows she’s luckless. Of course, in 1953 it was probably a bit of a shock to, also basically luckless, movie-goers seeing so much lovely skin, and no doubt unsophisticated audiences were interested mainly for this rather modest (pretty much PG) nude content.

In the end, what chance did our young lovers have? Though, the first thing I considered when thinking of this sort of absconding with a beauty for a summer, was that I’d probably have had to clumsily work on the boat all summer. The second thing is that our world (our lives, families, peers) expects us to suffer with a kind of noble acceptance (Confucian practically). We laborers, we working-class are supposed to accept our struggle and disappointment with a gesture of obeisance and submission. We are meant to find our pleasure in the conformity of our peers. If you don’t. If you can’t. If your expectations and your desires are not put to pragmatic rest, are not melted into the stock of “hope” or shelved for future “somedays” then where does rebellion lead? Hmmm?

All this for 3.99 on Prime

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