The next Ingmar Bergman movie of the day is, “The Virgin Spring”.
Set in medieval Sweden, it is a revenge tale about a father’s merciless response to the rape and murder of his young daughter.
The story was adapted by screenwriter Ulla Isaksson from a 13th-century Swedish ballad, “Töres döttrar i Wänge” (“Töre’s daughters in Vänge”).
The film contains a number of themes that question morals, justice, and religious beliefs, and was considered controversial when first released due to its infamous rape scene.
It won for Best Foreign Language Film at the 1961 Academy Awards, and was also the basis for the 1972 exploitation horror film “The Last House on the Left”.
The Virgin Spring tells the story, set in medieval Sweden, of a prosperous Christian whose daughter, Karin (Birgitta Pettersson) is appointed to take candles to the church. Karin is accompanied by her pregnant maid servant, Ingeri (Gunnel Lindblom), who secretly worships the Norse deity Odin. Along their way through the forest on horseback, the two part, and Karin sets out on her own.
Ingeri encounters a one-eyed man at a stream-side mill, converses briefly with him, and then flees in terror. Karin meets three herdsmen (two men and a boy), and invites them to eat her lunch with her. Eventually, the two older men rape and murder Karin (while Ingeri watches, hidden, from a distance). The two older men then leave the scene with Karin’s clothing. The younger (a boy) is left with the body to watch the sheep. He takes the situation poorly and quickly becomes sick with guilt.
The herders then, unknowingly, seek shelter at the home of the murdered girl. Her parents, played by Max von Sydow and Birgitta Valberg, discover that the goat herders murdered their daughter when the goat herders offer to sell Karin’s clothes to her mother. After they fall asleep, she locks the trio in the chamber. In a rage, the father then kills them.
The next day, the parents set out to find their daughter’s body, with the help of Ingeri. Her father vows that, although he cannot understand why God would allow such a thing to happen, he will build a church at the site of his daughter’s death because his conscience is forcing him to atone. As her parents lift her head from the ground, a spring begins to flow from where she was lying. Ingeri then begins to wash herself with the water, and Karin’s parents clean their daughter’s muddied face.
Some interesting trivia about “The Virgin Spring”:
The Virgin Spring contains a variety of themes (many of them focusing on the religious aspects of the film), including Christianity, Paganism, Norse mythology, vengeance, the occult, questioning of religious faith, sexual innocence, justice, and the nature of evil. The film poses many moral questions to its audience, primarily concerning the revenge enacted by the parents of Karin, and whether or not it was justified, or was just plain, savage murder.
Threads of nihilism also run within the film, primarily displayed in the lack of human sympathy that is found in the herdsmen, and their unashamed rape, abuse, and ultimate murder of an innocent young girl. The story of The Three Living and the Three Dead, to which the film is indebted, was very common in the Middle Ages, and formed the basis for many texts and images, including the Dance of Death, and Geoffrey Chaucer’s ‘Pardoner’s Tale’.
The film is based on the 13th-century Swedish ballad, Töres döttrar i Wänge. In the ballad, it is not one but three daughters that are slain by the herdsmen, and the springs gush as they’re beheaded at the very end. The three herdsmen are all adults, and the last one is left alive by the father. “Karin” is the mother’s name rather than the daughter’s, and Ingeri’s character has no dialogue.
The ending of the film focuses on redemption within the story, in which Karin’s father, Töre, pleads to God for forgiveness for his vengeful actions, subsequently proclaiming he will build a church on the site of his daughter’s murder. He also remarks his confusion toward God for the events that have unfolded over the past day, and asks why God would allow such horrendous things to happen to his people.
The Virgin Spring won the following awards:
Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film 1961
A Special Mention for Ingmar Bergman in the Cannes Film Festival 1960
Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film-1961 (tie with La Vérité)
Kinema Junpo Award for Best Foreign Language Film and Foreign Film Director (Ingmar Bergman)-1962
It was also nominated for the following categories:
Golden Palm at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival
Best Costume Design, Black & White- 1961 Academy Awards
Celebrating Ingmar Bergman’s films!