Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on laptop.
The story here is almost painfully simple. Harry (Lars Ekborg) is stuck in a dead-end job he’s not very good at or with which he is very happy. One day he meets the eponymous Monika (Harriet Andersson) who is similarly underemployed and unhappy. At work she is frequently sexually harassed by coworkers and at home, her drunken father sometimes hits her. The two fall hard and instantly for each other, and begin spending a great deal of time together. When Monika, tired of the abuse, runs off from home and comes to Harry for help, he takes her to live on his father’s boat.
The next morning, late for work, Monika tells Harry to quit his job as she has done. He does, tired of being yelled at for everything he does. Suddenly freed of any responsibilities the two board the boat and sail off to the Stockholm Archipelago. They spend a blissful summer here lounging and enjoying themselves, with Monika frequently sunning herself, sweater pulled down as low as 1953 propriety will allow. Eventually, the summer ends and the pair return to the city with Monika evidently pregnant. What happens after this is the entire point of the film.
There’s a lot to like here. I knew I was familiar with Harriet Andersson. I didn’t remember that she starred in Through a Glass Darkly; I remember her primarily as the lusty and sexually-forward maid in Smiles of a Summer Night, a film that ranks near the top for me in the Bergman catalog with which I’m familiar. She plays a similar character here. Monika’s entire persona is one of openness and freedom in all ways. Her raison d’etre is adventure and excitement. She doesn’t want to be tied down or deal with responsibility, and that attitude includes a certain sexual openness and occasional clothing-free attitude.
I frequently have a problem with the plot point of love at first sight. In fact, it’s something that stuck in my craw just a couple of days ago with Four Weddings and a Funeral. I but it here much more than I do in a lot of other films, though, and for some very specific reasons. First, Harry and Monika are much younger than many of those who fall in love instantly in film. There’s a youthful passion to their relationship. Monika in particular has no ambition beyond a desire to simply live as she has lived, without responsibility, and that fits in with their age and the idea of the film, too.
Just as important in terms of my buying into the whole summer romance idea between these two characters is that I don’t for a minute think that they approach anything like a real or lasting love. It’s more or less an infatuation with each other that is taken to its logical and believable extreme. They are just old enough to leave home on their own and do what they want and just young enough to think that living alone on an island is a legitimate life goal. They’re attracted to each other immediately, and that’s really enough to send them off on their adventure. It’s completely believable because they’re dumb, headstrong kids rather than responsible adults.
That’s important, because from what I can gather, that’s a major theme here. Infatuation isn’t enough, and that complete lack of responsibility can only last for so long before it becomes something that destroys relationships and people. It’s easy to dislike Monika in the second half of the film, but it’s important to remember that she’s a dumb, selfish, stupid kid. It doesn’t justify what she does, but it does explain it.
In a lot of ways, the film this reminds me of most is Jules and Jim. More accurately, Monika reminds me of Catherine from that film. It’s easy to see why Harry was attracted to her in the first place and easy to see why the relationship goes to the place it does. Essentially, Harry grows up; Monika doesn’t.
The final verdict? It’s decent. There’s a lot of Bergman I like better than this one, at least so far. It’s not bad, but I still would have added The Virgin Spring instead.
Why to watch Sommaren med Monika: Early Bergman, and the start of his frequent casting of Harriet Andersson.
Why not to watch: There’s much better Bergman out there.