Friday, October 11, 2013

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

Film: Sommaren med Monika (Summer with Monika)
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on laptop.

Before I started watching The List, I didn’t know much about the films of Ingmar Bergman. I’ve seen a number of them now because a big part of The List is its specific fawning over certain directors. For instance, nearly 20 Hitchcock films have shown up at one time or another (with 16 currently ensconced). There’s a lot of Kubrick, Howard Hawks, Bunuel, Johns both Ford and Huston. Bergman ties for third with Kubrick with 10 films. Sure, that’s a small part of his nearly 70 films, but I think cases could be made for a few others. Anyway, I can’t say I was shocked when another of Ingmar’s works appeared. If I had to guess, I’d have gone with The Virgin Spring, but instead, it’s Sommaren med Monika (Summer with Monika).

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.


  1. You must have seen Cries and Whisper, right? Harriet Anderson is the sick sister in Cries and Whisper.

    1. I have seen it. I probably knew that when I watched it, but it's been some time, and, well, it's hard to overcome the impression she made in Smiles of a Summer Night.

  2. Smiles of a Summer Night is by far my favorite of the Bergman films I hadn't seen that I watched because they were on the list. Summer with Monika would be among the upper echelon of those. While it's not a happy film, at least it's a change of pace by not being about death.

    I completely agree that the point of this film is that teenage infatuation is fun for a while, but that reality will eventually intrude.

    1. I liked this, but I also freely admit that I buy into Bergman as a director who deserves the praise he gets. This probably wouldn't be among my top-5 for him, but that doesn't say a lot. I really like Bergman.

  3. Yes, it is easy to believe that they fall in love on the spot. They are both the right person at the right time for each other and they are both an idea more than a person, which is okay on the islands, but not when reality kicks in.
    Very elegant really that Bergman both runs a conservative responsibility theme and a modern freedom of mind theme in the same movie. You get both messages and are forced to hold them up against each other. Is he criticising the irresponsible nature of youth or the ties of modern civilization that suppresses it? It is really ambivalent.

    1. My impression, for what it's worth, is that Bergman would side more with him than with her.