In 1969, the last semester of my senior year at college, I took a course from Erik Erikson on the stages of life. For each stage Erikson proposed a central question to be confronted. I was 21(intimacy vs isolation.) Ingmar Bergman, the film director, was 51(generativity vs stagnation.) Erikson was 67(ego integrity vs despair.)
Professor Erikson screened a recent Bergman film for us, “Wild Strawberries,” to illustrate the last challenge in life. The retired teacher in the film faces the same challenge Erikson confronted as he showed it. Looking back I realize he had gone to great trouble to obtain the film, a projectionist and a room to screen it in. No tapes, DVD’s or computer sources for in-class movies in those days.
The film baffled me. A very old man, a trio of young people, scenes from the past, strawberries, and an award ceremony all fitted into 91 interminable(to me) minutes. Having already been confused by every Bergman film I had seen up to then, I promptly catalogued this one as incomprehensible and never thought about it again. Until last week.
Now at 75, much closer to Erikson’s age in my college class, I screened it again on my computer. I found it deeply moving, the symbols quite clear, the switching back and forth in time completely familiar to my current experience of life and deep compassion for the old professor(the focus of the film.) Of course I also reflected on how meaningful it must have been for Professor Erikson who had gone to all the trouble to share it with us.
A very belated thank you Professor Erikson. I was too young to have a clue!