Doctor Isak Borg (Victor Sjöström) has been called many things. Cold. Hard-hearted. Cruel. In the midst of a late-life crisis, he questions all he is and has been, and faces mortality through a series of dreams.
Despite this, life goes on quite as usual, save for one thing -- usually isolated from mankind, Borg will take a road trip to receive his honorary degree as a doctor. Along the way he will meet many people, and those damned dreams will persist, taunting him, teasing him, egging him on.
Isak Borg is more than a character. He's three-dimensional. Intellectually acute but socially dysfunctional, he is spoken of disparagingly by his daughter-in-law, Marianne (Ingrid Thulin). His son (Gunnar Björnstrand) is lonely and bitter, as was his mother (Naima Wifstrand) before him.
His dreams take him back to the disintegration of his relationship with Sara (Bibi Andersson), his mortality, and the mistakes he has made. He walks among scenes of the past, scenes he couldn't have been present for, reminiscent of Cronenberg's Spider. The dreams are interestingly abstract, and much more dreamlike than the mega-budget trips of Inception.
In a nearly flawless experience, I found myself questioning one thing and one thing only, the growth in the relationship between Borg and Marianne, which seems implausible considering that most of Borg's growth was internal.
Victor Sjöström gives a performance most unusual for his generation, subtle, not overblown or inflated. He was a director as well as an actor, a contributor to the Swedish silent film industry, and obviously a talent worth watching. People, I have found, hate doing what they are told will be good for them, and movies are no exception. You will no doubt be instructed to watch Bergman, and I am here to tell you this Bergman is worthwhile, maybe even important. And you won't need to go to film school to be told that.