summer with monika (1953)
Summer with Monika exists in looks, the entire film could be contained to a series of closeups and reaction shots by Andersson’s Monika. It’s the far off, motionless gaze while she drags on a cigarette at the bar, searching for escape near the end of the film. It’s the chin up into the warmth of the sun on the rocky beach where she and Harry escape to, it’s their faces, pressed together as they drag on a cigarette together, deep evocations of the rain drops of youth that endure, frozen in time; a time we all live once and rarely again. The spirit of youth is captured so openly, the desperate need to escape the cage of childhood, even fearing that childhood will never end. The responsibilities of adulthood come quickly, the earn and put food on the table, raise a child, hold a relationship with your lover, and so forth. The cage grows smaller and smaller for our young lovers and they bust - as children they are still subject to the prying eyes of their elders, their judgment and their beatings, while as adults they must prove themselves and work up from their station. Monika, with her budding body and sexuality, has already drawn the attentions of the elder men, who are eager to take advantage. She flees from this as well, finally finding Harry in his genuine ‘sweetness’ as she puts it, not like the other men, and not like her father most of all. It’s these transgressions, so trite as all youth must face them, so common and yet so phenomenal in the minds of all youth who feel them. It is this dichotomy that summarizes youth, what it is to be young in the first place. The youth escape father and mother, they escape town and the rabble they grew up with, escape employment and responsibility and sail for the shore. They sail for their summer and find a dream of life as only the youth can dream it.
The nights on the boat, the days on the rocks, Monika and Harry yelling at the top of their lungs and dancing for joy. What is predictable by those who’ve lived and experienced can be so shockingly unpredictable when experienced. The young man who angrily lights fire to their boat and destroys their happiness, while already their happiness was being destroyed between the two of them as they snap at one another while dancing together. Harry’s clumsiness going hand in hand with his sweetness, Monika’s reaction that is so feminine and chemical, sexually disdaining him for his impotence at the dance party. In the ultimate emasculation for Harry it is the same man who destroyed their vessel and fought brutally with Harry who sleeps with Monika while he is away, working to secure money to raise their new baby girl. Monika, here, plays like a force of nature, so gentile does Bergman cast her and yet rough as a thunderstorm as soon as waters get choppy. Bergman sets up the cruelest lesson of youth, how we must reconcile ourselves with our society, how we must learn to know who we are and what we are and all the while we must learn who and what we are in the world and to the world. It is this lesson that the youth here take such anger toward, fleeing the world and its judgments and hardships, rather than face how the world sees them and earn their way into better standing. For the world tells Harry who it thinks he is; lazy, late in the mornings, always breaking things. The world tells the same to Monika as it sees her in much the same way, not to mention sexually loose and promiscuous. What Harry and Monika, as all young people, desire is a world of their own, far away from the eyes of anyone. In this world, they have perfection, love, acceptance and all the joyous elation that the young heart desires. When in the world of people, it falls apart. Monika is now a prize, a trophy who must consistently be won over and earned. Harry is now a clumsy boy, far from leader of the pack, low on anyone’s pecking order. He cannot keep Monika any more than he could keep his job, the sadness is that they were both entry points to adulthood, entry points that must be left behind.
But oh, what dreams had been spun when summer broke and the sun was shining. What visions were made manifest on celluloid of the dancing and the shouting, the quiet rocking of their watercraft bed, cigarettes in the hot sun and Monika’s nude body running for the water. The energy that the summer and the springtime bring, the escape and the freedom of youth, the pangs of first love, all are wrapped up in the visions of these moments as are crafted to perfection by Bergman and by Fischer’s lens. Each new sequence is a revelation, the hectic home life for Monika, the children running in the courtyard, the adventure to steal a pot roast. Monika becomes more and more animalistic as her pregnancy creates deeper urges than ever before, as she runs clutching the roast and gobbling at it as she does. The intensity of the two youths’ desires and impulses, the severity with which they feels their withdrawals and their indulgences, all add up to a picture-perfect portrait of teenage energy. What Bergman captures best is their hope, each believing that they have found their salvation in one another, each ready to give up everything in pursuit of what the other makes them feel, and the crushing disappointment, the existential and essential defeat they experience at the dissolution of their romance, all are some of Bergman’s most powerful cinema of his entire career. Summer with Monika stirs in a way that cinema rarely can, it hits deep at the memories we hold in heart, it activates a time when all emotion is heightened, all acts are in explosions of exuberance and desperation. It is a film that knows what it is to be young.