Seventy-eight year old Isak Borg journeys on his way to receive an honorary degree for his professional work. He travels in his own car accompanied by his daughter-in-law. Also he is joined by a young trio composed by two men and a woman. Throughout the film, Isak struggles with fears of loneliness and the possibility that his life has been a waste. He suffers a dream with surrealistic characteristics, where his own death in life is illustrated thru the use of handless clocks, empty streets, ruins, and faceless bodies. Through the journey we also discover his strenuous relationships with his son, daughter-in-law, and with his wife. He has dreams and reminiscences of the past that communicate to us the things that really have meaning in life. Basically, it is the tale of a person who has succeeded as a professional, but has failed as father and husband, and he discovers at the end that the price to pay for this negligence is loneliness. Isak, however, does not want to remain alone and makes attempts to amend for this hollow past.
The film shows surrealistic images to dramatize Isak's existential crisis. It also contrasts an idyllic (pastoral) past with a modern middle-class life. We also get to see the lack of faith and hope in Isak and his son's life. The distinction between middle-class culture and the innocence of a rural, agrarian society can be seen in the rivalry between Isak, concerned about sin and doing the right thing, and his brother, who is passionate and incorrigible. Sara, Isak's love, stands between the two. Sara marries Isak's brother and leads a fruitful life having many children. On the other hand, Isak has been the head of a dysfunctional family. Thus, Isak must confront this past in his present struggle to find meaning in his life.
This Essential Art House edition is an excellent presentation of the film. If you like this type of film, or if you are a Bergman fan, then you will enjoy this edition.