Virgin Spring, The (1960)

Virgin Spring, The (1960)

“A day can start out beautifully, yet end with misery.”

In medieval Sweden, a father (Max von Sydow) and mother (Birgitta Valberg) seek revenge on the goatherds (Axel Düberg and Tor Iseda) who raped and killed their virginal daughter (Birgitta Pettersson) while their pregnant servant (Gunnel Lindblom) watched in horror.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Historical Drama
  • Ingmar Bergman Films
  • Max von Sydow Films
  • Rape
  • Revenge
  • Scandinavian Films

This adaptation of a 13th century Swedish ballad entitled “Per Tyrsson’s daughters in Vänge” — directed by Ingmar Bergman and scripted by Ulla Isaksson — won an Academy Award as Best Foreign Film of the Year. Isaksson was tasked with ensuring this story came across as more historically accurate than Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957), and the result is that we feel we’ve been deposited into an entirely different world (albeit one crafted for the screen).

The storyline is a dark tale of violence, revenge, and religion, with a rape scene so graphic (for the time) that it was subject to censorship in the U.S. (For better or for worse, this film was purportedly the inspiration for Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left.) As the movie opens, we’re introduced to a fearful pregnant girl (Lindblom) praying to Odin:

Lindblom’s “impure”, dark-haired Ingeri is posited as a clear contrast to the innocence of the spoiled young blonde mistress of the house, Karin (Pettersson), whose hyper-religious mother (Valberg) can’t resist giving into the whims of her daughter.

Bergman presents us with an idyllically pastoral vision of life before tragedy strikes, as Pettersson is sent out on a beautiful day for a horseback trip to the local church to bring candles, accompanied by Lindblom.

Her naive interactions and picnic with wily Düberg, mute Iseda, and their traumatized younger brother (Ove Porath) showcase her truly child-like innocence:

… before her fatal violation.


The next phase of the story shifts to the three brothers visiting von Sydow and Valberg’s house, not knowing that the fancy clothing they stole off of Pettersson’s corpse and are trying to pawn for money instantly gives away their crime.

Von Sydow and Valberg’s shift to vengeance is swift and merciless — but it’s impossible to fault them, given what we’ve seen happening to their family.

The film’s closing sequence — in which a “miraculous” spring emerges from where Pettersson’s body lies (per the original ballad) — brings us full circle to some kind of earthly yet spiritual closure. While this brutal film is not for the faint of heart, it’s beautifully shot and will likely linger in your memory.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Highly atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as an early masterpiece by Bergman. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.


  • Foreign Gem
  • Important Director
  • Oscar Winner or Nominee


2 thoughts on “Virgin Spring, The (1960)

  1. (Rewatch). A once-must, as a significant Bergman film.

    This is probably one of the first Bergman films I saw when I was a young teen and starting to watch foreign films at the university near where I lived. I recall it being a rather powerful experience – but I think it’s the kind of film that only really needs to be seen once. It’s a simple film; not particularly the type that viewers can ‘get more information’ from with repeat viewings.

    As well, it’s also the type of film which, once seen, is not easily forgotten… perhaps even years later.

  2. This is a more global response re: “once must” viewings (which I also often agree with).

    My main question is whether film fanatics might be removed enough from their initial viewing (depending on how young they were when they first started watching major titles — you and Peary and I were pretty young) to consider a later-in-life re-viewing comparable to a “once must”.

    In this particular case, I remember dutifully watching “The Virgin Spring” as a teenage FF, being horrified by the rape scene, and avoiding it until now at the ripe old of 48, simply to review it for this site. And, I’m glad I gave it a second look — though I don’t plan to watch it again unless or until perhaps one of my kids is curious and I would watch it with them.

    Just some musings….

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