Summer with Monika came out in 1953, and is considered amongst Ingmar Bergman’s most well-known pictures. French director Jean-Luc Godard expressed admiration for this feature, and described it as Baudelairian film, in that it depicts the coexistence of love and hate, attraction and revulsion, in romantic relationships. Perhaps it inspired him for Pierrot Le Fou, which came out a few years later, but I am speculating here.
This feature recounts the dreadful love story between Monika (Harriet Andersson) and Harry (Lars Ekborg), two disenchanted working-class youngsters from Stockholm who decide to leave it all behind to go and live a romantic interlude, alone on an island off the city. Summer came to its end, giving way to disillusion, later forcing them to go back to civilisation.
Early in the story, back in the city, Monika was crumbling, unable to cope with her daily life and struggles. Harry became her way out, someone to absorb her downfall, help her survive. She decided to quit her job, leave her life behind, and seduced him into making the same choices, dragging the boy down with her, while making him believe she was uplifting him. Sadly, he wasn’t able to see things for what they actually were, as he was very young, lacking experience, and in love. He saw this as an escape from his life, countless expectations building inside his mind, and him responding to them with spontaneity and immaturity. Harry was undoubtedly attracted to Monika, her being a source of sexual discovery and earthy, voluptuous pleasures, as well as affection. Without his knowing, he was lured by her charm and words in what later revealed to be and probably felt like an ambush.
Monika is carnal, sexually awakened, and almost brash. On the other hand, Harry is more reserved and shy. Being destabilised on their very first encounter, he struggled to light her cigarette properly, his clumsiness denoting a certain naïveté. She noticed it and sensed an opportunity, almost like a predator drawn to blood.
The girl is absorbed by her own fantasies, desires, and perceptions, never putting them to question or accepting responsibility for her actions and their ensuing consequences. The boy has to pay the price.
The island made a good scenery for the lovers to feel isolated, free and intimate, so much so that Monika eventually became pregnant. And at this very moment, the anchor was firmly tied to Harry’s legs, ready to drown him the minute he went underwater.
After cheating on Harry, she eventually abandoned him with their infant child, consequently destroying his life. Monika sacrificed his life to preserve hers, putting into light her cruelty and utter selfishness. Harry lost everything, with not even a bed to seek refuge in. All the hopes and aspirations he had, fell down into pieces, leaving him only to psychic and material misery, bereft and destitute of his freedom.
In spite of the points previously considered, it is also important to ask the following question: How does Harry share the responsibility for those happenings?
If at the end of this story, if some words could be told to the boy, to help him find comfort and strength, I would choose the following, extract from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s song You’ll never walk alone for their Broadway musical Carousel:
“When you walk through a storm,
Hold your head up high,
And don’t be afraid of the dark,
At the end of the storm,
There’s a golden sky,
And the sweet silver song of the lark.”