"The Wall Grew Around Me": Love and Loss in Ingmar Bergman's Summer Interlude

Ingmar Bergman's Summer Interlude captures the beauty of first love and the grief of its demise. Ballet dancer, Marie, spends the summer with Henrik. During months of swimming, kissing, and reveling in the freedom of youth, they fall in love but their relationship is cut short by Henrik's death. Marie is devastated, forced to confront death at an early age and mourn not just the loss of Henrik but the end of her youth. In the most powerful scene of the film, Marie speaks about the incomprehensibility of death.

Uncle Erland stands behind her, in the shadows. He is much older, more accustomed to the tragedy of life, and answers with the laconic "That's Life."

But Marie is still young. For the first time, she is experiencing the pain of losing someone she loves. She is also overwhelmed by the meaninglessness of it all.  

Uncle Erland believes there is no meaning,

Uncle Erland emerges from the shadows, stands by her side, and advises Marie to protect herself from pain by building up walls.

Marie takes his advice but acknowledges that it comes with a cost. Years after Henrik's death, she is alone and emotionally isolated from the world around her.

Perhaps it is comforting to think that we can keep the world and other people from hurting us. I know that, for much of my life, I have kept everything at a distance but death still found me, death still destroyed my life.

My father's death brought my mother and I closer together. I don't think I'll ever love another person as much as I love her. As beautiful as our closeness is, it is also terrifying because I could lose her. At times, I push her away. I even tell myself that I must put distance between us, but I can't do it. I love her deeply. I think what would hurt as much, if not more, than losing her is the thought that I didn't give all the love I had when she was with me.

I choose to keep loving, not in spite of death but because of it. Time will take away everyone, but I must love.

In the end, I think Marie realizes that there is no protection from loss. As bleak as Summer Interlude is, it leaves us with a sense that Marie will love again, that she is finally ready to reach out and connect with another human being.

Uncle Erland was wrong. The walls did not protect Marie from misery; it was always there. It will always be there for every single one of us. What the walls do keep out is any possibility of surviving the misery, of making contact with another person who understands, who lessens the pain, who loves us as deeply as we love them.