Victor Sjöström did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Professor Isak Borg in Wild Strawberries.
Victor Sjöström, though had acted in his time, was better known as a director of the silent era before Ingmar Bergman cast him in this film. He was evidently Bergman's only choice for the role to the point he would have not done the film without him. Sjöström's work was an influence on Bergman as a director so he perhaps he was eager to work with one of his idols but perhaps the needing the eye of a director is what helped to encourage this casting as well. Wild Strawberries, to dust off a term, is very much "director's film" in that the overarching vision of the director is what you take most strongly from the film. The acting though is still an essential facet and Sjöström's work suggests a particular awareness in terms of his role within the film. In that this story of the professor Isak Borg is one often of the observer. The observer though need not be distant or unknown at any point. Sjöström's performance seems to understand this idea most keenly. Now there is a bit of more of direct character development, however that is on the lighter side in terms of the purpose of this portrayal. We do however have moments early on where we see the man before his journey both through land and through time. This is rather brief but Sjöström's certainly captures the proper irritability of a man within his ways as he complains to his housekeeper before he goes on his way. This is short yet important in that Sjöström grants us a view of the man Borg is known as to others, and helps to explain the memories others have of him.
The dreams and memories though are pivotal in revealing a different man, a more introspective one. This is through a combination of a few facets though in that we both have the visual of Sjöström in these scenes, but these are also further underlined by his narration throughout the film. A narration that certainly has a touch of distance, as a man recounting a story rather than living it, however infused with the right touches of emotion within key moments that Sjöström still emphasizes even if they are part of a memory. There are the dreams and memories themselves that are quite different, particularly in the film's opening where the professor suffers a rather bleak nightmare where he witnesses an arm-less clock, as well as finds his own coffin which includes his own corpse. Although the images of this nightmare are particularly striking, one of the most pivotal images within this sequence is Sjöström's reaction. He captures not only the more direct fear that is to be expected, but also more important this unpleasant uncertainty from the nightmare. It is not of a man who understands wholly what he sees, but rather is perhaps most troubled by his lack of comprehension. This leaving a sense of this unknown that leaves Borg in this frame of mind that perhaps ensures a different man will begin the journey than the man who complained to his housekeeper.
Sjöström naturally captures this state of an uncertainty, and even a confusion that creates the right understanding to the more pleasant man we see as he begins his road trip, to receive the degree of Doctor Jubilaris from his old university. A journey that he is joined first by his daughter-in-law Marianne (Ingrid Thulin). Their interactions is well realized by both actors in carrying this surface pleasantry yet underlined by a certain distance from Sjöström, but a touch of passive aggressiveness from Thulin. As she quietly airs her grievances towards him Sjöström passively, yet sympathetically listens to her. In this Sjöström effectively captures both the state of the past and the present in this single interaction. In one he is not taken aback by her unpleasant words, and is almost accepting of them. This might seem strange what Sjöström exudes is a man more of finally listening suggesting a man in the past too saturated by his own insecurities to really to listen to his own family's problems, or even their problems with him. The unpleasantness though is combated in a way though from other memories that appear when visiting his childhood home. It is here where Sjöström is a striking part of a sequence, certainly a facet of it only, but also an essential facet to be sure. Sjöström very seems realize this understanding, of the director's viewpoint, as he allows himself to be only part of the scene, yet makes the right impact in being only a part of it.
There is nothing simple about the memory, and again Sjöström's performance is keenly aware of the importance of the complexity of the memory. In that as he watches his old days of his own past, his family, and his old sweetheart it is not a single emotion elicited when he watches. There is certainly a nostalgic joy at times, a certain joy from getting to relive the old times. There is though still an uncertainty as he watches the less perfect moments of the past. Sjöström is downright haunting in a moment portraying this moment of analyzing a solitary moment of insight into a part of the past he did not witness but is now living. A parallel observation appears in the present as they continue their journey picking up a group of youthful hitchhikers, and, briefly, a bickering middle aged married couple. Sjöström's work again is of reaction yet distinct, and frankly less dramatic to those of the memories. This is fitting towards the idea of social circumstances but also his own barrier from them. His reactions though and even interactions still reveal a man living within his own past in these interactions. In that he finds this playfulness with the young couple, again infusing a nostalgic bliss and appreciation towards youth. This is in contrast to the bickering couple where again we have that uncertainty, though less severe in this instance, as Sjöström shows the man's own marriage being represented with their horrid relationship.
The middle of his life is further explored through two pivotal scenes one of the present one of a manipulated past created through a nightmare. The nightmare is of seemingly his failure as a doctor, and witnessing a horrid time of his past. Again in this scene Sjöström is mainly just watching his past, but again there is such power in this. His eyes evoking not only an awareness of this past wound, but also the pain in processing this over again. Sjöström's work is quite of the moment, but rather finds such a power within the idea of this observation. His reaction seems bone deep as his whole body gripped state of being forced analyze his life and the pain that it entailed. This is against his interaction with a friendly gas station owner (Max von Sydow) who is more than happy to remind the professor of his deeds of the past, and his gratitude towards him. I love how Sjöström shows this almost moment of Borg being taken aback by this idea of his past having worth, leaving his reaction of this slightly pleasant bafflement that he portrays as almost unsure what to do with. The film doesn't end with a single memory or event that fixed everything for the professor by any measure. Sjöström captures instead this sense of man content with rather understanding of what has come, and what he can take with what is still there. We have a slightly reformation, not quite Scrooge level, as Borg is far pleasant towards his housekeeper, his son, and daughter-in-law than he was before. Sjöström finds the right naturalism within this change by just delivering these remarks now spoken as a man with a sense of joy in what was had, and a willingness to connect to those standing in front him. It isn't portrayed as a true revelation, but just this nuanced depiction of sense of appreciation of life in general. Sjöström doesn't leave a man lost in joy, but just able to have those moments as well as still live with his heartbreaks of old. Sjöström's work is not always the center of a scene, it is always the center of the true emotion in terms of the reflection of a scene, and what the scenes means in a greater context of the professor's life. Sjöström's subdued performance captures the emotion of this journey beautifully being an essential facet to every captivating image and sequence by properly establishing the meaning to each one.