After exploring his disillusionment with religion in his previous films, Ingmar Bergman adopted a humanistic approach for this classic study in isolationism. Legendary Scandinavian director Victor Sjöström stars as Isak Borg, an aging medical professor who reassesses his life while journeying to his former university to receive an honorary degree.
Borg travels with his estranged daughter-in-law Marianne (Ingrid Thulin) and revisits many of the landmarks of his past, conjuring up memories of his family and of his onetime sweetheart Sara (Bibi Andersson). Returning to the present, he meets a teenage girl who resembles the long-departed Sara.
She hitches a ride with the professor and Marianne, as do a ceaselessly bickering married couple.
These new characters eventually become intertwined with Borg's hazy flashbacks and fantasies, as the old man recalls the disappointments and disillusionments that have left him cold and guilt-ridden, attributes emphasized when he encounters his equally cold and resentful son.
Bookending Borg's odyssey of self-discovery are a series of symbolic images at the beginning of the film (a clock without hands, a man without a face) and a hauntingly beautiful finale, in which professor is beckoned back to the perfect world he left behind so many years earlier.
This classic art movie remains one of Bergman's most accessible films and one of the most influential European art movies of its generation. Its intense focus on one man's thoughts, regrets, and memories set the tone for innumerable psychological character studies in its wake.