Virgin Spring, The (1960)

The Virgin Spring is one of Ingmar Bergman's bleakest and disturbing films, a tragic story set in medieval Sweden about a young, pure daughter of a strong Christian family who is brutally raped and murdered by three ruthless herdsmen on her way to church to deliver candles for the Virgin Mary. The herdsmen eventually seek shelter at the victims family's home and when the parents finds out about the beggars evil and horrendous acts, the father takes the law into his own hands and unmercifully murders his aggressors; including one who is just a small child. This was the first film that won Bergman the first of many Oscars for Best Foreign Language film and the story has been remade several times; most famously into the 1972 exploitation horror film The Last House on the Left. And where The Last House on the Left was made merely just to shock and horrify its audience, The Virgin Spring tells a story that is much more layered and poetic which contains such themes as Christianity, Paganism, vengeance, rape, questioning of religious faith, sexual innocence, justice, the absence of God and the nature of evil. The film also poses many moral and unanswered questions that primarily concern the revenge acted upon by the parents, and whether or not it was justified, or savage murder. [fsbProduct product_id='834' size='200' align='right']When The Virgin Spring hit the United States in 1960, the rape sequence incited censorship across the country specifically Fort Worth, Texas, who banned showings of the film because of the scene, and yet Bergman stood behind it and believed the scene was necessary for the story he was telling. The grieving confession and prayer the father gives at the end of the film is one of the most emotionally shattering scenes in cinematic history, where anyone who has lost someone close to them to senseless violence could relate to. "God, you saw saw it. The death of an innocent child and my vengeance. You allowed it to happen. I don't understand you...I don't understand you..."



The film is set in medieval Sweden as the opening shot shows a dark-haired pregnant foster child named Ingeri blowing trying to make a fire, as she secretly worships the Norse deity Odin saying, "Odin, come . Come to my aid." Ingeri is looked upon by everyone as someone who is a savage child and not a pure child of God and is talked down to by all the other servants. The strong and righteous father named Tore (Max Von Sydow) is praying to the cross of Jesus saying, "Heavenly Father, Son and Holy Ghost will all your hosts of angels, guard us this day and always from the devil's snares. Lord, let not temptation, shame, nor danger befall thy servants this day."

Right before dinner the mother named Mareta tells one of the maids that she will have to ride to church with the candles for the Virgin Mary that day because Karin might have a fever. Ingeri interrupts and rudely says, "she certainly burned with fever at the dance last night," as Ingeri suggests how Karin flirted with several men at a dance the night before. Mareta yells at Ingeri and says, "I'm not afraid my daughter will walk in your filthy doorsteps. You two have always been as different as the rose and the thorn. You've always pricked others and made them suffer! You can't help yourself. We should throw you out, after the mess you've gotten yourself into."

Tore comes into the house and joins the family and all the servants for dinner. While eating Tore asks where his daughter Karin is. When Mareta tells him she has slept in and is too sick to deliver the candles to the church, he doesn't find that a good enough of an excuse. He tells his wife that in tradition a virgin must always take the candles to the church, and Mareta tells her husband, "You're much too conscious about duty and honor when it concerns Karin." Tore tells his wife, "You're much to soft and weak when it concerns her." Mareta has a bad feeling on letting her go telling her husband on how she had an awful dream about Karin the night before but Tore thinks nothing of it and tells her to wake up her daughter for the trip.

Ingeri is ordered to make Karin a lunch for her travels and when she does she purposely puts a toad into one of her wheat cakes. Karin is a blond, beautiful and yet vain and spoiled child and tells her mother she will only go on this trip to the church if she can wear the outfit of her choosing. Once in the fancy dress that she prefers her mother combs her blond hair and Karin says she prefers her hair down as she admires her beauty in the mirror. Her mother says, "if you always get your way, you'll give the devil such joy that the saints will punish you with boils and toothaches." Karin asks why her mother always talks about the devil because father never does and her mother says, "because the devil seduces the innocent and seeks to destroy goodness before it can blossom."

Karin's Father comes up to see his daughter and sees she is not as sick as she pretends but she charms him with her innocence and he laughs picking her up saying, "I'll ride into the mountains with this naughty girl, and say, 'I won't have such a daughter. Imprison her in the mountains for seven years until she's been tamed." Karin then asks her father if Ingeri can come along to church because she never gets away from the farm and her father reluctantly agrees to it. Karin and Ingeri get ready to leave on two separate horses as Karin's father says to her before riding off, "Christ our Lord, bless this young life."

Karin sings a song as the two girls journey towards the church singing, "the little bird, he sours so high, and rides the wind on his wing. It is such work, such work to fly. And over high mountains to spring. The streams flow so merrily all under the verdant springtimes breeze..." The two girls stop to rest and Karin asks Ingeri if the baby inside her hurts and Ingeri tells her she will learn herself one day. Karin naïvely says, "then I'll be married and mistress of my house with honor." Ingeri says, "we'll see about honor when a man takes your waist or strokes your neck." Karin tells her that no man will go to bed with her without marriage. Ingeri says, "and if he meets you in the pasture and pulls you down behind a bush?"

The two girls gets approached by the man Karin was dancing and flirting with the night before who is also slightly suggested in being the father of Ingeri's child. Ingeri is jealous of Karin's beauty and of her dancing with him but Karin assures her she only danced with him to ask him if there might be help for Ingeri and the child. Suddenly getting dark, Ingeri doesn't want to go on because she is scared of the forest at night. Karin has her rest at a man's cottage while Karin goes on alone towards the church. While staying with the old man Ingeri gets frightened by his peculiar personality as the man reveals to her that he is a pagan who makes sacrifices to Odin; as he shows Ingeri the remains of his last sacrifice. "You've taken human blood. You've made an offering to Odin," says Ingeri.

Ingeri is frightened and breaks free of the man and makes her way outside the cottage as she flees down a creek in dread. While Karin is on her journey she runs into two sheep herdsmen and a young boy. They see her sudden beauty and they whisper to one another as they approach her with one playing a harp which excites Karin. She asks to see the harp and asks the three strangers where there from. One of the men is mute as the other man says, "three brothers who lost both father and mother too early in life." The other man who is a mute has his brother explain to Karin that evil men cut his tongue out of his throat. Karin politely offers some of her lunch to the three strangers and they accept.

As Karin and the three herdsmen all lay out and have a picnic together, Ingeri sees them from the distance and hides in the woods to watch. Before eating, Karin has the men pray with her in which it seems they don't seem to care. They asks Karin where her farm is and she says that it is east of the mountain and west of the forest and is also very large. One of the men says, "the proud maiden must be a king's daughter." After some laughter there is suddenly an uncomfortable silence and one of the brothers translates what his mute brother is trying to say which is how beautiful Karin's white hands are. Karin naïvely can't see the danger she is in as she looks at her hands smiling and says, "because princesses needn't do the washing or make fires." The two men start getting closer to her saying how she has a lovely neck and such a narrow waist.

Right when the boy grabs the wheat cake in which has the toad inside his two older brothers start attacking Karin which makes him drop the wheat cake as the toad fall out. The two men grab Karin and force her to the ground pinning her down as the young boy watches from a distance along with Ingeri who is hiding out in the forest. They watch the two men defile and rape Karin, and at first Ingeri picks up a rock to defend Karin but can't go through with it. After the rape, Karin slowly gets up and seems to be in shock and bewildered as she suddenly beings to cry when one of the men blunders her to death with a club. It starts to snow as the two brothers leave the scene with Karin's clothing. The younger boy is left with the body to watch the sheep. He obviously takes the situation poorly because he quickly becomes sick with guilt looking at Karin's body and begins to puke.

The herders then, unknowingly, seek shelter at the home of the murdered girl's parents home and ask to stay the night because of the cold. Tore lets the three stay in the barn and even invites the three men to sit down and eat with them as guests. Tore makes a prayer and during the prayer the young boy slowly looks up at one of his brothers and feeling disgusted with the food he is being served, tosses the plate over. "Please forgive my poor little brother," says one of the men. He tells Tore that he only acts like this when they've starved a long time.

Tore tells the three strangers that there is work that needs to be done on the farm in the morning and he will let them know about it early the next day. When Mareta tries to comfort and tuck the child into bed the child is afraid because he is not used to such love and tenderness. Mareta says to him, "you poor thing, but God is merciful...more merciful than you think." One of the farm workers decides to tell a short story to the young boy saying, "a hand will grasp you...and you will be taken far away...where evil can no longer harm you." The boy is frightened of the story at first but at the end it seems to soothe him.

While Tore and Mareta are in bed Tore says to his wife, "If Karin doesn't come home tonight she'll surely return tomorrow." Mareta is worried about their daughter and is praying to God saying, "she's all I have. She's the only one I have left." When Mareta suddenly hears the cries of the young boy, she rushes to the barn and realizes that the two older brothers have struck the boy because of his behavior earlier at the dinner table.

Before Mareta leaves the barn one of the herdsmen offers Mareta an expensive silk garment that is slightly ripped saying it's all they have left of their dying sister; Mareta knowing he is lying. The silk garment they are offering was from the dress that Karin was wearing and the one her mother personally picked out for her that early morning. Her mother takes the garment and leaves the barn and when alone holds Karin's garment in her hands and starts to cry realizing the fate of her beloved daughter. She then bars the barn door shut so the three of them are not able to leave and then shows her husband her discovery. Tore notices blood on the garment and quickly gets up and gets dressed. When Mareta asks her husband what he is going to do, Tore grabs a large dagger and leaves the room.

Ingeri has just arrived home and because of fear she hides out outside under the stairs. When Tora finds her he asks her what she knows. She says, "kill me first. My guilt is greater than theirs. I willed it to happen. Ever since I became with child I've hated her. The very day I prayed for it...he did it." Ingeri then blames the god of Odin and says that he went through the three men and made them go on top Karin like devils because Ingeri truly prayed for it. "They fell upon her and held her down...and they took her..And when it was over...they beat her to death with a club." She blames herself telling Tore how she meant to help her but cowardly backed down out of fear. Tore holds Ingeri tightly comforting her as the morning sun starts to rise.

In one of the best scenes of the film Tore looks at a lonesome planted birch tree on his land and takes his frustration down by wrestling with it and pushing it over with all his might. He then takes the branches off and cleanses his body before the act of revenge. After the cleansing he asks Ingeri to bring him the butcher knife. His wife follows him into the barn as he quietly goes through the men's bags while they are sleeping and discovers the rest of Karin's outfit and shoes. Tore now confirmed of his daughter's murder takes a seat looking over the three murderers conflicted on what he should do.

He then makes his decision as he wakes the three of them up and violently stabs the mute in the lungs with the butcher knife. The other man pulls out a knife but Tore wrestles the knife out of his hand and stabs the man in the chest. The child runs off and into the arms of Mareta for safety but Tore grabs the boy and ruthlessly picks up the child and tosses him over breaking the boys neck. Tore looks around at the three human lives he has taken as one of the bodies is slowly roasting in a small bond fire. Tore holds up his hands that are now soaked of blood and have committed savage vengeance and he starts to break down saying, "God, forgive me for what I have done." As he leaves the barn Mareta hugs the dead child and weeps.

At the end of the film, Tore, Mareta, Ingeri and all of his farm crew set off to find Karin. Ingeri directs everyone to Karin's deceased body and when finding her the two parents grieve and weep over their daughter's body. In one of the most powerful confessions in all of film history, Tore collapses and breaks down as he questions to God the things we all question in our lives. "God, you saw saw it. The death of an innocent child and my vengeance. You allowed it to happen. I don't understand you. I don't understand you. Yet still I ask your forgiveness. I know no other way to make peace with myself than with my own hands. I don't know any other way to live. I promise you,, by the dead body of my only child, I promise that as penance for my sin, I shall build you a church. On this spot I shall build it. Out of mortar and stone...and with these very hands..."

After his prayer, Tora lifts Karin's head from the ground, and a spring begins to flow from where she was lying. Karin's parents clean Karin's muddied face with the water as Ingeri begins to cleanse herself as a sort of rebirth of a new spiritual life.



Ingmar Bergman was enjoying one of the happiest spells of his life while making The Virgin Spring (1960). On a personal level, he was felicitously ensconced in his fourth marriage, to the concert pianist Käbi Laretei. And, professionally, he was delighted with his new cameraman, Sven Nykvist (his regular collaborator, Gunnar Fischer, had been shooting a Disney feature during the winter and was unavailable for preproduction work). It was Nykvist’s first opportunity to work at length with the maestro (he had done some exterior shooting for Sawdust and Tinsel [1953]), and the two men found an instant affinity for each other. Nykvist would bring to Bergman’s cinema an altogether fresh look: more natural, three-dimensional location photography, less expressionistic studio work.

Bergman has never acknowledged The Virgin Spring as a major achievement. It rates barely a mention in either of his autobiographical books, The Magic Lantern and Images. Yet he recognizes that the Academy Award it won, in 1961, helped his career from a financial and prestige point of view. And, despite the director’s reticence, four decades later, the sheer sculpted purity of the film, and its powerful narrative thrust, confirm The Virgin Spring as one of the highest peaks in the Bergman range.

This is one of the few films that Bergman directed from a screenplay by someone other than himself. Ulla Isaksson, who had scripted Brink of Life for him two years earlier and was a much respected novelist, gives considerable inner tension—and moral ambiguity—to what began as a simple thirteenth-century Swedish ballad. That source tells of a young maiden who is raped and murdered on her way to church, and of how her father wreaks ruthless vengeance on her aggressors.

The film maintains the setting and period, when Sweden was shifting reluctantly from paganism to Christianity. Ingeri, the family’s foster child, worships Odin—the prime divinity in the Norse pantheon, standing for war and death—in secret, for Töre (Max von Sydow) and, especially, his wife, Märeta (Birgitta Valberg), are committed to the fledgling Christian faith. Some of the retainers have never seen a church, while others describe such buildings with awe and reverence.

The collision between the kindly spirit of the New Testament and the pent-up savagery of paganism runs as a leitmotif through the entire film. The heathen world and its superstitions are symbolized by the sinister old man at the ford, who cherishes his box of relics and terrifies Ingeri, and by the rapist’s furious trampling on the gleaming white candles that tumble from Karin’s bag. The pagan significance of fire, earth, and water emerges in several scenes: from the opening shots of Ingeri blowing alight the morning fire at the farm to the close-ups of a sparkling stream in the forest and, finally, of the water that flows from beneath Karin’s corpse as Töre lifts her head in sorrow.

The Christian idiom marks such scenes as the beggar’s gesture of fealty to Töre’s wife when she serves him food, and the grace recited by a gullible Karin as she shares her bread and water with the men who are about to violate her. Marik Vos’s costumes emphasize the distinction between the ancient and modern approaches to life and religion. Ingeri is clad in a coarse, unbuttoned dress, while Karin wears a magnificent silken shift (“sewn by fifteen maidens,” says her mother proudly), in honor of her Christian mission—bearing the candles to church this fateful medieval Sunday. Töre, a heathen who has converted (reluctantly, one senses) to Christianity, dons first formal, then outlandish, apparel, an indication of his equivocal attitude to faith.

Von Sydow, already stunning in The Seventh Seal (1957) and The Magician (1958), creates an imperious Töre from the start. He’s a patriarch whose obduracy will eventually bring him to his knees. As Ingeri, Gunnel Lindblom embodies a dark, sensual threat to the emergence of Christian morality, while Valberg’s mother suffers excruciatingly in her ascetic restraint and adoration of her daughter as the bright new hope of both the family and her faith. Birgitta Pettersson gives Karin a dangerous hint of vanity and sanctimoniousness. Spoiled by her parents, she nonetheless conveys an appalling pathos during the rape sequence.

That scene is weighted carefully to justify the savagery of Töre’s vengeance. Trapped in a forest glade by three goatherd brothers, Karin is pinned down and raped by the two older siblings, then clumsily handled by the youngest. By today’s screen standards, the sequence looks tame, but it created quite a furor when the film first appeared (in February 1960 in Scandinavia, and then in November in the U.S.). And, despite the scene’s relative inexplicitness, the palpable sense of loss of beauty and innocence that it evokes still appalls us. A relentless Bergman obliges the audience to share Karin’s suffering almost subjectively, as when she turns her head to stare at her ravishers, before slumping into death. Thus disgusted, one may accept the father’s right to massacre the men who have raped and killed his beloved daughter, but be surprised when this Old Testament ethic gives way, after the murder of the boy, to a sudden awareness of the Christian need to atone for one’s sins and seek forgiveness from the Almighty. Töre’s perplexed stance at the end of the film reflects modern man’s confusion also, when faced with a choice between his natural instincts and his spiritual aspirations. Christianity may prevail—and when Ingeri bathes her face in the “virgin spring,” it may seem like a conversion as much as a cleansing—but Bergman still acknowledges the shadow of a darker faith.

As he proved with The Seventh Seal, Bergman shares with the Japanese masters Akira Kurosawa and Kenji Mizoguchi a flair for evoking the medieval world with neither fuss nor extravagance. When Karin prepares her face for her journey, her youthful vanity as well as historical custom are suggested by shots of her gazing into the mirror-still water of a cask. And when Töre sits down at table, he finds his cutlery in a pouch at his belt. Even the way a door is fastened seems authentic, while many compositions recall quattrocento religious paintings, with Märeta’s head inclined to one side like the Madonna’s.

Bergman’s films never did well in his native country, and he shot each new production on a rigorous budget. The crew for The Virgin Spring was modest by Hollywood standards: just twenty-two actors and technicians, waiting for a break in the weather to set up the elaborate, Kurosawa-like tracking shots through the tightly packed trees. And the filmmaking style, as on all his projects, was intimate and informal. Cast and crew were obliged to improvise from day to day. The leaves on the trees looked too abundant for a script that demanded buds about to burst, so new locations had to be scouted farther north. The birch tree uprooted by Töre, as he prepares for the slaughter of the herdsmen, had to be planted artificially in an open field, because no stretch of ground containing just a single sapling or tree could be found. There were difficulties with the sound recording, and with the evening light in certain sequences. On one day of shooting, Bergman would later recall, two majestic cranes soared overhead. The crew dropped their equipment and scrambled up a slope to get a better view. The birds disappeared over the western horizon, and Bergman and his colleagues returned to work, invigorated by the sight. “I felt a sudden happiness and relief,” he said. “I felt secure and at home.”

The Virgin Spring marked a crucial watershed in Bergman’s attitudes toward life and the cinema. Early in the ensuing decade, he would turn to psychological issues at the expense of ethical ones. He would renounce the historical environment of The Seventh Seal, The Magician, and The Virgin Spring, and he would film his work in a harder, less mannered idiom. So this ruthless parable represents for him both a farewell to the past and a harbinger of the future, just as the 1950s gave way to the 1960s in manifold ways.

-Peter Cowie

The Virgin Spring contains a variety of themes (many of them focusing on the religious aspects of the film), including Christianity, Paganism, Norse mythology, vengeance and the occult. Threads of nihilism also run within the film, primarily displayed in the lack of human sympathy that is found in the herdsmen, and their unashamed rape, abuse, and ultimate murder of an innocent young girl. The story of The Three Living and the Three Dead, to which the film is indebted, was very common in the Middle Ages, and formed the basis for many texts and images, including the Dance of Death, and Geoffrey Chaucer's 'Pardoner's Tale'. The film is based on the 13th century Swedish ballad, Töres döttrar i Wänge. In the ballad, it is not one but three daughters that are slain by the herdsmen, and the springs gush as they're beheaded at the very end.

The three herdsmen are all adults, and the last one is left alive by the father. Karin is the mother's name rather than the daughter's, and Ingeri's character has no dialogue. The Virgin Spring also brings up the themes of redemption as the ending of the film focuses on redemption within the story, in which Karin's father, Töre, pleads to God for forgiveness for his vengeful actions, subsequently proclaiming he will build a church on the site of his daughter's murder. He also remarks his confusion toward God for the events that have unfolded over the past day, and asks why God would allow such horrendous things to happen to his people. Surprisingly, Ingmar Bergman never acknowledged The Virgin Spring as a major achievement of his. He barely mentions it in both of his autobiographical books, The Magic Lantern and Images. He does recognize that it won him the first Academy Award which greatly helped his career from a financial stand point.

And yet, many critics believe The Virgin Spring is one of the most important works that Bergman has made. The film is accurate in its portrayal of the medieval setting when Sweden was slowly shifting over from paganism to Christianity. Sweden had officially been Christian for several centuries but the old gods were still being practiced in secret, and sacrifices were being made behind closed doors. Inger in secret worships Odin which is quite understandable because of the cruel way she is treated by all the Christians. And yet when Ingeri meets the old man at the cabin who is one of the surviving pagans who makes sacrifices to Odin and who shows her disturbing objects which were the remains of his last sacrifice; she is terrified and flees.

Ingeri's hate towards the perfect and pure Karin is also very understandable in which when looking closer; Karin is a very vain, naïve and spoiled young girl who knows nothing about the hardships of life and the cruelty of the real world. Ingeri's hate for Karin is so strong that she even stuffs a toad inside her lunch which many critics believe to be an interpretation on her evil wishes she wants on Karin. Of course these horrible wishes on Karin greatly come back to haunt her when she witnesses her rape and murder in which now she feels guilty and that she is to blame. Tore and Mareta are committed Christians and yet they are also very strict and judgemental people. They unfairly favor and spoil Karin as the bright new hope for the family while the treatments the parents unload on Ingeri and the way they treat and belittle her is uncalled for and very unchristian like. Ironically they seem to be less forgiving on Ingeri accidentally getting pregnant then the brutal murder that Tore committed on an innocent child.

The brutal and savage Old Testament of paganism and the kind and forgiving New Testament of Christianity collide into one another throughout the film. Ingeri blowing light in the morning fire and the water that flows beneath Karin's head when lifted all symbolize pagan significance of fire, earth, and water. The Christian significance is in such scenes as one of the sheep herder's kind gesture of Karin's clothing to Mareta and the gullible Karin offering her bread and water to the men who are eventually going to violate her. Revenge themed films are highly popular in our film culture and are usually shown as exciting, cool, macho, arrogant and similar to a sports team where it's a victory to root for. Very rarely in films and in popular culture does the theme of revenge and murder ever take itself on a serious and emotional level.

Films like Death Wish, Kill Bill and Dirty Harry; revenge seems more of a macho entertaining absurdity and is much easier for an audience to enjoy when the villain is so nasty and the hero is so cool. Not very many stories get into the psychology of revenge and the damage it does on the person who is committing it. Most films shy away from the aftermath of a murder and the guilt on the person who took that person’s life. There are many films that show people kill other people all the time and the plot just moves on to the next scene. But most films don’t realistically examine the consequences and damages it does for the people who loved the victim, and the serious guilty feelings it can have on the person who committed the atrocious act. It’s very sad that people have no problem watching movies where people are shooting each other up, but when the story comes to a dead stop where you actually have to think about the serious actions and repercussions of the act, people aren’t interested; and I believe that is a problem within our culture.

In The Virgin Spring the father's murderous revenge is of barbaric origin; in which his New Testament beliefs somehow conformed back into the ways of the Old Testament. He murders these three men without a moment's hesitation who at the same time is supported by his wife through all of this. The steam bath he takes before committing his revenge is a cleansing ritual that is both a Christian and pagan practice and so when it all comes down to emotions and human nature; all religions in which they were all created by man, can be looked at as one.

The Virgin Spring was a sort of transitioning period for Bergman, since it was made right after his 50's films and before his 60's films. When The Virgin Spring was released in Sweden it wasn't very well received by the Swedes because they are more of a secular society. And yet when in the states it was very well received because of it's more Christian oriented society. They're usually two types of select groups that are Ingmar Bergman fans. The first group favors his films of the 50's like The Magician, The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries and Smiles of a Summer Night. The other group favors the chamber films of the 60s like Persona, Winter Light, The Passion of Anna, and Through a Glass Darkly. Very few fans mention The Virgin Spring because it was released between Bergman's transition from the 50's to the 60's which is unfortunate.

The rape scene in The Virgin Spring was very controversial when first released in 1960. The scene disturbs me every time I view it as I watch helplessly as Karin gets pinned down by the two older brothers and then left for dead in front of the youngest one. The scene seems tame by today's standards but the sense of loss of beauty and innocence still appalls me when viewing it; especially when the rapists trample over the white candles that fell out of her bag, that were meant to go to the church. Karin was a very spoiled and naïve young girl with a false idea of the cruel world around her and most of that blame can go towards her mother for letting her be so spoiled. The Virgin Spring battled censorship everywhere it went and in New York, the state Division of Motion Pictures ordered twenty-four seconds removed from the rape scene. The ruling specifically called to eliminate "all views of one herdsman pushing up her dress, exposing her thighs, and holding her legs in a raised position while another herdsman moves his body into position over her body and between her legs." For several decades most screenings of the film and on home video all contained a trimmed cut of the film. Finally, Criterion released a DVD of the complete film in its entirety, with the original rape scene intact. At the time of the controversy, Ingmar Bergman wrote an eloquent explanation of the significance of the scene and of his artistic and ethical vision:

"Fundamentally, an artist finds it difficult to explain why he has fashioned his work in this way or that. If, despite this and actually against my innermost conviction, I give my opinion of the rape scene in The Virgin Spring, I do so in order to save my work, as far as possible, from irrelevant humiliations. For me, the rape scene has an ethical significance. It show the crime in its naked atrocity, forcing us, in shocked desperation to leave aesthetic enjoyment of a work of art for passionate involvement in a human drama of crime that breeds, new crime, of guilt and grace. I should like to point out that the rape sequence, in its mercilessness and detailed objectivity, corresponds to Master Tore's administering justice to the two malefactors, as well as and this is of primary his bestial murder of the little boy. We must, in our very bowels and apart from all aesthetic judgment, take part in the two herdsmen's crime, but we must also, in despair, witness the father's evil deed. We must not hesitate in our portrayal of human degradation, even if, in our demand for truth...we must violate certain taboos."