The Virgin Spring

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The Virgin Spring
Original poster
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Produced by Ingmar Bergman
Allan Ekelund
Written by Ulla Isaksson
Starring Max von Sydow
Birgitta Valberg
Gunnel Lindblom
Birgitta Pettersson
Music by Erik Nordgren
Cinematography Sven Nykvist
Edited by Oscar Rosander
Distributed by Janus Films
Release dates
  • 8 February 1960 (1960-02-08)
Running time
89 minutes
Country Sweden
Language Swedish
Box office $700,000 (USA)[1]

The Virgin Spring (Swedish: Jungfrukällan) is a 1960 Swedish film directed by Ingmar Bergman. Set in medieval Sweden, it is a revenge tale about a father's merciless response to the rape and murder of his young daughter. The story was adapted by screenwriter Ulla Isaksson from a 13th-century Swedish ballad, "Töres döttrar i Wänge" ("Töre's daughters in Vänge"). The film contains a number of themes that question morals, justice and religious beliefs; it was considered controversial when first released due to its infamous rape scene. It won for Best Foreign Language Film at the 1961 Academy Awards[2] and was also the basis for the 1972 exploitation horror film The Last House on the Left.[3]


The Virgin Spring tells the story, set in the late medieval Sweden, of a prosperous Christian whose daughter, Karin (Birgitta Pettersson), is appointed to take candles to the church. Karin is accompanied by her pregnant servant Ingeri (Gunnel Lindblom), who secretly worships the Norse deity Odin. Along their way through the forest on horseback, Ingeri becomes frightened when they come to a stream-side mill and the two part and Karin sets out on her own.

Ingeri encounters a one-eyed man at the stream-side mill. When Ingeri asks about his name he enigmatically responds he has none "in these days". The man tells Ingeri that he can see and hear things others can not. When the man makes sexual advances towards her and promises her power, Ingeri flees in terror. Meanwhile, Karin meets three herdsmen (two men and a boy) and invites them to eat her lunch with her. Eventually, the two older men rape and murder Karin while Ingeri watches, hidden, from a distance. The two older men then leave the scene with Karin's clothing. The younger (a boy) is left with the body and to watch the goats, but he takes the situation poorly and quickly becomes sick with guilt.

The herders then, unknowingly, seek shelter at the home of the murdered girl. Her parents, played by Max von Sydow and Birgitta Valberg, discover that the goat herders murdered their daughter when the goat herders offer to sell Karin's clothes to her mother. After they fall asleep, the mother locks the trio in the chamber. Ingeri returns to the farm and breaks down in front of the father; she tells him about the rape and confesses that she secretly wished for Karin's death out of jealousy. She does not mention her encounter with the one-eyed man. In a rage, the father stabs one of the herders to death with a strange dagger before killing the other two with his bare hands.

That same day, the parents set out to find their daughter's body with the help of Ingeri. Her father vows that, although he cannot understand why God would allow such a thing to happen, he will build a church at the site of his daughter's death. As her parents lift her head from the ground, a spring begins to flow from where she was lying. Ingeri then begins to wash herself with the water and Karin's parents clean their daughter's muddied face.



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, the occult, questioning of religious faith, sexual innocence, justice, and the nature of evil. The film poses many moral questions to its audience, primarily concerning the revenge enacted by the parents of Karin, and if it was justified. 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 soon after they are beheaded. 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 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.


Fort Worth, Texas, banned showings of the film because of the rape scene. Janus Films v. City of Fort Worth, 354 S.W.2d 597 (1962), and the Texas Supreme Court upheld the ban, 358 S.W.2d 589 (Tex. 1962).

Home media

The Virgin Spring was released in the Criterion Collection on 26 January 2006, and was the 321st entry into the Criterion series. The film was completely re-mastered with a high definition transfer that was approved by director Ingmar Bergman.


Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 94% of 16 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 8.1/10.[4]

Awards and nominations

The Virgin Spring won the following awards:

It was also nominated for the following categories:

See also


  1. Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry, University of Wisconsin Press, 1987 p. 231
  2. 2.0 2.1 "The 33rd Academy Awards (1961) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 29 October 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Roger Ebert: Last House on the Left". Retrieved 28 November 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Jungfrukällan (The Virgin Spring) (1959)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 17 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Festival de Cannes: The Virgin Spring". Retrieved 15 February 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Preceded by
Black Orpheus
Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film
Succeeded by
Through a Glass Darkly