…In which the successful, independent heroine returns, book-worm young daughter in tow and for the first time in a decade or so after living for years in the city, to the provincial village of her youth, on account of a minor automobile accident on the highway not far from town.
Involuntarily towed to the nearest local garage, she is forced to wait for several days for parts to be delivered from Stockholm, and while she is hardly shocked at first to re-encounter the smallness and the pettiness of village life, she still finds that she has to gird herself to encounter the ghosts that she had once thought she had succeeded in leaving behind: the ascetic Calvinist pastor who had abused her, the first love she’d couldn’t bear saying goodbye to, the mother who hadn’t spoken to her ever since—and who had assumed that the all-too-public shaming that the heroine had brought down upon the good bourgeois family name (they’d been forced to abandon their nearly front-row pew in the local church over the scandal that the girl had caused!) was due to the looseness of her morals and not to the hypocrisy of the pastor who had raped and then banished her from the congregation.
Will the mother stoop to the mending of fences when confronted by the truth? Will the never-wed first love look past the sins that he still imagines are his beloved’s and not the irreproachable pastor’s, and find it in his heart to embrace both the heroine and her miraculously beautiful daughter (so swept away into a world of imagination, so like her mother when she was that age—but, in the eyes of society, completely illegitimate) as his own? Will the pastor, now long since retired and nearing death, admit of his sins, both to the heroine and to himself, and depart from this world with a clear conscience, and with the forgiveness that only she can provide? What was it, again, that Descartes said that Archimedes said about moving the whole wide world, if only he were given one firm place to stand, one fixed point, sufficient time and a long enough lever?
Ah, though the retrograde goddess shall ever requite her Pangloss, and though our heroine serves the tutelary spirits of a dawning, somewhat more emancipatory age, she nevertheless must re-learn a thing or two about time and distance as lived on a Lilliputian scale, and about the dangers posed to the solitary, questing, still-beating heart by the inhumane, ossified, scrupulous conventions of a fetid backwater that she once mistook for her true home. Thus, she soon learns that though old wounds can be re-opened, they are best swiftly cauterised and removed from the source of the infection: standing on the medieval bridge that spans the shallow, dilatory river that runs through the heart of the village, she has a vision that tells her she must surely depart without saying good-bye to anyone, the moment her car is repaired, lest she become her mother, and her daughter become her. Salvation lies only in moving on—and in remaining true to herself. For each of these three people are doomed to ultimately disappoint her in their incapacity to change or to grow, and the village itself will surely devour both her and her daughter if she gives way to nostalgia and decides to tarry here any longer. The heroine comes to flat on her back, staring up at her daughter, who tells her that she fainted, ‘just like the sisters in that Jane Austen book’. She smiles at her daughter, but mutters to herself: ‘Wake the hell up.’
Sure enough, in the closing scene of the film, as she is walking to visit an old classmate (whom she has been told is confined to her house by a mysterious, paralyzing illness), on a hunch she pops into the garage and finds that the parts for her car have arrived early, and that the young mechanic (himself proudly announcing that he has just been accepted into engineering at Uppsala University) has just finished installing them. She immediately seizes the opportunity to leave without even collecting her things from her mother’s house. As she prepares to drive away, she looks at her daughter (as always, absorbed in a book), and sees a flower whose face tracks the sun as surely as her roots lie in the rotten manure of the past, and tells herself that this girl is all that could ever possibly matter to her. She starts the car and drives away only after checking and re-checking that the daughter (who had been blithely travelling beside her in the film’s carefree opening scene) is buckled snugly and securely into the car’s back seat. The camera then shows the car speeding away from the village, which is miles away now in the distance, but in her rear-view mirror our heroine can only see the happy young girl sitting behind her, still reading.