Synopsis: Kristin Lavransdatter is the daughter of a prominent landowner in medieval Norway. She grows up in harmony with the ideals of the time: strong family ties, social pride, and devout Christianity. Begrudgingly, she accepts the fact that her father has arranged for her to marry the son of another well-respected landowner. Things don’t go as planned.
Kristin Lavransdatter tells the story of a young woman coming of age over 600 years ago on her family’s farm in the remote Norwegian mountains.
There is pomp. There are circumstances. There is mysticism. There are trolls and goblins and such all about.
And there is snow. Lots of it.
What this film is really about, however, is a struggle of wills. Along a twisting and tempestuous road, Kristin wrestles with her own free will, the will of her father and, ultimately, the will of God.
It is up to us to determine who or what wills out.
Nearly two-thirds of present day Norway identify as Christians. That percentage was far nearer 100% of the country’s population (not including trolls) during the age in which Kristin Lavransdatter takes place. And the strict adherence to the tenets of the faith afforded zero tolerance for anything less than absolute resignation and commitment. But while Kristin invests faith in God, she comes to find that she must follow her heart to be happy on earth. It is a sensibility, albeit painfully arrived at, of to thine own self be true—any consequences resultant be damned.
Kristin’s father mandates that his eldest daughter marry the son of a fellow prosperous landowner. Her suitor is a simple young man of modest ambition. And while certainly a nice guy, he does not embody nor provide for what Kristin envisions her future to be.
Enter the dashing and worldly knight. He has success in ferocious battle and his way with the women of his choosing. He steals Kristin’s heart, sweeping her away into a whirlwind of passion. Immediately, she is hurling headlong into tempestuous tumult, rife with forbidden traditional and religious taboos.
The questions raised here are many.
Is it incumbent upon Kristin that she repent of all of her mounting sins, that she strive with all her might to improve? To make it her mission to be better as a servant of the Almighty?
Or does she continue to drown in a volatile and churning sea, flooded with the dark waters of single-minded self-involvement and capricious fleeting pleasures?
Norwegian film legend Liv Ullmann has written and directed an epic saga here. It is one in which there are no easy answers—or ways out.
Still, in the end, Kristin Lavransdatter seems intent on conveying a simple message. One that is both time-tested and without end.
As mortals, we are weak. We lose our way. We abandon control. Our very souls are provoked to the limit—and beyond. It is what we do in the aftermath of cataclysm, then, that determines who we truly are. Through rectifying the wrong done to others. By helping to repair the damage that has been wreaked. And, in so doing, delivering an impact in determining what our lasting fate shall be.
It is said that to forgive is divine. It’s also human.
Kristin Lavransdatter (1995) is streaming at filmsofnorway.com.
This article originally appeared in the September 2023 issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.