Two main characters, Marianne and Johan, are a married couple who have a very eventful, somewhat troubled married life. At first they are happy but later the hubris of the everyday life take their toll on them. Whether they will be able to stay together is a hard question.
The film would receive a sequel, Saraband, thirty years later, with Ullman and Josephson reprising their roles.
- Acid Reflux Nightmare: Marianne wakes up from a nightmare near the end. She asks Johan what causes nightmares; he suggests something she ate.
- Ain't Too Proud to Beg: As Johan is leaving her, Marianne grabs him and starts begging him to tell him he'll come back to her, even if it is a lie.
- All Periods Are PMS: One morning (episode 2 in the TV version) Marianne wakes up in an irritable/energetic mood that prompts Johan to ask if she's on her period. This is most likely because she had an abortion not long ago.
- Amicable Exes: As tense as their divorce was, Marianne and Johan are ultimately on friendly (more than friendly, even) terms long after it's done.
- Bourgeois Bohemian: Marianne and Johan reference their political activism in youth several times. They still hold onto those beliefs in a toned-down way, with their professions reflecting them (family lawyer and university professor respectively), and they are very well-off and accommodated in life.
- Compilation Movie: The film version is a re-cut of the six-episodes-long TV series that's about two hours shorter.
- Creative Closing Credits: In the TV series, Bergman reads the credits out loud over a lovely picture of the island where the series was shot.
- Divorce Is Temporary: Played with in that although Marianne and Johan do have an affair with each other after divorcing, they don't commit to each other again and stick with their new spouses. The point of all this is that they're too entangled to stay away from each other for long.
- Foreshadowing: In the beginning of the film Marianne and Johan receive at their house Katarina and Peter who fight bitterly, both remarking how good a couple Marianne and Johan are compared to themselves. Of course subsequently the titular couple's relationship sours and they become all similar to Katarina and Peter.
- The Ghost: Paula is a key character as Johan's paramour, but she never actually appears.
- Happily Married: This trope is intensively lampshaded for Marianne and Johan in the beginning first by the journalists who come to their house to interview them and later by their guests Katarina and Peter. Later things become quite a bit darker.
- Homage: Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives.
- Minimalist Cast: True to form with Bergman, it's a small cast. In episodes 3, 4 and 5, only Marianne and Johan appear.
- Not So Stoic: Johan and Marianne's relationship is so polite, even when fighting, that it comes as a bit of a shock when they both start cracking when Johan reveals that he's having an affair.
- Poor Communication Kills: The Movie. It's not that Johan and Marianne don't communicate, it's just that their communication never really gets to the heart of the matter until it's too late.Johan: We're emotional illiterates. We've been taught about anatomy and farming methods in Africa. We've learned mathematical formulas by heart. But we haven't been taught a thing about our souls. We're tremendously ignorant about what makes people tick.
- Unwanted Spouse: Marianne's client Mrs. Jacobi wants to divorce because she is incapable of feeling love for her husband (though she doesn't hate him either).
- Your Cheating Heart:
- Johan has been cheating on Marianne with a younger woman named Paula for a while. And all their friends (and the maid) know about it.
- In the end, after everything they've gone through, Marianne and Johan are revealed to be cheating on their new spouses with each other.