In the working class part of Stockholm, two teenagers are stuck in dead end jobs. Harry is picked on and browbeaten at the porcelain shop where he works as a delivery boy; Monika is constantly sexually harassed at the grocery store where she works. They meet and ran off to escape the dreary world. They have a carefree romance celebrating their youth and their love, and they try to live by their rules against the wishes of their parental and social norms. But alas, summer is ending, and reality comes in, and gives new challenges to the couple.
The film was Bergman's international Breakthrough Hit, and made Andersson a global sensation. Sensational in America for its nudity (very brief and tame, but this is The '50s). Noted exploitation producer and director Kroger Babb released it in America under the title Monika, the Story of a Bad Girl.
This film provide examples of:
- Alcoholic Parent: Monika's father is a drunk who is friendly unless Monika snapped at him.
- Awful Wedded Life: Monika and Harry's passionate summer romance becomes an angry sniping marriage after they come back home and they're stuck in an apartment with a cranky baby.
- Bittersweet 17: Monika is 17, Harry is 19. Guess which one turns out to be ready to take responsibility?
- Bittersweet Ending: Monika and Harry ultimately choose to live lives without each other. By the film's end, Harry is only working and going to school to support himself and his daughter, no longer the high-strung Monika. He's on track to live a better life, though he will likely carry some pain with him the rest of his life.
- Blade-of-Grass Cut: The extreme close-up of a spider and its web, as Monika is frantically scrambling back to Harry with the stolen roast, is evocative of the money pressures that will soon doom their summer of romance.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: A scene near the end in which Monika, out with another man after her marriage to Harry, lights a cigarette and then lights his with hers. She leans back, then turns and looks straight at the camera, a defiant look on her face. Then the rest of the lighting fades to black, leaving only Monika's face spotlighted as she continues to stare defiantly at the camera.
- Cigarette of Anxiety: A jittery Harry stumbles outside and lights one up after coming home from a business trip and catching Monika in bed with Lelle.
- Contrived Coincidence: Monika and Harry pull their boat in at a spot that is just a few yards from where Monika's ex-boyfriend Lelle is camping. Lelle sets fire to their boat.
- Cool People Rebel Against Authority: What Harry and Monika tell themselves they're doing. (Interestingly, one of the aspects excised in the American cut.)
- Exploitation Film: The movie was recut in the USA to stress its juicy bits as well as fights and chases and was marketed as a lurid Scandinavian item. It contributed to the fame of Sweden as a sexually unhinged country. Originally it is quite a serious film, of course, despite some share of nudity and violence.
- This movie is not unique in venturing into the territory of exploitation as The Virgin Spring influenced the rape and revenge genre.
- Foreshadowing: One day at the beach Monika tries to fit her skirt on, struggles a bit, and says that she's getting "porky". A couple of scenes later she's telling Harry that she's pregnant.
- Love at First Sight: Monika and Harry met at a cafe and Monika promptly suggested that they ran off together and explore the world.
- Manic Pixie Dream Girl: A deconstruction. Monika is a wild party girl who impulsively leads Harry on to a passionate, romantic summer of sex by the seaside. But when the money runs out and it's time to come home and stop being a manic pixie and look after the baby, well, Monika is still going to be a MPDG, no matter what. This leads her to do stuff like neglect their daughter, blow the rent money on a fancy dress, and cheat on other men the moment Harry's back is turned.
- Neutral Female: Averted. When Harry and Lelle are fighting after Lelle sets fire to their boat, Monika grabs a frying pan from the boat and whacks Lelle over the head with it.
- Parental Neglect: Monika either has Harry or Harry's aunt take care of her daughter. Despite the fact that she has no job.
- Reality Ensues: Monika and Harry's sex- and sun-fulled summer idyll by the beach comes to an end when they run out of money and food.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Unusually for Bergman, every authority figure they run into after returning to the city, from priests to bosses. They have no one to blame but themselves.
- Sexy Scandinavian: There's a lot of reasons to believe that Monika was the Trope Maker or the Trope Codifier for this. The movie shows nudity, glorifies a woman who is entirely comfortable with her body, and refuses to submit to bourgeois norms and codes.
- Skinnydipping: Monika does this, as she and Harry are alone on a remote section of coast.
- Stylistic Suck: The "American" movie Harry and Monika go to see. Monika is absolutely entranced with it exactly because it bears no resemblance to any reality she knows.
- Sweater Girl: Just one of the many ways in which Monika provides fanservice.
- Take This Job and Shove It: Harry does this almost by accident, suggesting to his boss that if they're unhappy they might as well fire him.
- Would Hit a Girl: Monika's father and Harry.