In desperation, Helge Roos (Stellan Skarsgård) kills one of his employer's oxen to feed his starving wife and baby. He soon regrets it. After covering up his crime successfully, he is convinced by the local clergyman (Max von Sydow) to confess, creating unexpected results. The clergyman, with the help of the employer's wife (Liv Ullman), then try to convince the employer, who claims to have been fond of Helge (but obviously not enough to help him) to forgive Helge. The mood is sombre and sad with many very tender moments. Many of the characters, out of desperation, act out of conflicting motives. The screenplay, cinematography, direction and acting are superb.