Persona: My Review
Today I rewatched Ingmar Bergman’s masterpiece, the brilliant 1966 art film Persona. It is 80+ minutes of pure human magic, as it touched deeply into the darkest secrets of the human soul, personality and life. After an encounter in the hospital, Bergman was inspired to make this film which takes a glaring look into the souls and relationships of people.
The plot tells of Alma (Bibi Andersson), a young nurse who is assigned to care for Elizabet Vogler (Liv Ullmann), an actress who has inexplicably become mute. They relax in a summer house, engaging in various activities, and they at first seem to be complete opposites. Alma is the talkative, naive one who discusses her most intimate secrets with Elizabet, the quiet, knowledgeable and experienced one. As the film goes on, we soon discover how similar they are. Their personalities, weaknesses and emotions begin to merge, as well as their physical appearance in a startling, deeply intelligent shot toward the end of the film.
Is there any real identity for people, or are we like animals? Separate clones who all look alike, sound alike and act alike? Many will disagree, some will agree… it’s clear this troubling thought was on Bergman’s mind at the time.
The film opens with a fantastic prologue which is burned into my memory. It is a collection of strange, Buñuel-esque images which seem to tell the story of the evolution of cinema. Bergman consistently reminds us we’re watching a film, for whatever reason, such as a curious point halfway through in which the projector stops, burns out, and then the image returns, hazy and blurry, before settling down again. Another intriguing technique is showcasing the actors’ amazing talents, such as in a repeated scene which is a monologue given by Alma as she speaks for Elizabet. Elizabet has told Alma’s secrets to a friend, and now Alma is baring Elizabet’s soul. First we see Elizabet’s reaction as her secrets are revealed; a face of shame, loss, regret, and refusal. Then we watch Alma as she reminds Elizabet of the selfishness and sinful life she has led.
The mute Elizabet is a frail character, whose strength to keep up her vow of silence is bewildering. Alma is a complex machine built on fragments of memories, frustration and chaos. Elizabet observes this chaos, and other chaotic events, such as the shocking scene in which she witnesses on television a full-scale riot as a man is set on fire. The characters are eerily similar, and Bergman never ceases to remind us of this. Shocking scenes such as the one just mentioned are very present within this film; others include the scene in which Elizabet sucks Alma’s blood, a vampire metaphor used in a strong and confronting sense, or Alma’s explicit sexual confession of a lustful encounter.
People change, personalities change, and some merge. Who could forget that haunting image of the two women; one half Alma, one half Elizabet, a horrific combination which is eerily symmetrical and frighteningly glaring. Bergman’s imagery is strong as it has ever been, and makes for an amazing, visceral experience.
I highly recommend Persona, along with all of Bergman’s other films. This is a true cinematic achievement, if ever there was one. If you have seen it, leave a comment below with your thoughts. Do you agree, do you disagree? Let me know, as I’m thirsty for feedback. If you haven’t seen it, add it to your Netflix queue. Now.
Thanks for reading.