Bergmania #3: Persona (1966)


Persona opens on footage of a child staring at an oversized and blurred photograph of a woman. In between this opening, there are cuts of penises scattered through the sequence that are pretty confusing when seen as a singular entity. The camera changes angles frequently and the ‘music’ being played throughout the few minutes sets you up for the film perfectly. The story is about a stage actress, Elisabeth Volger (Liv Ullman) who just stops speaking one evening. She is sent for psychiatric and physical examination and is appointed a nurse named Alma (Bibi Andersson). After Elisabeth is deemed fine, both Alma and Elisabeth decide that it’s best if they spend time alone in a house somewhere secluded. What initially started as a hope to bring the actress back to reality quickly turned into a catharsis for the nurse.

The viewer is to assume that this entire story is sparked by Bergman’s fascination and dissatisfaction with God, as Elisabeth falls in deep solitude after witnessing the horror of Vietnam on the television while isolated in her room before a performance. Blatantly begging the question “Why would a God allow all this to happen?” and in shock of seeing the gruesome events, becoming mute.

Through communication (or lack thereof) Alma opens herself up to Elisabeth on varying degrees because she’s never had the opportunity to do so in a world that’s ignored her. Though quite different women – based on nothing more than assumption – they seem to find companionship and comfort with each other, but definitely more so on Alma’s side, even crossing into placing a romanticized scope around Elisabeth.

Like most parallel people, this comes to ugly fronts as well through arguments and belligerent disregard for the others safety. An example of their opposing views on life would be that Alma is happy with a mundane existence and Elisabeth cannot stand such torture. Elisabeth feels betrayed by Alma when she crosses into her past-life through a surrealist maneuver by Bergman, in which Alma makes love to Elisabeth’s husband. The story stretches beyond the physical into the metaphysical quite a few times – taking the viewer along a ride that spans the space of the universe.

Bergman concludes the film with the same child from the beginning caressing Alma’s face showing that it was her aborted child from earlier in the story. With Alma’s past regressed sexual existence and the child, it is put forth that this entire story was not about Elisabeth at all, but rather the rebirth of Alma. A dark and dreary story of passion and hatred. [9/10]