A nurse at a psychiatric hospital, Alma, is given a new patient. Elisabet Vogler is a famous actress but has suddenly become apathetic, lethargic, mute and prone to fits of laughter at arbitrary, innocuous things. Alma does her best to engage Elisabet and get her to talk but the more Alma opens up to Elisabet, the more she empathises with her and becomes like her.
Written and directed by famed Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, Persona is a superb, mind-bending study on identity and personality. Well, to me it is, mostly. Every time I thought I had the movie figured out, it would take a different tack.
Reading what movie critics and psychologists think it is about, there isn't a single, unifying interpretation. So, if you say you know exactly what it is about - you're either lying or weren't concentrating. Basically, every person will have their own interpretation, dependant largely on their own background and perceptions. Isn't that the definition of art?
And it certainly feels like art. Bergman's cinematography is excellent, the soundtrack adds to the intensity and he uses symbolism extensively, and jarringly (maybe a tad overused - I didn't find it all necessary). Liv Ullman's minimalist performance - she utters only two words during the course of the movie - and the psychological aspects, especially, add to the sense of this being something more than just a movie. Quite profound, even without knowing what the profundities are (!).
I found it difficult to give this a 10, due to not understanding it fully (and believe me, I tried!) and feeling like I could have done with a more complete conclusion. However, as mentioned previously, maybe confusion / uncertain interpretation was Bergman's aim.
That part where the girl is watching TV in the hospital. So horrifying. Bergman really created how he felt about what was going on in Vietnam and the whole war.
At times, the movie is very ambiguous and you can't tell whether what your watching is really what the girl is experiencing or if it's all just a dream.
A little bit of a disappointing movie. I thought it was going to be really good, but ended up being this okay "art" film. One-time watch for me.
A nurse named Alma is put in charge of a mute actress named Elisabet Vogler. She talks to her numerous times without ever receiving an answer. Eventually, the 2 go to a beach house. After living with each other for a little while, the story twists into a bizarre and complex story beyond realism.
Many of the analysis's that I've read argue that either Alma is Elisabet's persona or vice versa. Those are interesting interpretations. However, I think that both women are personas of the boy we see at the beginning and, briefly, at the end of the film. In the movie, we learn that both Alma and Elisabet got pregnant and had an abortion. We also learn that Elisabet's baby survived, and she gave him away to a nanny. I think that that is what happened to the boy. When I was first introduced to him, I got a slight vibe that he's being mistreated at his current home since his bed looked really unappealing. He wasn't given a pillow and he only had one thin bed sheet. He also didn't have much clothes on. I felt like he could've been slightly insecure due to his seemingly poor treatment (this explains some of the seemingly random imagery at the beginning and the middle of the film, although I'm not sure about the film reels).
With that being said, I think that the personas of the 2 women represented the boy's depiction of his mother. He likely has a negative opinion of his mom since she abandoned him and left him in a dull environment. It seems like he's punishing both of the women initially. Elisabet is being punished as he's not allowing her to talk. Alma's initial punishment is a little harder to figure out, but it's possible that the boy finds her having to watch over an insane patient (Elisabet) as a punishment since they become isolated with each other. After Alma tells of how she got pregnant, we can assume that the boy is especially upset at her due to the different things that happen to her. We see that Elisabet is trying to mail Alma's sex story to the public, Elisabet gives her a bloody nose in a fight, and Alma is negatively effected when Elisabet attempts to leave her alone at the beach house (she breaks down crying at one point). This goes on for a little while, but we see the boy change his focus after Elisabet reveals a similar story which seems more plausible since we learn that she was unable to abort her baby. This scene is famously repeated in the film, which could mean that the boy is trying to confirm that it really was her.
Bergman usually nails cinematography really well in his films. Bergman also handled the visual aspect expertly in this movie as well. It is, quite possibly, the most visually impressive of his films. Images of the beach and cleverly lit rooms are beautiful to look at. There are also some scenes which have a somewhat surreal quality to them. The movie is able to use simple camera movements to create these. An early example of this is when Alma is talking to the Doctor near the beginning. The camera is usually pointed at her for most of their conversation, and on the 2nd time she meets with her, the camera is only focused on Alma, and we just hear the doctor's voice. There are several of these shots throughout the film. I also really liked the surreal imagery at the beginning of the film. It made that sequence really memorable, and it informed me of the complicated film that would follow it. Also, on my re-watch, I noticed how the movie constantly focused on hands. There were numerous shots which seemed to draw attention to hands almost like it was a motif. These shots tended to stick out quite a lot. It's possible that those shots were supposed to represent reaching out into the unfathomable depths of someone. This fits in with the scene at the beginning pretty well when the boy reaches out and touches a screen with both women's faces on it. I think that Bergman was sort of giving us a clue as how to go about interpreting his film.
In conclusion, this movie is a masterpiece. It's incredibly complicated with a lot of obscure imagery and set pieces, and it has great visuals as well. It's always great to see a challenging film which requires you to think every now and then. This movie, however, feels incredibly complicated and more so than other complex films that I've seen. I didn't enjoy Bergman's "The Seventh Seal" that much, but this movie was definitely worth my time. I'm going to look into Bergman more in the future.
Well, to call it a mere film is an understatement, it is an experience, and despite years having gone by since I last saw it.... the scenes, the images, the conversations remain stark clear in my mind.
The most impactful scenes are where Bibi A. talks to Ullmann's character, one all dressed in white, the other in all black, they're sitting on a table... the emotions, the slow recoil reverberating in one's mind with each important fact being unveiled... hah, unforgettable. But the scene is so clinical, empty of any clutter but that of human emotion!
And the second one is where Bibi details some (shameful to her) events that occurred on the beach. The telling of it is so genuine, the words are like sandpaper.
Also, I stopped trying to make sense of it.
You flow with it, just like life... so many things in life don't make any sense- even on retrospective repeat analysis- one just lives with them. So it is here. But words are mere words.... see it, preferably alone.