We keep watching “Persona” (1966) because of its stunning visuals and to understand its meaning. Persona Movie Review.
Shakespeare posed the most fundamental question that can be asked of a human being in only six words: “To be, or not to be?” “No, don’t!” says Elizabeth from Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona.” This actress stopped speaking during a performance and hasn’t spoken since.
Now, in a fit of wrath, her nurse, Alma, has begun throwing a kettle of boiling water at her, and she is terrified. The meaning of the phrase “No, don’t!” is “I do not want to suffer pain, I do not want to be scared, and I do not want to die.” She has aspirations of… becoming. She has acknowledged that she does in fact exist.
The film “Persona” (1966) is one that many of us have seen several times over the years, both because of the aesthetic appeal of its visuals and the desire to unravel its enigmas. Everything that takes place in the picture is crystal obvious, even the dream scenes, which are clear in the context in which they are meant to be seen (as dreams).
Yet it makes us think there are hidden realities, and we give up hope of uncovering them. In 1967, I wrote one of my first movie reviews, and it was for the film “Persona.” I did not feel as if I had grasped the concept. After three-quarters of a century, I have learned the majority of what I am ever going to learn about movies, and I believe I have come to the conclusion that the most effective method for seeing “Persona” is a literal one.
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It is about precisely the same things as it looks to be about. One critic, John Hardy, who reviewed the film and posted his thoughts on IMDb, praised “Persona” for its ability to avoid the pitfalls of pretentiousness.
Bergman demonstrates acts and phrases that are commonplace in daily life for his audience. In addition, the cinematography of Sven Nykvist creates pictures that are eerie to look at. One of them, featuring two faces, one in frontal view and the other in profile, has become one of the most well-known pictures in the history of film.
In the midst of Electra, the character Elizabeth, played by Liv Ullmann, becomes silent and does not speak again. It has been suggested by a psychiatrist that Elizabeth and Nurse Alma (Bibi Andersson) spend the summer at the home of the psychiatrist’s patient who lives in seclusion. The two ladies become one after being placed in the same confines of space and time for an extended period of time.
Alma speaks and talks, exposing her ambitions and her concerns, and ultimately, in a magnificent and bold monologue, she confesses an amorous incident during which she was, for a while, entirely pleased. Elizabeth says nothing and Alma talks and talks about it. Elizabeth says nothing.
Both of the women have similar physical appearances. Bergman draws attention to this likeness via the use of an unsettling image in which he blends half of one face with half of the other face. Later on, he uses a technique similar to a morph to combine the two faces.
Andersson shared with me that both she and Ullmann were completely unaware of Bergman’s plans to accomplish this and that when she first viewed the picture, she found it to be unsettling and terrifying. Earlier, Bergman had informed me that “In the film, it’s all about the expressions on people’s faces. Everything is in its proper place.”
The fact that they visually merge together hints at a more profound psychological affinity. The patient, Elizabeth, who is silent and seems to be unwell, is stronger than Alma, and finally, the nurse can sense her soul being overpowered by the might of the other lady. There comes a point in time when her anger boils over, and in response, she lashes out.
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She picks up the pieces of the shattered glass that were lying in the sunlit courtyard of the cottage, and then she places one of the shards on the ground where Elizabeth would walk. Elizabeth suffers a cut to her foot, but this is effectively a win for the actress since it shows the nurse that she has been forced to forego the professionalism required of her job and exhibit her vulnerability.
At that precise moment, when Elizabeth glances at Alma and seems to realize that the glass shard was not an accident, Bergman permits his film to appear as if it is tearing apart and burning. There is nothing visible on the screen. After then, the movie puts itself back together again. This scene is a reenactment of how the movie first started.
A projector light sparks to life in both scenarios, and a montage from the early days of the Persona Review is shown. It includes jerky, silent skeletons, pictures of coffins, and a hand with a nail being driven into it. When the “break” in the middle comes to a conclusion, the camera moves closer and closer to one eye, going so far as to enter the veins in the eyeball, as if it were trying to access the mind.
The opening scene gives the impression that Persona Review will begin at the very beginning, with the conception of motion pictures. The pause that occurs halfway through illustrates how it loops around and starts all over again. The movie comes to an end when the film is all used up in the camera, the light from the lamp goes out, and the movie is done.
Bergman is demonstrating to us that he has reverted back to his fundamental beliefs. It was said that there was light “in the beginning.” At the very end, there is a view of the camera team themselves, with the camera hoisted on a crane and Nykvist and Bergman tending to it; this scene incorporates the creators of the work into the narrative. They are present, it is in their possession, and they are unable to remove themselves from being a part of it.
Toward the beginning of the movie, Elizabeth watches television footage from Vietnam, during which she sees a Buddhist monk setting fire to himself. Later on, there are images taken in the Warsaw ghetto showing Jews being collected; the camera stays on the face of a little kid throughout the whole sequence. Is Elizabeth mute because the atrocities that occur in the world have rendered her speechless?
The Persona Review does not specify, but it is very clear that they are involved. Alma’s personal tragedies are closer to home: she worries about her future husband, her nursing skills, and her ability to stand up to Elizabeth.
Yet Elizabeth suffers from her own secret demons as well, and Bergman communicates them in a scene that is both so straightforward and yet so audacious that it astounds us with its brazenness. Then, there comes what may or may not be a dream scenario, in which Elizabeth walks into Alma’s bedroom in the middle of the night. Opinions on whether or not this is a dream vary.
A Swedish summer’s night consists of little more than a line formed by twilight between one day and the next, and a gentle, pale light permeates the space. The way the two ladies glance at one another is reminiscent of two reflections in a mirror.
They face us as one of them smoothes the other’s hair behind their ears. A male voice may be heard saying, “Elizabeth.” That is really Mr. Vogler, who is her spouse (Gunnar Bjornstrand). They are in the open air. Alma’s cheek is caressed as he whispers Elizabeth’s name to her. She denies that she is Elizabeth and claims that she is not. Elizabeth takes Alma’s hand and uses it to gently pet her husband’s face. Alma’s hand is in Elizabeth’s possession.
When some time has passed inside, Alma begins a lengthy speech on Elizabeth’s unborn child. Elizabeth took the kid to live with relatives so that she could go back to the theater after the birth of her malformed child.
The ordeal is almost intolerable to go through. Elizabeth is the focus of the camera throughout the whole story. The story is again repeated, word for word, this time with the focus being on Alma. It has been stated that this is Bergman attempting a sex equality experiment, but I think what we’re seeing is really both women delivering the same tale (via Alma when it’s Elizabeth’s time, as Elizabeth can’t speak for herself). That demonstrates that their very beings are joined together.
The other monologue in the film, which tells the story of Alma’s sexual encounters on the beach with her girlfriend and two boys, is the more well-known of the two. I have heard people describe this scene as if they actually saw it in the movie because the imagery in this monologue is so powerful. Bergman is demonstrating, across all three monologues, how ideas give rise to images and ultimately to reality.
The most genuine and objective experiences in the movie are when someone gets a cut on their foot and when they are threatened by boiling water. These events “break” the Persona Review, revealing that everything else in the movie is just a product of thought (or art). The most authentic experience that Alma has ever had was an orgasm she had while she was on vacation. Both Elizabeth’s suffering and Alma’s ecstasy were successful in piercing the reveries that were a part of their lives.
The majority of what we consider to be “ourselves” is not based on direct experience of the outside world but rather on an internal broadcast composed of ideas, memories, input from the media, other people, jobs, roles, responsibilities, lusts, hopes, and anxieties. Alma is not capable of making the decision to not be Elizabeth because she lacks the strength that Elizabeth has. Elizabeth makes the choice to be who she is. The answer is in the title. “Persona Review” Singular.