Persona

Persona ★★★★★

Persona means nothing because it could mean everything.

Plenty of people throw that phrase around jokingly, usually to mock a high-minded or "pretentious" film. In the case of Persona I mean what I say. Cinema doesn't get more abstract, personal, and subjective than Persona.

Ingmar Bergman uses his skills in editing and framing, combined with two exceptional performances from Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann, to simply provoke. Bergman provokes ideas and emotions, inspiring viewers to make connections through the alienation, loss, confusion, grief, and terror of Persona. Bergman touches on endless themes, some of the most prominent include existentialism, doubling, performance, choice, sexuality, abortion, and the individual's relationship to their reality.

The viewer can respond in any way to Persona, something few films are able to accomplish as completely as Persona. The only similar examples I can think of are Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, Alejandro Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain, Krzysztof Kieslowski's The Double Life of Veronique, and Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York.

So how did I respond to Persona?

My experience of Persona is one of hesitancy before the unknown. I'm uncertain about making any definitive conclusions, and likely always will be. But to appreciate Persona I feel journeying into that great inner unknown is necessary.

It's Persona's various provocative moments that stood out most to me.

The first is in the opening montage, specifically that image of the young boy reaching out to touch the screen projecting images of two women. My first thought is how similar that image is to another one of my absolute favourites, this one from Let the Right One In's beginning as Oskar places his hand on a cold window. Those images communicate a sense of reaching out to anything, of feeling desperately alone and trapped within oneself. You want to connect to anything, but feel so imprisoned within yourself that it feels impossible.

The second moment is a flashback to Elisabet on the stage, realizing what she's doing is pointless. It's the catalyst that leads to Elisabet's muteness. I find this moment completely relatable, especially the way Elisabet looks into the camera, acknowledging the ridiculous of everything around her. That Elisabet is "acting", and the meaningless of thinking she's the star of her own story.

Next is Alma's erotic monologue recalling an orgy she suddenly became an enthusiastic participant in, despite her reservations. How Alma sobbingly recollects her erotic desire and the mental urge to stop I found relatable. Now I haven't been in no orgy, but I know that sense of your body doing something you shouldn't be doing (mainly in regards to uninhibited drinking, or saying something you shouldn't have).

Finally, everything after Alma's discovery of Elisabet's betraying letter. This betrayal and Alma's minor revenge flips Persona into something horrifying, as revelations emerge that damage the characters in painful ways and it all culminates in the iconic two-perspective monologue. It's here that the real intellectual weight of Persona comes crashing down, inspiring questions as to whether Alma and Elisabet are doubles of another, the consequence of choice, the challenges of womanhood, and the identity of that young boy in the opening montage. All of it comes back to that existential pain of imprisonment within oneself and the failure to connect outside of oneself and to determine how to live.

Persona is an anxiety-ridden fever dream, cutting and stabbing its way into the brain and soul.

That's all I got for now.