Persona

Persona ★★★★★

The one word I'd use to describe Persona is 'fascinating.' 80% of me thinks this is one of the best films I've ever seen, whils 20% is still trying to digest and draw conclusions and meaning from what I saw. I watched this tuesday night, but I just had to rewatch it yesterday because it was such an enigma to me, a brilliant masterfully-executed enigma which I still haven't figured out, but I have some ideas.

From the first shot, Persona assaults the senses, with a quick montage of strange and disturbing imagery including film, a dying sheep, a crucifixion, a spider, and a split second insert of a penis in a very fight-club-esque manner. The montage culminates with a boy putting his hand on some projected screen, where the two main characters' faces fade on and off.

We are then introduced to Alma, a nurse hired to take care of Elisabeth, an actress who refuses to speak. The two bond and grow apart, with their personalities becoming more and more similar to the other.

The film seems fairly straightforward until a dream sequence, and a scene where it cuts off into another montage and after that the film descends into the surreal, where time seems to skip, where it's hard to discern dream or reality, and where the dialogue becomes minimal and absurdist.

On second viewing, I tried to analyze every single detail I noticed that could point me towards the conclusion of this film. Other interpretations of Persona include a straightforward one where the women simply change to match each others personalities, and one (a very plausible theory) which states that Alma is a figment of Elisabeth's mind, whose job it is to make Elisabeth embrace her personality and realize that she can't escape past feelings and experiences, they shape her.

With the second theory, the ending would make sense as Alma leaves in the end, having done her job. My theory kind of combines the two.

I believe the latter interpretation, but also think that Alma and Elisabeth are t o different people: Elisabeth represents the Persona, the outward appearance which others interpret her to be, while Alma represents the personality- the inside emotions which is how one really feels. As Alma tells Elisabeth more stories about her past and more of her philosophical beliefs, Elisabeth takes them in, changing. This is culminated in the repeated scene where Alma literally tells Elisabeth about her guilt and trauma regarding her son- the scene ending with a haunting image of both women's faces spliced onto each other. Here, Elisabeth comes to terms with her personality, whereas she seemed more concerned with her Persona, as in the scene Alma nearly throws boiling water at her and she cries out "No Don't!" When Elisabeth finally says "nothing" in what is perhaps a dream, she has embraced both sides of herself- the Persona and Personality.

Alma on the other hand is more confusing to me. Her personality changes drastically in the second half of the film, and I like to think she becomes independent from Elisabeth in the end, she leaves after having "learned quite a lot," and in a scene which recounts the first dream, she breaks free of the duality with Elisabeth. She too has embraced her past and her emotions, yet still seems to have become concerned with her Persona of the mild-mannered nurse, full of emotional past.

As shown in the face splice, I believe both women have sort of merged to become one. They each studied each other massively and began to act similarly, and I think Alma leaving in the end is a happy ending- they've each changed to embrace both sides of themselves and leave the anxiety and fear of this behind, as symbolized by the motif of rocks in the end.

Now I'm still baffled by many scenes- namely the possible dream where Alma encounters Elisabeth's husband, which supports the theory thay they're one and the same, and the strange scene where Alma gets cut, speaks seemingly incoherent words, and slaps Elisabeth many times, perhaps gaining independence from her.

It's clear that this film is masterful. Everything Bergam shows and tells has some form of meaning to the overall existential themes of the film, and offers hints towards its meaning. The way he shoots character relationships is dramatic and dynamic, unlike anything I've ever seen. The film is full of beautiful cinematography, and memorable imagery- such as the symbols of duality between the women and rocks. The screenplay is masterful, and says enough to cohere yet leaves much to interpretation. Even the costume design reflects the films theme: the women wear mostly white and light colors in the first half then shift completely to black as they change.

The lead performances from both women are incredible, Liv Ullman conveying so much with just facial expressions and Bibi Andersson acting her heart out in every scene, reflecting her character's inner struggle of complacency in every scene, and carrying most of the film. And the editing! Especially in the montages and in the conversations where time seems to lapse, it's done masterfully and adds to the surreal and tense atmosphere.

It's clear that Bergman has complete control over his art. When hearing of his personal struggles around the time of Persona, it becomes clear to relfect the themes upon him. Persona is one of the most unique films I've ever seen, and I can see how it's influenced not just editing and cinematography, but how its plot elements are seen in films like Mullholland Drive, Melancholia, and maybe even fight club.

I've never been so enthralled in a film the way I was with Persona. It's wholly unique and incredibly interesting, with many layers I think I have yet to make sense of. Even if my ruidmentary analysis is completely wrong, I feel like I could get something new out of Persona every time. Persona is incredibly complex, but from the technical aspects and atmosphere alone, it's fantastic. I can tell that I will be thinking about this one for quite some time.

William liked this review