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“[The persona is] a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and on the other to conceal the true nature of the individual… one result of the dissolution of the persona is the release of fantasy—disorientation.”–Carl Jung, Two Essays on Analytical Psychology
DIRECTED BY: Ingmar Bergman
FEATURING: Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullmann
PLOT: Without explanation, Elisabeth, an actress, suddenly decides to stop talking and checks into a mental hospital. Alma, a young nurse, is assigned to take care of her, and even travels with her to vacation at the psychiatrist’s summer home as part of her therapy. Once there, Alma grows attached to the mute actress and begins confessing secrets to her; but as the two women spend time together, their personalities seem to merge, and Alma finds herself being mistaken for Elisabeth…
- Ingmar Bergman wrote the script while in the hospital recuperating from a viral infection. He was partly inspired by seeing a photograph of actresses Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann together and noticing how similar they looked.
- Bergman said that “Persona saved my life… if I had not found the strength to make that film, I would probably have been all washed up.” He also said that “…in Persona—and later in Cries and Whispers—I had gone as far as I could go… I touched wordless secrets that only the cinema can discover.”
- Although they were both married to other people at the time, Bergman and Liv Ullmann fell in love on set and had a child together after the film was completed. Bergman had previously had an affair with Andersson, as well.
- An almost subliminal shot of an erect penis (it lasts for about one-eighth of a second) was cut from most prints during the film’s original run. The film also occasionally ran into censorship problems due to Bibi Andersson’s long erotic monologue.
- Persona was ranked the 18th greatest movie of all time on Sight and Sound’s 2012 critics poll, and came in 13th on the director’s poll.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Beautifully lensed by Bergman cinematographer Sven Nykvist, Persona is justly celebrated for its many doubling shots where the faces of the lead actresses overlap; at one point, their images are overlaid in a mirror, and at another we actually see a composite woman made up of half Liv Ullmann, half Bibi Andersson. The most meaningful of these effects comes near the very beginning of the movie, then recurs again near the very end. A mysterious, gangly young boy looks at a glowing screen with a face on it; the image blurs, then resolves into Andersson, then defocuses and morphs into Ullmann. The boy caresses the screen as if he’s trying to feel the face.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The first five minutes bring us an erect penis, a tarantula, a sheep being eviscerated at a slaughterhouse, nails hammered into palms, and corpses in a morgue. It’s an assault of images from a boiling id, but mixed with formalist reminders that we are watching a film: the first shot is of a projector’s arc lamp lighting in an incendiary burst, followed by film spooling, cartoons projected upside down, and so on. All of this before the title appears. Are you convinced the director has weird intentions yet?
Original U.S. trailer for Persona
COMMENTS: If you are a fan of the identity-morphing brainteasers Lost Highway (1997) and Mulholland Drive (2001), or Performance (1970), or Continue reading 139. PERSONA (1966)