Persona: Two Swedish Women Become One Swedish Woman Through the Power of Bergman

Here's where we separate the men from the boys.  That's right, folks: it's Ingmar Bergman time.  I'm reminded of when I took AP English in high school, and our teacher assigned a frustratingly difficult novel for our summer reading.  Her rationale was that she wanted to weak out the weaklings before we started the class in the fall.  That's sort of what Bergman is for film.  He's just not for the faint of heart.

In a lot of ways I feel like I'm not really qualified to talk about this movie.  It's the first of Bergman's films that I've seen, and I've never been the best with intense analysis.  But I'll give it my best shot.  Persona is a beautiful film.  It's also a purposefully obtuse film that viewers, by all rights, find difficult.  I don't think it's worthwhile or indeed possible for me to come up with an overarching explanation for what happens in that cottage by the sea.  Anything I say would be wrong, or at the very least an oversimplistic, blanket statement that isn't fair to Bergman's vision.  Persona is an enthralling character study that deals with identity and harmfully codependent relationships.  I'd be much more comfortable leaving it at that.

As Elisabet seems to be feeling a little more stable, Alma's mental state begins to deteriorate.  It becomes more and more difficult to see the woman as distinct people, rather than two parts of the same whole.  Bergman emphasizes this by constantly showing shots of their faces overlapping and their bodies intertwining (as in the picture above), so that the two women are literally merged into one.  Their relationship begins as affectionate, but by the middle of the film it's less that they like each other and more like they need each other to maintain equilibrium.  It's only when Alma reclaims her identity that she's free to leave the cottage, and Elisabet reverts to a near-catatonic state.

I really like the way Bergman films this...he lets nothing distract you from the two wonderful actresses.  The sets are sparse and minimalist, the costumes are simple, and the makeup is borderline non-existent.  He's not afraid to have these long, lingering close-ups on the women.  I like how dialogue-driven this film is, and despite that fact that it's incredibly talky, it's very engaging.  I'm the first person to admit that sometimes I watch artsy films that just bore me to death, but that's definitely not the case here.  Even when you don't know exactly what the hell's going on, you still want to watch it.  I definitely feel that I probably need to watch it a couple more times to really get a grip on it, though.

Random Musings:

  • Oh boy, I would super love it if the penises, giant spiders, lamb slaughters, crucifixions, and random corpses would stay the fuck off my screen unless I've expressly asked for them.  Kthnxbye.  Anyway, now that I'm sufficiently wrong-footed, let's start the film.

  • Damn, these women have sexual tension so thick you could cut it with a knife.  And I'm definitely getting some Single White Female vibes going on here.

  • Holy crap, this scene where she's talking about the boys on the beach.  I love that there's literally nothing sexual shown on screen, but it's still probably one of the more erotic moments in cinema.  But, ummm...exactly how old were these kids?  "Boys" as in teenagers, or "boys" as in like 10 year olds?  Because that sort of makes a difference.

Interested in more Bergman?  I found this really good post that goes into a lot more detail on Ingmar Bergman's work, and it's especially helpful for people who haven't seen a lot of his films.

Check it out: What to Expect When You're Existential: A Beginner's Guide to Ingmar Bergman

Thanks for reading, and come back next time!

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Anonymous said...

Sounds interesting, is it on Netflix cuz I just signed up for a free trial.

Audrey on a Mission said...

It is indeed.

Anonymous said...

Awesome. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was just me feeling the sexual tension between the two. Haha. This really was a great film thought. Favorite part was the glasses scene. I looove Bibi Andersson.<3

Anonymous said...

Liv Ullman is Norwegian, not swedish.

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