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Persona by Ingmar Bergman (1966, Sweden) is undoubtedly one of Bergman’s better works as it is filled with expressive imagery while being a minimalist film. The film revolves around the idea of facing reality and suppressing oneself to face it, somewhat like a study or a test on the reaction of humans to certain events.

Like his other films, Persona explores the theme of loneliness, suppression and bleakness in life.  The concept of the film came about when Bergman was recovering from his illness and when he created this film, he didn’t expect a big response from the audience.

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(Alma speaking to herself while she position herself to face the camera)

Watching the film brings unexpected outcomes as you slowly get sucked into the world in the film itself.  Most dialogues in the film are spoken in front of the camera, but not directly. In this case, the audience would normally know what is going on. However, Bergman utilizes the technique to put the audience into the character’s shoes as certain dialogues involves only immediate answering, giving the audience an illusion that the characters are talking to them.

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(Alma is tucking Elisabet to bed)

In the film, the young nurse Alma is assigned to take care of Elisabet and they moved into the doctor’s cottage. Throughout the film, the lighting is set up to show sharp contrast between the characters and the place they are in. Bergman probably did it to show how the characters encompass the themes of the film, particularly Elisabet as she is shutting herself from the world. The contrast also shows the differences of the characters to the surrounding world as they seemed to feel lost.

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(The camera shows the Director and crew filming)

Filmed in the 1960s, classifying Persona as a deconstructive film would be quite correct. From the start, the characters are built up to be two different persons but as the film moves forward, the characters merges slowly – personality wise – and you start to see things clearer. For example, you could infer that the start of the film would fit as Elisabet’s dreams as she is afraid of facing reality. This can also be inferred when she showed fear after seeing the death of the monk on television. Arguably, Alma could be a figment of imagination by Elisabet who needs someone to guide her. At the end of film, it is debatable that all shown could just be a dream by Elisabet. There was a brief moment showing the director and cameramen. It could signify that all is just an act. Bergman purposely had the last scene in mind as it reflects his desire to show film as an art and he wants the audience to feel and understand the film, not just by being awed by the story or acting. The characters, just like the film, slowly pieces up as a whole when the story progresses.

The idea of having the protagonist struggling with her identity is not a first time for Bergman himself – The Silence (Ingmar Bergman, 1963) has quite a similar plot to it. However, Persona is at a level higher because Bergman manages to create the connection between the audience and the film through his film techniques like breaking the fourth wall and creating the surreal effect of the film. He also had close ups of the characters, perhaps trying to let the audience guess what the characters are feeling through the expressions on their faces.

Among the list of films he had made, although Persona had not brought him any awards, but he mentioned that creating Persona is satisfying and it is something that he would not regret.

Roger Ebert rated Persona  ‘4 stars’ in his review and he mentioned that the film ‘ is exactly about what it seems to be about.’  He said that the film was direct and I agree with him because you understand the story right away. However, Bergman is quite smart as the narrative itself has mystery in it about the two characters coming together. (Ebert 2001)

Alma had a reserved and jolly character but spending time with Elisabet, she became more aggressive. Looking over to the scene at the cottage, it seemed like Elisabet is the one taking care of Alma at certain scenes, showing the vulnerability of human mind.

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( Alma’s right profile shown in the contrast)

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(Elisabet’s left side shown in the contrast)

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(The merge of faces – signifying the merge of personalities)

At this point of time, the film had resulted in many theories of the characters and it is still ongoing as there is no definite answer to it. It’s like how we don’t know what happened to Alma and Elisabet respectively. The iconic scene of Alma/Elisabet merged shot inspired filmmaker Woody Ellen to replicate it in his film Love and Death.  Bergman has inspired many filmmakers to step out of their comfort zone and present film in its most primitive state, just like how Persona is done. The merge scene also uses sharp contrast where you only see half of Alma’s and Elisabet’s face and they seemed to merge together when their personalities crossed.

Persona might not be Ingmar Bergman’s most successful work – in terms of awards – but it sure grabbed attention from many critics and fellow filmmakers due to his experiment on minimalism and trying to show the simplicity of filmmaking.  It is definitely worth watching once, twice or even more as the film itself grows old with you, allowing you to have different insights towards the subject of human reaction to reality.

About the author: Jasper Yeo loves to ‘cook up’ stories and of course ,food. He also loves to draw and his dream job is to be a writer or a chef.

References:

1. Ebert, R. 2001. Persona Movie Review & Film Summary (1967) | Roger Ebert. [online] Available at: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-persona-1966 [Accessed: 22 Jun 2013].

2. En.wikipedia.org. 1944. Ingmar Bergman filmography – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ingmar_Bergman_filmography [Accessed: 22 Jun 2013].

3. En.wikipedia.org. 1918. Ingmar Bergman – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ingmar_Bergman [Accessed: 22 Jun 2013].

4. IMDb. 1966. Persona (1966). [online] Available at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060827/ [Accessed: 22 Jun 2013].

5. MUBI. 2000. My Opinion on What Persona is About. [online] Available at: http://mubi.com/topics/my-opinion-on-what-persona-is-about [Accessed: 22 Jun 2013].

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