SteelCity99 - wrote on 04/28/18
Being one of my "giants of cinema" and officially one of the best directors in movie history, Ingmar Bergman created in 1966 what ended up being his most deep and complex movie he would ever dare to create. It is not only his most controversial masterpiece, but it is also the most notorious influence within the genre of psychological thrillers (and probably horror as well) for directors such as Takashi Miike, David Cronenberg and David Lynch. Persona is more than just a simple drama; it is one of the most fascinating psychological studies that worldwide classic cinema could ever offer to mankind.
The plot is "simple", or that's what it seems to be when we are given a brief summary of the film at least. A nurse called Alma is put in charge of Elisabeth Vogler, an actress that doesn't physically or mentally seem to be sick or have an illness, but completely refuses to speak a single word. Once that Alma begins to talk about herself alongside with some pretty strong confessions to Elisabeth, she begins to find out that her own personality slowly starts to merge itself and combine with the personality of Elisabeth in a gradual sort of way.
From the first moments since the screen brings us its incredible cinematography, variety of images and its unparalleled edition, we enter into a dream; we find ourselves bound to a symbolic and probably incomprehensible nightmare of which we hardly want to wake up in order to find answers as soon as possible. It merely consists in real animal executions, the process of moviemaking seen from the side we usually tend to ignore once we see a movie as a final result brought to the screen, a crucifixion, a tarantula, a forest, silent cartoons and movies, among other stuff. Despite the particular meaning this sequence has or whichever the meaning we want to attribute to it, what really matters is that it prepares us for one of the most intense and brilliant psychological voyages that we could ever travel through while discovering the wonderful and vast world of movies.
This is probably the movie that possesses the most prolonged, mysterious and exasperating silences in comparison to any film that Bergman had ever directed throughout his whole filmic career. The magic of this film emanates from the fact that it can be seen from several points of view, and no matter which is the one we choose to considerate in the end, the movie ends up being utterly spectacular. On one hand we have the dramatic point of view, in which we are witnesses of the merging process through which the leading protagonists slowly go through in an inevitable and supernatural way. The performances from Bibi Anderson and Liv Ullman are unforgettable and I dare to say those are two of the beat female leading performances I've ever had the pleasure of seeing. Whether it was because of their beauty or their acting talent, it is not so surprising that the director Ingmar Bergman had fallen in love with Liv Ullman when he made Persona.
On the other hand we have the surrealist point of view, like if it had been directly born from the work of Buñuel. You could just turn off the volume of the film and let the imagery and unforgettable sequences talk by themselves. Probably no other director from those times could have created such a beautiful and unique story in the chilling, surrealist and horrifying way it was treated. The cinematography is extraordinary and Persona has the best taken-care-of shots of his whole filmography, capturing the atmosphere and the physical world found in the surrounding of the characters just as well as the one found inside the head(s) of the protagonist(s). The editing is outstanding and transports us to both worlds in an attractive and hypnotizing way, again and again.
Specifically talking about Persona, it gives a particularly existentialist approach. The name of Alma, from my own point of view, is not there by chance. In fact, the name "Alma" is the Spanish word for "soul". It can be a symbolism representing the fact that several times throughout our lives we are so focused in the simple act of living without any responsibility established as a priority that evil, whether it is a harmful vice, violence or the lack of love or respect towards society, takes control of our lives and we can't tell the difference between good and evil, right and wrong. No matter how many times our conscience tries to warn us about our actions, we keep corrupting our soul and continue ignoring the damage we cause to it, when it actually forms part of our own existence.
However, it is our own conscience, faithfully represented by Alma, the one that is constantly seeking answers to its being for our own sake. It is a part of ourselves that we will never be able to reject, and neither the eternal search for answers about everything that is around us. The more evident scenes depicting the ideas that Bergman wanted to transmit through the performances of Bibi Anderson and Liv Ullman are magisterially shown when Elisabeth's husband appears for the first time, and while he is speaking, the situation makes you wonder whom he is really talking to. The shots were so impressively achieved that, thanks to them, a new question is arisen, which is referent to who really are the protagonists and what is it that they really represent.
Persona has also a highly sexual connotation, noticeable from the first 15 minutes of the film. Sexuality isn't portrayed from a perverted perspective, but from a dramatic and symbolic one. From the infamous superimposed penis during the first scene of the film being shown in an almost subliminal way for the viewer to the locked up girl trying to reach the face of a woman which eventually disappears, all of the content put in the film represents, somehow, the controversy and the beauty that maternity can have for a woman. The desire of having a baby which was later rejected could have been represented by the girl locked up in the mind, since the only thing that she wanted was to meet her possible future mother. However, since her existence didn't mean more than just a plain idea, the image of her mother disappears, and the protagonist's problem is finally concreted.
Although the film received constant comparisons with modern directors such as David Lynch and his masterpiece Mulholland Dr. (2001), Persona is a work of art, analyzable from both the cinematographic and artistic points of view, and it is obviously superior to any other possible comparison. I have never seen a film that could be such a personal experience for any individual like Persona was; neither have I seen a more revealing film for an audience. Persona is officially considered as one of the best movies ever made, and although it is not the most appropriate and adequate film to start with Ingmar Bergman's filmography and certainly is the most complex film by his, it is an obvious successful achievement in cinema history that will never be forgotten, no matter the numerous different interpretations it receives when a person finishes watching it.