There's something completely intoxicating and altogether baffling about Ingmar Bergman's film "Persona". The beginning, which blasts into focus, makes no sense. I read several articles trying to define the opening barrage of images. We see a film projector, a flash of something that looks like it would belong at the end of "Fight Club", a cartoon of a woman (shown upside down), a tarantula, the hands of a man seemingly getting crucified, and lastly people who look like are in a morgue. Looking like they are one step from being embalmed, these people are laid out on gurneys, waiting for someone. A boy sits up and pulls his sheets close to his chin. Then he reaches out past a barrier, toward's a female face...cue the main titles.
This beginning is pretty much as weird as films get without straying into underground of avant-garde films. It feels very surreal and probably has some deeper meaning, but I can't grasp it. I think you could view this film a thousand times (hyperbole...maybe) and still not know what it all means.
The film, which is mostly devoid of the male figure, concerns two women and their shifting personalities. One of them is a nurse (Bibi Andersson) and one of them is an actress (Liv Ullmann). The actress has stopped speaking, resorting to a forever silent treatment and this behavior lands her in a hospital. A young nurse, Alma, is charged with caring for the mute actress. She tells the doctor that she doesn't know if she's up to caring for the woman, it will be a mental challenge...she has no idea.
First of all, "Persona" looks tremendous. It's shot if a stifling black-and-white and it drains the emotion from the conversation. Eventually the containment is too much and flashes of colorful screaming and crying crop up.
The actress is sent away from the hospital after a revealing one-sided conversation with the doctor. She and Alma are to spend a period of time at the doctor's house by the beach. The fresh air does them both good, and they seem to be becoming friends...perhaps even more. I find that there is a very heavily implied romance here, maybe just in the fashion of idol and devotee...but I think there's more to it.
The two spend days doing pretty much nothing. They read books and go swimming; but there is always a barrier between them...a silence, if you will.
Alma lets her guard down; she shares intimate stories with the actress.
From here, the movie takes an ugly turn...and in the end, I have no idea what's going on.
I think "Persona" could easily be about motherhood, obsession, or lies; but to claim that it's only one would be idiotic.
The tension of the movie is great, the moonlit-like lighting of the filming helps with the strife on screen.
Nighttime visits and lovers who aren't on screen, "Persona" feels like an exercise in analysis.
Frustrating and enigmatic, "Persona" is fairly entrancing. I may now know every frame of the film and what that means, but "Persona", without all the odd images and fast edits, is a deeply emotion and heavily influential film—deserving of at least one viewing.
Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4
Posted by Micah Jones