Friday 25 January 2019

Persona (1966)

Well, that was a weird experience.

I am not entirely sure what I have been watching, but I am fairly certain there was a lot more to this movie than what I perceived. Mostly, however, it was gibberish.

There is some sort of story. A nurse, Alma (Bibi Andersson) is tasked to take care of a patient called Elisabet (Liv Ullmann) at a hospital. Elisabet was a famous actress, but suddenly she stopped talking. Alma is not having much luck at the hospital and the doctor sends the two women out to a summerhouse on an island. Here they first befriend each other and Alma confesses her innermost secrets to the mute Elisabet. Then Alma gets very furious with Elisabet and finally the two seem to merge into one person. When they finally separate in the end, Alma is a broken woman.

This story is bookended and occasionally interrupted by series of very disturbing images. In fact, on my List expedition so far I have never witnessed such a collection of disturbing footage and I still have no idea what it means.

There is definitely a motherhood theme. Alma had an abortion and Elisabet had a child she did not want and hated even as it loved her. Elisabet is broken and has shut herself up, while Alma is in control, but then cracks and falls completely to pieces.

This is about as much as I got.

Ingmar Bergman made movies that required you to think and mostly they have been good or decent experiences because I was able to tackle them. This one goes a lot further and it is very open for interpretation. On Wikipedia there is an entire catalogue of interpretations available and it kind of annoys me, though, at least I do not feel so stupid.

Beside the opaqueness, the most notable element is that it steps very far outside the borders of what was acceptable in movies in 1966. The story of Alma’s sexual encounter is seriously juicy and makes “Who is Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” children stuff by comparison. The footage mentioned earlier include such images as the Vietnamese monks setting themselves on fire, the famous picture of a Jewish boy getting rounded up in the Warsaw Ghetto, an ugly, hairy spider and the killing of animals. Cozy stuff. The point however eludes me. Maybe to show what an ugly world it is. Who knows.

I frankly do not have that much to say about this movie. Not my favorite Bergman movie and not one I would recommend to a normal audience, though psychologists would probably have a blast with this one.



  1. I am a big fan of Ingmar Bergman and have seen a lot of his movies, not just the really obvious ones like The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries and Fanny Alexander, but also The Magic Flute, Dreams, All These Women and From the Life of the Marionettes. He's amazing! I frequently find that his less-famous films are as enjoyable as his acknowledged masterpieces.

    But I'm with you on Persona! Ugh! (I also hate The Hour of the Wolf.)

    1. I think I am not as excited as you are with Bergman, but I generally appreciate his movies. The darkness and moodiness is very Scandinavian and I can relate to that.
      My feeling is just that with Persona he is going too far. I cannot follow it and sit back with a wtf feeling and while there are times this is okay, this is not such a time for me.

  2. I loved this, but also understand it not working for everyone. It is hard to pin down, and could easily become tedious if you are not on board with its floaty approach.

    1. I agree. I understand why you like it, but I did not catch on.