Persona (film)

Persona (film)

name = Persona

director = Ingmar Bergman
producer = Ingmar Bergman
writer = Ingmar Bergman
starring = Bibi Andersson
Liv Ullmann
movie_music= Lars Johan Werle
distributor= AB Svensk Filmindustri (Sweden)
United Artists (USA)
released= October 18, 1966 (Sweden)
March 6, 1967 (USA)
runtime = 85 min.
language = Swedish
imdb_id = 0060827
music = Lars Johan Werle
awards =
budget =|

"Persona" is a movie by Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, released in 1966, and featuring Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann. Bergman held this film to be one of his most important; in his book "Images", he writes: "Today I feel that in Persona — and later in Cries and Whispers — I had gone as far as I could go. And that in these two instances when working in total freedom, I touched wordless secrets that only the cinema can discover." He also said thatcquote|At some time or other, I said that Persona saved my life — that is no exaggeration. If I had not found the strength to make that film, I would probably have been all washed up. One significant point: for the first time I did not care in the least whether the result would be a commercial success...cite book
title=Ingmar Bergman: His Life and Films
location=Jefferson, NC and London

The film explores an encounter between two women: Elisabet a successful actress who has become mute during a performance of Electra, and Alma (soul in Spanish and Portuguese), the nurse charged with caring for her. Some critics have seen August Strindberg’s play "The Stronger" as a source of inspiration for "Persona". [cite web
title= Persona — Sources of inspiration
] Bergman wrote "Persona" during nine weeks while recovering from pneumonia. [New Ingmar Bergman Film Set for Fall of '66 Premiere." New York Times 17 July 1965: 14.] During filming Bergman wanted to call the film "A Bit of Cinematography". His producer suggested something more accessible and the title of the film was changed. [Fleisher, Frederic. A bit of cinematogrpahy. Christian Science Monitor 11 November 1966: 8.]

"Persona" is considered a major artistic work by film critics and filmmakers. The essayist Susan Sontag is one of many critics who have written extensively about it, calling it "Bergman’s masterpiece". [Sontag, [ p. 123] .] Another critic has described it as "one of this century’s great works of art". [Michaels, [ p. 5] .] In "Sight and Sound"’s 1972 poll of the ten greatest films of all time, "Persona" was ranked at number five. [cite web
title=The Sight & Sound Top Ten Poll: 1972


"Persona" begins with a lengthy montage which features clips of silent films, scenes of film running through a reel, pictures of various things including an erect penis, a film of a sheep being killed with a knife, a film of a nail being hammered into a hand and several still pictures of seemingly dead or unmoving corpses lying under white sheets. The montage ends with a film of a young boy on a hospital bed reading a Swedish version of Mikhail Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time and then holding his hand out to a blurred image of a woman’s face.

The montage is followed by the title sequence in which several shots of people’s faces are seen, most commonly that of the boy in the opening sequence.

What follows is a fairly straightforward narrative about a young nurse, Sister Alma (Bibi Andersson) who is charged with taking care of a patient, the stage actress Elisabet Vogler (Liv Ullmann) who has stopped talking to anyone following one of her performances of the play Electra.

The head doctor of the hospital suggests that Alma take the actress to the doctor’s summer house on the seaside for her further recuperation. What follows are several days and nights where the nurse Alma talks about herself mainly at first but then proceeds to talk about the actress instead and eventually this leads to a mental breakdown on the part of nurse Alma, which includes harming herself physically and a physical slapping attack on the actress.

The negative shift toward Elisabet Vogler begins when Alma, who is delivering mail for the actress to the hospital, reads a letter by the actress about Alma. In the letter Vogler writes how she is enjoying studying Sister Alma and how the nurse seems to be in love with her; she also mentions some private stories that Nurse Alma shared with her, including the nurse’s abortion with a past married lover and a sexual tryst that the nurse engaged in on a beach with another woman and two boys.

Throughout the film the actress remains silent though she does respond to several of the nurse's questions by nodding or shaking her head.

Near the end of the film Vogler’s husband appears at the house and approaches and speaks to Sister Alma as if she was Elisabet. At first the nurse resists but then begins to answer as if she was the actress. Elisabet Vogler watches from behind them. The husband and Alma are then shown in bed next to the actress.

Following this scene Alma and Elisabet are once again alone in the house. Alma finds Elisabet covering a picture of a young boy under her hand on the kitchen table. The nurse then begins to narrate a story of the birth of Elisabet’s son in which the actress hates herself for becoming pregnant and giving birth and then hates the baby and wishes it were dead. The scene ends with the faces of the two women merging on the screen into one another.

The film ends with the two women parting ways as if nothing happened; Alma packs up the summer house and then takes a bus somewhere. The end of the film shows another montage of film being run through a film camera and then it fades to black.


* Bibi Andersson — Alma, The Nurse
* Liv Ullmann — Elisabeth Vogler, The Actress
* Margaretha Krook — The Doctor
* Gunnar Björnstrand — Mr. Vogler
* Jörgen Lindström — The Boy

Possible interpretations

The film has been interpreted in many different ways and has been the subject of long-standing debates among film fans as well as critics.

Lloyd Michaels sums up what he calls "the most widely held view" of "Persona"’s content". [citation
contribution=Bergman and the Necessary Illusion
in Michaels (2000)
] According to this view, "Persona" is "a kind of modernist horror movie"Michaels, p. 17.] Elisabet’s condition, diagnosed by the psychiatrist as "the hopeless dream to be", is "the shared condition of both life and film art". [Michaels, p. 18.] Bergman and Elisabet share the same dilemma: they cannot respond authentically to "large catastrophes" (such as the holocaust or Vietnam). The actress Elisabet responds by stopping speaking: by contrast the filmmaker Bergman emphasizes that "necessary illusions" enable us to live.

Sontag suggests that "Persona" is constructed as a series of variations on a theme of "doubling". [Sontag, [ p. 135] .] The subject of the film, Sontag proposes, is "violence of the spirit". [Sontag, [ p. 141] .] Film scholar P. Adams Sitney offers a completely different reading, arguing that "Persona" covertly dramatizes a psychoanalysis from the point of view of a patient". [cite book
first=P. Adams
title=Modernist Montage: The Obscurity of Vision in Cinema and Literature
publisher=Columbia University Press
] While the film has been widely and variously interpreted, many criticsWho|date=July 2007 agree that it explores the intricacies of the doctor-patient relationship, in particular the phenomenon of transference. While Elisabet is ostensibly the patient, her silence suggests a reversal: in psychoanalysis the doctor is silent and the patient speaks. Thus Alma might be seen as the patient and Elisabet, the silent analyst.

Following are some of the most popular interpretations of the film.Fact|date=July 2007

First reading

Elisabet and the nurse are one and the same person.Fact|date=July 2007 They are "split" when the actress does not want to act any more, and retires to her own self. The term "does not want to act" depicts two things: firstly, she does not want to act as a job, and secondly, in a more distant, but more appropriate interpretation, she does not want to act to the outside world (e.g. in the movie the nurse part of the personality says: "But you played the part. The part of a pregnant, happy mother.") The nurse is nothing more than the outside appearance of the same person — this is why Mr. Vogler recognises her (and not Elisabet) as Mrs. Vogler. Elisabet is the inner self of the same person: she is a quiet, strong personality. This interpretation is suggested when the two half-faces of the nurse and Elisabet are put together into one picture, one face (note also that the nurse says during the beginning that she thought that Elisabet was very similar to her).

Second reading

Alma is the nurse who is supposed to be treating Elisabet, but this is gradually reversed.Fact|date=July 2007 Simply by talking to Elisabet, Alma develops a feeling of closeness to her and comes to divulge intimate secrets, even though Elisabet has not reciprocated. This transference effect is shattered when Alma reads Elisabet’s letter to her doctor, mentioning that Alma has childishly fallen in love with Elisabet and that it was interesting to study Alma. Suddenly, Alma realizes that she has been only an object for Elisabet, and lashes out against her. Yet the film progresses to a complex confusion of Elisabet’s and Alma’s characters, felt perhaps most strikingly when Elisabet’s blind husband visits and mistakes Alma for Elisabet; Alma hesitates at first, but then embraces the role, beginning by saying the things to him that Elisabet cannot or will not say, and then "breaking down" (deconstruction) much as we can imagine Elisabet did.

Third reading

Other readings of "Persona" use a psychoanalytic frame of reference. One reading of this sort can be found in [ Daniel Shaw's interpretation] .

Brechtian alienation technique

Many criticsWho|date=July 2007 believe that "Persona" is one of the first films to make use of the Brechtian alienation technique ("Verfremdungseffekt"), used to call attention to and/or interrupt the fictional world of the movie, and to remind the viewer of the necessarily artificial nature of the medium. Some notable uses of the technique in "Persona " are at the beginning and end, where you see a reel of film being loaded; in the middle, when Elisabet steps on glass and the film appears to burn; and later on, when the camera turns around to display the crew filming a scene with Elisabet.

Persona, however, is not the first film to be self-referential. Self-referential gestures such as these are found throughout film history — the very first film ever made includes self-referential moments — and many such films even pre-date Brecht. A few notable examples of films that are deeply self-referential include Teinosuke Kinugasa’s "A Page of Madness" (1926), Dziga Vertov’s "Man with a Movie Camera" (1929), Federico Fellini’s "" (1963), Maya Deren’s "Meshes of the Afternoon" (1943) and Bergman’s own "Dreams" (1955) and "The Magician" (1958). There are hundreds of others.

Opening sequence

"Persona"’s startling opening sequence has invited many creative interpretations.Fact|date=July 2007 In Persona, there are several sequences which consist of a series of seemingly random shots in quick succession. A film projector starting up, a vampiric spider, a boy being woken up, a child's hand on a blurry mother's face, a bloodied lamb, a nail being driven into a hand (in some versions of this sequence there is an image of an erect penis, as well) — and although Bergman himself invites viewers to interpret the sequences like a poem, the most plausible reading would be to understand these images as examples of "screen memories" (cf. Sigmund Freud) — those childhood images that are either true or not, but often, when understood in the structure of psychoanalysis represent some sort of "trauma" (dream). It is noteworthy that many of the images chosen by Bergman have "classical" interpretations in psychoanalytic text. The crucifixion scene, for example, is commonly understood in psychoanalysis as representing the "trauma" of the primal scene: e.g. the child’s experience of seeing his parents having sex.Fact|date=August 2007 And the spider representing God as is the case in many Bergman films.


Two scenes are frequently cut from versions of the film; a brief shot at the beginning depicting an erect penis, and a piece of Alma’s monologue where she says her lover "made her come with his hand" and implies they were children or teenagers. These changes were removed for American distribution, but retained on most American video releases.

When MGM archivist John Kirk restored "Persona" as part of a larger restoration project, he worked with the original, uncensored version with the brief shot of an erect penis. He also created new subtitles by commissioning several language experts to provide new, accurate translations for the dialogue; this is particularly noticeable during Alma’s graphic recollection of an orgy, which some were reluctant to translate without toning down some of the details.

The original, uncensored version wasn’t widely available in the U.S. until 2004, when MGM’s home video department reissued "Persona" on DVD, utilizing Kirk’s work.

Other films

Bergman features prominently in Woody Allen’s work. "Another Woman" is a variation on "Persona", and "Love and Death" references "Persona" in its final minutes; two characters are lined up, one facing the camera, the other at a 90-degree angle, with their mouths in the same space, just as in "Persona". "

Robert Altman’s expressionist film "3 Women" is also influenced by "Persona" as Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek begin to shift roles.

Fight Club draws on Persona, with similar themes, plot points and a still of a penis embedded film-in-film.

Awards and recognition

* "Persona" won the 1967 National Society of Film Critics awards for Best Film, Best Director (Bergman) and Best Actress (Andersson). [cite web
title=Persona (1966) Awards
* "Persona" was included in "The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made". [cite book
first=Peter M.
title=The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made
publisher=St Martin's Press



*cite book
others=trans. Keith Bradfield
title=Persona and Shame: The Screenplays of Ingmar Bergman
publisher=Grossman Publishers
location=New York

*cite book
first=Lloyd (ed.)
title=Ingmar Bergman's Persona
publisher=Cambridge University Press

contribution=Bergman’s Persona
title=Styles of Radical Will
location=New York

External links

*imdb title | id=0060827 | title=Persona
* [ "Persona"] at Rotten Tomatoes
* [ Roger Ebert’s review]
* [ An essay on the film by P. Adams Sitney]

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