I don't want to admit this, but I must. I have heard a lot about Bergman. I know what films were inspired by his work and why. I know he is important and to be ooohed and awwwwed over. But I have never watched one of his films. They always sound good, if not upsetting, and I just never find myself in the mood for one. It's always like, "Shall I watch another documentary on climbing Everest, or a Bergman? Eeeeeeh, documentary it is." Weirder movies tend to deeply affect my mood. I don't have an explanation, I just seem to feel the emotions from them for longer, so I tend to put them off, since I know I'll be affected. I mean, after I watched Antichrist, I saw for almost an hour just staring at the black TV screen, thinking, wondering. I subjected Anthony to Eraserhead once, and we both felt sick to our stomachs afterwards for a few hours. We're weird. So Bergman, despite my knowledge that I need to watch his films, always settled at the bottom of my list. Sorry, Film Professors. Sorry, Ingmar Bergman.
I really like a summary of this movie that I found at IMDB, it seems to keep the plot more simple than I could, since I feel as compelled to describe the images as I do the plot. They write, "A young nurse, Alma, is put in charge of Elisabeth Vogler: an actress who is seemingly healthy in all respects, but will not talk. As they spend time together, Alma speaks to Elisabeth constantly, never receiving any answer. Alma eventually confesses her secrets to a seemingly sympathetic Elisabeth and finds that her own personality is being submerged into Elisabeth's persona" (Webpage here). The plot is sort of simple but psychologically complicated. The images that Bergman creates visually show the strange personality merging, by showing the two actresses faces merging together, looking similar, as one. But the images are truly stunning and somehow very human. They seem to cut to the core of what it means to be a person, to have a personality, and they attempt to explain what our personalities are made of.
It usually takes me a little while to come up with a reading of what I get out of movies like this. But Persona felt unique in the fact that the literal interpretation of it seemed to work just as well as anything I could think of. Literally, the movie just works perfectly as being about two personalities merging together, about what makes us us. Ebert also sees the literal interpretation as well, writing, "It is exactly about what it seems to be about. "How this pretentious movie manages to not be pretentious at all is one of the great accomplishments of `Persona,' " says a moviegoer named John Hardy, posting his comments on the Internet Movie Database. Bergman shows us everyday actions and the words of ordinary conversation. And Sven Nykvist's cinematography shows them in haunting images. One of them, of two faces, one frontal, one in profile, has become one of the most famous images of the cinema" (The Great Movies, 359-360). It's easy to get really swept up in the disjointed images in the beginning and end of the movie, but it seems that even the simplest explanation is a good one. I can only imagine you must be incredibly talented to create this effect, and I so get the Bergman obsession after watching this.
I really loved this movie. Being ignorant of Bergman, I wonder if it was a good or bad introduction to his craft, but it doesn't matter. I loved it. It felt perfect and right to me, and it made a strange sort of sense. It fit my weird, introspective mood, and it stayed with me for the rest of the afternoon. I don't think everyone will love this movie, though. Bergman is strange and not everyone wants to watch movies that are so image-heavy and so thought-heavy. David Lynch, a bit of an obsession of mine, making Mulholland Drive, clearly was inspired by and borrowed from Persona. If you don't like Lynch, you probably will not like Bergman. I remember the first time I saw Mulholland Drive at a sleep over with some friends. We watched it, and manged to not turn it off, but everyone was very angry and confused at the end. "That was so stupid!" was the unanimous cry. "...what even happened?" everyone asked. I sat quietly on the couch and tried to not share with the group that I was so excited by the weird movie that I felt like I needed to change my pants. "It was symbolism!" I said, feeling a deep twinge of pleasure. "Ugggh," everyone else said, feeling a deep singe of pain. So find where you land on this spectrum - do you twitch in happiness at thoughts of symbolism and analysis, or do you groan in irritation? It's not right or wrong either way, but if you tend to dislike a Lynch-like style, Persona will probably be equally as annoying.
I just want to say that it doesn't make you anything bad or weird to not like movies like this. Movies are just personal preference. My preference is strange, and I'm an English major. One of the quickest ways to inflate my sense of self worth, for years, has been when teachers or professors have praised my analysis or my unique comparisons of works. My dad feels better when he completes something logical, and this is why I'm a writer, and he can do computer programming. My head swims when I have to get to one correct answer. Unthinkable! So don't worry if you hate this sort of thing. I just happen to be the particular breed who likes it, and if you don't like it, the only thing that says about you is that you don't like weird arty farty movies.
I'm really hungry and I've put on an episode of No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain while I write, and now I'm even hungrier - so I must stop and eat. Let me know if you decide to check out Persona!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Persona