Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Last week I watched Ingmar Bergman's 1966 film Persona for the first time. Its one of those films I'd heard about over and over again, and seen lots of references to in other films, but never actually watched it myself. I didn't really have any idea about what the plot was before going in, but after watching it I was really pleased with it. I tend to enjoy twisted, strange films that provoke thought and the urge to watch it a couple more times.
Here's the premise: Well-known theatre actress Elizabeth Vogler is in the middle of performing a play and suddenly finds that she is unable to speak, crippled with what we gather is an overwhelming anxiety or depression. She is sent to a facility and is looked after by Sister Alma, a nurse. The doctor decides it would be beneficial for Elizabeth and Alma to retreat to her seaside home to help Elizabeth recuperate faster. The two bond though Elizabeth still will not speak, while Alma uses her as a confidant of sorts, constantly talking to her and eventually confessing her innermost secrets. Elizabeth is physically healthy and able to speak, but still refuses while she voyeuristically "studies" Alma's character. Alma, soon in a weakened mental state, begins to assume the identity Elizabeth has cultivated for herself over her years of rising to fame as an actress. Alma basically becomes Elizabeth, helping Elizabeth cope by separating herself from the inner turmoil caused by her own existence.
Persona is minimally shot with many close ups, allowing the viewer to "get into the minds" of the characters. Its very cerebral, and provokes a lot of thought in order to piece it together, while also being pretty creepy. After watching I was able to see the connection between this film and one of my all time favorites, David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, which is said to be heavily influenced by Persona. Both Persona and Mulholland Drive feature main characters that are actors who meld identities with other characters. The concept of fluid identities is really fascinating, and also prompted me to think about where a person's identity lies in the profession of acting. I think that it must be hard for an actor to separate himself from the identity of a character he is playing, or truly know who he is as a person.
I really enjoyed this film, though I'm not sure I've fully grasped Persona in one viewing. I'm eager to watch it a few more times as well as check out more of Bergman's work.