For an unknown reason, Elizabeth the actress, stops speaking in the middle of her theater performance and hasn’t muttered a word ever since. The only time she mutters a word during the entire film is when Alma, her newly assigned nurse, threatens to throw boiling water at her face.
The film Persona is a film that needs to be watched more than a couple of times, not only for its use of colors and sensible imagery, but also in hopes to understand the meanings behind the ever confusing film. The first time I watched it in class, I spent half the time confused and the other half wandering if what I was understanding was correct. I tried a second time through online streaming, and unfortunately did not have much success in grasping the meaning behind the film. However, looking back on it now, instead of trying to derive meaning out of a piece of art I do not understand, it may be best to take the literal road in understanding it. That is – to take it in literally as it is.
Elizabeth stops speaking in the middle of her theater performance, as if she had suddenly realized the vanity in speaking, she seems determined not to ever mutter a word again. Through the recommendation of a psychiatrist, Elizabeth spends the summer at the doctor’s summer house with her nurse Elizabeth. Naturally, spending the summer together, the two women seem to establish a bond and Alma begins to open up about her life to Elizabeth. Elizabeth says nothing, and Alma talks and talks, confessing her plans and her fears, and eventually, in a great and daring monologue, confessing an erotic episode during which she was, for a time, completely happy.
An element I found amusing in this film was the reverse in the roles of the characters. Elizabeth, the supposed patient, seemed stronger than Alma, the nurse that was assigned to take care of her. The scene where Alma lays down a sharp shard of glass on the floor for Elizabeth to step on to is an example of this. Elizabeth cuts her food and gets hurt, but it is in fact Alma that has abandoned her duty as a nurse and a caretaker.
This film also delves with our fear in facing the challenges in our lives and in the world around us. In the earlier segment of the film, the film shows a scene of a Buddhist monk burning himself in the street as protest for the injustice in Vietnam, later, there are photographs from the Warsaw ghetto, of Jews being rounded up; the film lingers on the face of a small boy. Perhaps the tragic horrors of this world is what has made Elizabeth to stop talking. Because no matter how we try to rephrase our opinions, we’re always bound to hurt someone’s feelings. For Alma, these horrors seem to be somewhere closer to home. She is uncertain of the man that she is planning to marry, afraid of being incompetent as a nurse, and her lack of ability to help Elizabeth. .