Persona could not have been more appropriately named, since the word came from early 20th century Latin meaning ‘mask’ or ‘character played by an actor’. The whole movie revolves around this theme while being ambiguous about the characters and their motives in the most captivating way. At the start of the film, we are greeted with an interesting set of moving images to say the least. To the unsuspecting audience, these images are nothing but random and, for some, disturbing. It ends with a little boy touching a screen with what appears to be the faces of two women that would be introduced to us later: Alma and Elizabeth.
We get to learn more about the two characters as the story unfolds, with Elizabeth as an actress that decided to stop speaking and Alma as her personal caretaker. What makes this film unique is that while Alma is the one doing most, if not all, the talking, we get to connect with and consider both women as main characters. Upon watching the first few minutes it seems that Elizabeth is the main character, but Alma reveals more of herself such as her experiences, thoughts, and even regrets. At one point, they start to dress alike, appear to be morphing together in dream sequences, and a scene shows Alma saying to herself as Elizabeth is sleeping that she smells of sleep and tears. These hint at the audience that there is an underlying meaning to the two women, without being too straightforward.
The cinematography of the film also gives us a look into the minds of Alma and Elizabeth. In some of the scenes, hands are being highlighted since they can also be a sign of expression. At the beginning, Alma’s hands are seen to be very restless while trying to hide it from the doctor. As the two women start to become closer, they compare hands. At the very end, during the monologue, Alma is seen banging her hands on the table in frustration. This shows us that even without talking, we get to understand what the women are feeling at the moment, aside from looking at their facial expressions and body language. Another technique being used by Bergman is breaking the fourth wall, as a film strip is being shown at the start and end of the movie, and the film “breaks” in the middle of Elizabeth and Alma’s big fight. At the prologue sequence, a little boy is seen touching a screen showing a blurry face of a woman that turns into Elizabeth or Alma.
But one should not overanalyze the film, but instead appreciate it for what it is. Another clue would be looking at the definition of the title, which is “the particular type of character that a person seems to have, which is often different from the real or private character that person has” (Persona, n.d.). Alma starts to rant about having to have a “face” that she shows to others. She asks Elizabeth at one point, “Can you be one and the same person at the same time?” And sheds light on a truth that we are all familiar with. We all wear masks every day, and sometimes this can take a toll on us. We do not act the same when we are with certain friends, family, loved ones, or when we are alone. Knowing this, one possible film theory would be that Elizabeth is Alma’s persona or the other way around. As for my main takeaway, it would be Alma’s realization that maybe we would be better off if we allow ourselves to be who we truly are.
Persona. (n.d.) In Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary. Retrieved from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/persona