Ever had that feeling when your Algebra teacher would fill an entire blackboard of equations and solutions, and after looking at each set of numbers and its entirety, it just leaves you confused? You’re left with several numbers, fractions, etc., not knowing how to piece them together. You feel overwhelmed with the amount of information, asking yourself, where does this conclusion spring from? What were the processes used in solving the equations? With that said, an individual who comes across Ingmar Bergman’s psychological drama film, “Persona”, can probably muster a similar feeling after watching it.
Ingmar Bergman welcomes his audience with a montage of clips that, honestly, don’t make any sense. Instead, he establishes the ambience and mood of his film through the opening sequence. A hand being hammered with a nail, and blood being drained from a sheep’s neck, Bergman created a disturbing and eerie atmosphere that keeps you at the edge of your seat, making his audience already know what to expect in the coming scenes of his film. He couples this with an insidious-like, skin-crawling scoring that leaves you feeling unsettled. Like the sound of nails that scrape against a blackboard, making you cringe from your seat.
He introduces us to Alma, a young nurse, and Elizabeth Vogler, an actress who is healthy yet refuses to speak. As they were both sent to a cottage by the sea, their relationship with each other started to develop. In several scenes after, Bergman uses dialogue as an instrument and device that play a pivotal role in his film through the use of monologues by Alma. This allows Alma to be able to voice herself, (or lend) a part of herself to Elizabeth who quietly listens to her as she shares her deepest desires and secrets to Elizabeth who seemed to be engaged with Alma despite her lack of speech. As they both struggle with their identities, the word “persona” comes into play.
“We look alike.”
Bergman brings focus on the word “persona” which can be defined as a “theatrical mask” or the “appearance that you bring forth to the world”. His film, an artistically-created spectacle as it is, unveils the aspect of the merging of personas between Elizabeth and Alma through the idea of overlapping images and characters in his cinematography. He utilizes the act of merging through the element of symmetry manifested in several shots and scenes that reveal depth to his cinematic plot. The use of this camera technique alludes to Alma and Elizabeth’s merging personas as two separates halves, yet completely identical in a sense.
Bergman’s experimental work is very ambiguous and can be interpreted in several distinct ways, each one different from the other. The idiosyncratic aspect of the film’s entirety make it seemingly difficult to understand and decipher given its plethora of elements, techniques, and innuendos. Yet, this fusion of aspects construct a balance in each point of the plot, similar to a poem being written by a writer.