After watching Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, I could understand why many critics would describe the film as either a psychological horror or psychological drama. Yet, as I tried to explain the plot of Persona to my friend who hasn’t watched it, I realized it was hard to encapsulate the horror or thriller aspect of the story, because when you think about it, there was nothing particularly scary about it. I ended up just telling my friend, “basta… it was just such a strange movie…” And I don’t think I was completely wrong.
Persona starts off with a montage of disturbing footages, which were often obscure, hard to make out images, and sometimes sexually explicit. A boy waking up in a morgue walks up to a giant screen and sees the blurred image of two women. The film proceeds with the rest of the movie, revolving around Alma, a nurse, and Elisabet, an actress who suddenly went silent. On the surface level, the film was minimalist, with two, maybe three, characters in the whole film, but it’s acting, lighting, script, and other elements made it much more complex and mysterious. As I mentioned earlier, there was nothing particularly scary about Persona, but it also became a perfect example of a horror movie—without the cheap scares and jump shots, with no over-the-top blood-gushing-out-of-wounds scenes, no serial killers, ghosts, nor monsters. Just the frightening loss of one’s own identity—which is arguably one of the scariest things that could happen to a human.
It was a story of two seemingly different women, one a nurse and one a silent patient, who come together in a household and grow so close together that their identities blur and merge. This central theme was foreshadowed constantly, from Alma telling Elisabet how much they look alike and if she tried hard enough, she could be Elisabet, to Alma sleeping with Elisabet’s husband who mistakes her as his wife. In a quite literal take, the scene where Bergman would combine half of each other’s faces or superimpose the two faces, morphing them into one, showed this same loss of identity—of Alma becoming Elisabet.
It was another silent-esque film. The dialogue was almost non-existent, but the communication was there, just manifested differently through facial expressions, body language, and the score. Alma’s storytelling was so strong and raw; offering a different view on motherhood as a burden. The film was eerie, tense, and charged with so much emotions—fear, anger, love, and grief. Even as I’m writing this post, I’m still not entirely sure what was real in the film and what was not. The film remains a mystery to me, but it also leaves me wanting more. Persona is considered by some as one of the greatest films ever made, and it’s evident that it inspired many future film makers. Overall, Persona was a film that moved you. Shook you. Disturbed you. Which is essentially what a film is meant to do, to move the audience, either positively or negatively.