Watching Persona was a very unsettling and harrowing experience. The movie left me with a feeling of inexplicable dread, as if something bad had happened. It felt like a horror film. The premise–two women in a beach house, one of them resigning herself to a life of silence while the other practically bares her soul to the other woman–seems like the perfect horror movie scenario. Coupled with thrilling music that seemed to foreshadow something sinister, scenes that depicted the two women eerily (e.g., that scene where they stroke each other’s face), and disturbing shots of people being burned alive or a nail being driven through someone’s hand, the film was disturbing and difficult to watch at times.
Distancing myself from the immediate feelings of terror and confusion right after my viewing of the film, I can now marvel at how the movie depicts the workings of the human mind. It depicts tensions between emotions and actions, our deepest desires and how we choose (or choose not) to externalize them.Alma is this vulnerable creature in front of the receptive yet guarded Elisabet. She practically bares herself to the actress during their stay in the beach house. We see her reveal the most intimate stories and respond humanly to them. In contrast to Alma, very little is known of Elisabet–at least in the first half of the film. She plays the role of listener to Alma’s stories and provides a comforting presence to her. What I find interesting in this juxtaposition of these two arguably different women is how they seem to merge into one another as the movie progresses. We see Alma’s attempts to shatter the walls within which Elisabet has contained herself. Violence comes into the picture as Alma threatens to splash boiling water over Elisabet to get her to violate her vow of silence, or leaves a shard of glass for Elisabet to step on. Why Alma chooses to do these things and go to such lengths in order to get Elisabet to crack is still unknown to me. But I interpret it as repressed feelings surfacing, clawing their way through a persona we have established for ourselves.
Nearing the end of the film, the reality of two women existing within the film is blurred, and I personally began to question if the scenes that I was watching depicted only one or two women. This nodded to the gradual fusion of the two women into one complex entity, an entity that seemed to escape any comprehension. Even the two women seem to be aware of this phenomenon, and they try to differentiate themselves from each other. In one instance, Alma is shown with Elisabet’s husband. They embrace tenderly, and the husband acts as if Alma really were Elisabet. She resents the idea when she wakes up from what appears to be just a dream, and even screams “I’m not like you. I don’t feel the same way you do . . . I’m not Elisabet Vogler: you are Elisabet Vogler.” However, the fusion seems inevitable and self-driven. Persona was a difficult film to watch, and an even more difficult to write about.