“Persona” Rating: 9 out of 10
The great thing about Bergman’s films has always been that they are open to interpretive analysis. Other great directors like Kubrick and Fellini are famous for doing the same thing but none have dealt with issues that relate to all human beings better than Bergman. The Seventh Seal dealt with man’s relationship with God, Wild Strawberries was about analyzing your life’s accomplishments, Cries and Whispers was about death, and Persona, which deftly handles a story of mental illness. Now, each person who watches this may get something different from it but I’ll give you my perspective. I feel this film is about a schizophrenic, delusional, and mentally ill woman. I think the character of the actress (played by Liv Ullmann) is completely in the mind of the nurse (played by Bibi Andersson). The beginning of the film is filled with flashes of light, dark, a young boy, a tarantula, and a crucifixion. It seems to be the random memories of of Bibi Andersson as she moves back into reality. As the story progresses, the nurse is placed on an island alone with the actress who refuses to speak but seems normal otherwise. They spend a great deal of time together until Bibi Andersson is comfortable enough to let her guard down and relate her most disturbing regret and decision. Part of her believes that by relating this story to a mute woman is a way of letting out her feelings without fear that it can be verbally repeated, But, soon she finds an open envelope with a letter to someone from the actress that relates the entire confession and it turns the film from a story of friendship to one of anger and revenge.
I don’t want to give any more away because Persona, like all Bergman films, are much better experienced than they are explained. Similar to 2001, you’ll likely have a different experience than I had watching it and may even come to a different conclusion. I felt as though the entire film took place in Bibi Andersson’s mind. She wrote the letter herself while in her actress personality so that when her personality switched back to the nurse, she had no memory of the event. There are also other scenes that reenforce my idea such as when they spend time in the mirror together, how the actress only speaks in whispers(a common symptom of schizophrenics), or the camera shot of the two women side by side representing one person with two faces.
A lot of this review may sound confusing and the movie may not be your cup of tea. All of Bergman’s films require your full attention and provoke a lot of thought. However, there is no other director that understood the human condition better and if you’re ready to handle a very challenging film, Persona is one that you can’t wait to discuss once it’s finished.