Thursday, March 1, 2012
Is this the great Bergman film? No, but it is a representation as to why so many of his movies are great. Persona came to Bergman while he was in a hospital, dubious as to whether he would ever make a movie again. The movie opens with a camera projecting light and producing a series of diverse images, which, in short, are Bergman displaying the possibilities of cinema. Here is a medium in which visions of the mind come to life. Then a crucial scene arrives as a boy, presumably in a hospital bed, sits up and begins to move his hand across a large image of a woman. It looks almost as if he is in front of a movie screen. This could very well be a representation of Bergman when he was in the hospital, creating Persona in his mind. The image on the screen is of a woman. It keeps going out of focus, then back in. Her face seems to change, but only slightly, so hard to tell if she is the same person or not. As the face blurs in and out, the boy is running his hand back and forth along the image, almost as if he his molding it, taking an picture of a lady and turning it into a different image. The fiction that begins in the next scene is probably what is going as the boy molds the face with his moving arm. The fiction presents two women, one a nurse the other a patient, who travel to a house by the ocean side. Much can be made of the many scenes here. Bergman isn’t trying to make a puzzle meant to be solved, but merely presenting possibilities. The film works best when taken literally. These two women are separate beings. The patient is Bergman’s doctor operating on the mind of the nurse, creating a reversal of sorts. She refuses to speak and Bergman asks what happens when a person exists only physically. Loneliness, the desperate need for conversation, is one result. Bergman takes it further when he shows the nurse plant a piece of glass on the ground in the hope that her patient will cut herself. So this desperation leads to anger, revenge. The other option is that Bergman is toying with the idea of two people who physically look the same in a confined space and how they become one. That is to say, he’s taking a single person, tricking the viewer that it is two people, and then slowly merging them together to reveal the truth. A few examples: as mentioned, they look alike. They have each failed at being a mother. There is a scene in which the patient’s husband pays a visit. One shot shows the nurse and the husband embracing, with the patient in the background facing them. It is as if she does not exist. Then we see the patient in the foreground and the other two in the background, yet she is still facing the camera. It is as if she exists and they do not. Finally, near the end Bergman famously morphs the two faces together, creating a strikingly normal face. The movie closes with that kid in front of the screen, showing he has molded a fiction filled with possibilities. And this fiction is the choice Bergman has selected from the endless options he showed at the beginning. I like Persona quite a bit, and contrary to so many, I feel I understand it fairly well. The good news is it's only 80 minutes, so if you feel you need to see it again, you won't use too much time doing so.