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Persona (1966)

 -  Drama  -  16 March 1967 (USA)
8.2
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Ratings: 8.2/10 from 46,046 users  
Reviews: 153 user | 98 critic

A nurse is put in charge of an actress who can't talk and finds that the actress's persona is melding with hers.

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Title: Persona (1966)

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Top 250 #196 | Nominated for 1 BAFTA Film Award. Another 8 wins & 1 nomination. See more awards »
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Cast

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Margaretha Krook ...
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Storyline

A young nurse, Alma, is put in charge of Elisabeth Vogler: an actress who is seemingly healthy in all respects, but will not talk. As they spend time together, Alma speaks to Elisabeth constantly, never receiving any answer. Alma eventually confesses her secrets to a seemingly sympathetic Elisabeth and finds that her own personality is being submerged into Elisabeth's persona. Written by Kathy Li

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

actress | nurse | silence | beach | medical | See All (77) »

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Previously unseen Director's Cut See more »

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Drama

Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »

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Details

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Release Date:

16 March 1967 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Persona  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Susan Sontag wrote that she considered Persona the greatest film ever made. See more »

Quotes

Sister Alma: To change oneself. My trouble is laziness.
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Autumn Sonata (1978) See more »

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User Reviews

A very powerful personal experience
21 October 2002 | by (Vancouver, B.C.) – See all my reviews

Ingmar Bergman's mystifying masterpiece, Persona, opens with an image of light from the lamp of a film projector and then the film running through the spools. This is followed by a series of images that includes a spider, a montage from silent comedies, a spike being driven through a man's hand, and faces in a morgue. The film then cuts to an enigmatic picture of a young boy watching women's faces appear on a giant screen directly in front of him. Are these strange images reminding us that we are only observing a film, not reality?

As Persona begins, Sister Alma (Bibi Andersson), a nurse, is assigned to care for an actress, Elizabeth Vogler (Liv Ullman) who suddenly ceases to speak in the middle of a performance of Electra. Alma learns that there is nothing physically or psychologically wrong with Elizabeth. She just refuses to communicate verbally. Alma and Elizabeth retreat to the head physician's summer cottage on a small island to complete her recuperation. Although Alma is the only one who talks, the relationship grows and Alma is happy that she has found someone who will listen to her sympathetically. She begins to share with Elizabeth some of her most vulnerable moments. A high point in the film is Alma's detailed description of a sexual encounter she had with two teenage boys while sunbathing on a beach in the nude. Elizabeth appears to be an attentive listener who, by facial expression, encourages Alma to reveal more and more personal details.

Alma, however, is deeply hurt when she opens Elizabeth's unsealed letter to her doctor. In the letter, Elizabeth reveals how she is using Alma as a "study" and finds her infatuation "charming". Feeling betrayed Alma lashes out in anger, first berating her patient, then begging for forgiveness. As soon as physical and emotional violence is depicted, Bergman stops the narrative and repeats images from the opening sequence, adding a close-up of an eye as if to remind us again that we are merely prying observers. The relationship of the two women now becomes a struggle of wills. Alma grows more desperate as Elizabeth gets stronger and more dominant. Sensing this new power, Elizabeth seems to transfer her personality to the weaker Alma. Every nuance of emotion is unforgettably conveyed in the facial expressions of these two remarkable actresses.

Persona is filled with surreal images and dream sequences in which it is very difficult to distinguish between illusion and reality. In one scene, Alma sees Elizabeth entering her room at night, then exiting. When Alma asks her the next morning if she was in her room, Elizabeth shakes her head no. We do not know if she is simply not telling the truth, or the event did not occur. Bergman does not offer help. The same is true for scenes when Mr. Vogler appears or when Elizabeth looks at a picture of her son that she tore up at the beginning of the film. Being left on our own to make sense of these discontinuous elements, we are forced to discard thinking in traditional linear ways.

I can't say that I fully understood Persona. It may be suggesting that the persona we assume is merely a mask to cover our fears and insecurities? It seems that Elizabeth is playing a role as actress, wife, and mother. She wants to abandon this inauthentic role by refusing to speak. Alma, on the other hand, acts like a dutiful wife and supportive nurse, but secretly yearns to be what she perceives Elizabeth to be: strong, independent, and self-reliant. In a memorable scene, the faces of the two women are morphed into one composite in a classic overlapping shot, an image that says to me that underneath the roles we play, we are all the same.

After successive viewings, however, I realized that Persona's greatness does not lie in understanding, but in its unbearably intimate and poetically realized images, magnificently conveyed by cinematographer Sven Nykvist. The raw power of this film totally drew me in and allowed me to get in touch with my own feelings of hurt and desperation in trying to reach people in my own life who cannot or will not respond. Persona is not just a classic I objectively admired, but a very powerful personal experience.


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