Ep 23 // Persona
Directed by Ingmar Bergman, 1966's 'Persona' explores the dark dynamic between two women... and the accompanying male gaze of the director.
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It’s Mia’s 4th pick: Persona, the 1966 film directed by Ingmar Bergman.
Persona is a film that is open to much interpretation about its themes, meaning, and maybe even its plot. In the most basic way, it’s the story of a well known Swedish actress who suffers an emotional shutdown and is put in a hospital. It’s explained that there is nothing wrong with her either mentally or physically, but she is completely unwilling to move or speak. A nurse is assigned to her, but a lack of any progress soon leads the attending doctor to send the actress, with her nurse, to a seaside cottage. With the actress still not speaking, but beginning to otherwise take part in life, the nurse finds a willing set of ears to spill her thoughts and secrets to. This eventually leads to a seeming betrayal of confidence. Meanwhile, both for the nurse and for the audience, the identities of the women become increasingly blurred.
Persona was Ingmar Bergman’s 27th film as a director and was released 20 years after his first. It also came about a decade after The Seventh Seal firmly established him as a well-known name of world cinema. The experimental opening moments of the film effectively set up an experience that is harder to pin down than other, more mainstream films. Discussion and debate about how to interpret Persona tend to follow several different lines, from identity, gender, and sexuality to Jungian psychology, art, and even vampirism.
For our purposes, Persona only appeared in the top 10 of Sight & Sound’s critics poll once, in 1972, when it was ranked 5th. In 2012, it was tied with The Seventh Samurai at number 17 on the wider critics poll, and it was ranked number 13 on the directors poll.