Thursday, January 6, 2011

An Homage to the Identity Crisis

"I should be like you," says Sister Alma, nonchalantly taking a bite of her breakfast, "I think I could change myself into you if I tried.  I mean inside."  As she speaks, her silent patient, actress Elisabet Vogler, looks on apathetically.  At this moment, seeds of doubt are cleverly planted in the audience's mind--Is this woman mad? What could she mean?  When Elisabet provokes Alma's hair-trigger psychosis, we enter an alternate world where the lines between reality and fantasy are hopelessly blurred.

Liv Ullman as Elisabet Vogler
Alma and Elisabet, the main characters in Ingmar Bergman's 1966 psycho-drama classic Persona, each struggle from an unbearable process of self-realization (though they deal with it in much different ways).  Elisbet (Liv Ullmann), a former-actress-turned-mute, feels deeply troubled by a sense that her career and entire being are, in many ways, absurd.  After a bewildering incident where Vogler simply ceases to speak in the middle of a live performance of Elektra, laughing out loud before exiting the stage and entering the hospital, we learn that her willed silence is an act of defiance.

Bibi Andersson as Sister Alma
Alma (Bibi Andersson), the nurse in charge of Elisabet, maintains a false consciousness throughout the film.  While she gives off a confident air initially, her close contact with the actress eventually causes her to question the identity that she broadcasts as her own.  Perhaps she is not so angelic, as she has worked so hard to make others perceive.  She becomes intensely jealous and resentful of Elisabet's strength in solitude.  Her dreams are transformed into fantastic visions of herself encompassing both personalities.  But in reality she has created a monster.

Ingmar Bergman is the original indie director.  While his works boast massive critical acclaim, most of his films have never gained a large audience.  His style reeks of obscurity and his subject matter typically focuses on the darker shades of human existence: madness, illness, discontent.

Bergman is also a master of film distancing devices, as Persona will attest.  The feature begins ambiguously with a series of shocking and seemingly unrelated images.  Film loops noisily through a projector, a strange cartoon depicts a woman fondling herself, blood and viscera fall chaotically from a sheep.  The torrent of photos, clips and dissonance ends with footage of a young boy waking, reading a book and stroking the giant blurred image of a woman’s face.  These images come to symbolize emotions and themes explored in the piece.







Persona will mercilessly leave you with a head full of questions.  The artist's intent, however, is not always to plainly portray their vision.  This film begs for audience involvement and interpretation.  Bergman's effort in creating this film was to produce a piece of art with staying power, and in this respect  he thrives.  After nearly 50 years, analysts and critics like me are still puzzling over its complexity.

Find it on Netflix.

-Rebecca

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"I should be like you," says Sister Alma, nonchalantly taking a bite of her breakfast, "I think I could change myself into you if I tried.  I mean inside."  As she speaks, her silent patient, actress Elisabet Vogler, looks on apathetically.  Unbeknownst to her, Alma's psychosis operates on a hair-trigger.  

The lines of reality and fantasy blur in Ingmar Bergman's 1966 psycho-drama classic Persona.  Bergman's enigmatic tale of gripping self-realization stars Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann as a nurse and patient (respectively) entangled in identity crises.  

When Andersson's character becomes jealous of her patient, a former-actress-turned-mute, she slips out of reality in order to encompass her personality.  Here Bergman perfectly utilizes the camera as a distancing device, disconnecting the audience in the same way.  This masterful recognition of inner conflict and doubt is worth your interpretation.

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The lines of reality and fantasy blur in Ingmar Bergman's 1966 psycho-drama classic Persona.  Bergman's enigmatic tale of gripping self-realization stars Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann as a nurse and patient (respectively) entangled in identity crises.  Bergman's masterpiece of disassociation continues to incite critical interpretation after nearly 50 years.

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Reality and fantasy blur for two troubled women in Ingmar Bergman's 1966 disassociative classic Persona.

2 comments:

  1. Really great reviews! I would love to watch this with you sometime...alone.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Really interesting! I like the use of quotes at the beginning.

    ReplyDelete