Wordless Secrets in Persona

Gee, how did Swedish films ever get a reputation for being more sexually permissive than, say, American films?

After class, two students brought up two good points about Persona.

  1. The David Cronenberg film Spider (2002) has a similar narrative device of a character with a split personality. Watch it, although I might have just spoiled it for you. Sorry.
  2. Here’s the trailer for the film.

    On this note, I wanted to consider what the film would have been like had it been done in a more conventional manner. For example, what if we saw the woman becoming pregnant and then deciding to either abort the child or to have it and to hate it? Would you show scenes of a doctor’s office, or a string of scenes between the mother and son? I don’t see this having the same impact as what Bergman produced. Instead, we see the internal conflict playing out in a very externalized way.

  3. There were several scenes that suggested that the two women were going to become romantically involved. There were many moments where the women embrace, but as you noticed, they never actually kiss or otherwise consummate their affection for each other.
  4. This might suggest that the two women are inextricably close, and in fact they are as close as any two persons can become. This is an early hint that they are in fact connected. What do you think?


Finally, all those references to the materiality of the film medium are there to remind us that we are watching a film. Bergman is using film to explore human psychology in a way that language is incapable of doing. That’s perhaps why we understand, on a visceral level, what the film is trying to explore, but we can’t quite put into words. Recall the Bergman quote I read before we screened the film.

wordless secrets that only the cinema can discover

I hope you see how the new waves were pushing the limits of what film could do and what it can explore. Persona makes it seem like no topic is impossible.

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1 Response to Wordless Secrets in Persona

  1. ryanhecht says:

    I think there is something of that closeness or split-personality in that scene with the repeated monologue. From what I know about directing a conventional movie a director would take a master shot that included both Person A and Person B then over-the-shoulder or POV shots with just Person A or Person B. The end result would have all these shots intercut seamlessly.

    By showing the entire monologue repeated from the two different points of view it does appear that we are seeing two sides of the same person. We can see how she would feel while actively telling the story and how she would feel while listening or thinking about the story. I can’t remember but does this scene end with the image of the halves of their faces connected to make one face? (Is it bad that that image reminded me of the Incredible Hulk TV show?) That is quite an overt reference to them being two halves of the same coin.

    I also think that, in showing both angles in their entirety, Bergman let the audience in on the process of movie making.

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