Persona – The Hopeless Dream of Being | Cinema Cartography


How would I describe Persona? Restless, uneasy,
dream-like, performative. Persona elevated Bergman to a masTERful filmmaker and helped
cement his name as a synonym to the concept of the auteur. His control of his medium,
with a clear and inimitable signature are immediately recognizable through the cinematic
world that he crafted. But despite his use of recurring environments, themes, characters,
actors, Persona has achieved excellence and notoriety through the exploration of some
of the most difficult questions in his body of work; What defines us? What makes us who
we are? Ingmar Bergman’s philosophy was that film
could be something much more than mere entertainment: the right images could be a door to the psychological
forces that form our very own imagination. To quote Bergman himself: “no art passes
our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the
dark rooms of our souls.” And it’s his concentration on the visual expression, combined with the
simple premise of Persona, that eternalized so many scenes of the film in the collective
mind. The use of images that spoke directly to the
emotions, not to the intellect created a special and transforming experience to the viewer.
For Bergman was concerned with traversing pure cinematic language. He took interest
in exploring techniques that were unique to the cinematic form, but was constantly learning
from the ever evolving Visual Arts. Using the film camera in the same way as a writer
uses his pen or a painter his brush. In Persona, he chooses to juxtapose stylistic
choices that prime on the relation between Cinema and Illusion. Opting for the same narrative
techniques as of “classic” cinema, but disrupting the script through the use of bold visual
storytelling. The film grammar of Persona serves the mood as much as it serves to add
layers to the narrative. Creating a strange, but inviting, dichotomy in the way the story
unfolds. But the film plays with the symbolic forces
of our psyche in a dreamlike approach to cinema that doesn’t merely end in an aesthetic choice.
Persona allows ourselves to be deeply provoked in our own understanding of the Unconscious
mind. One that mediates our relation with the world around us, that creates masks, much
like the relation of Alma and Elizabeth. And as those two perceptions collide, we learn
that the characters represent both the internal and external reality of Being, one that we
reserve for ourselves and the other that we share with the ones around us. For the film is at its most insightful when
posing questions instead of giving answers. We often see the camera observe the diegetic
space like a mirror. Elizabeth faces the camera, while Alma looks away. The characters mirror
themselves: in clothes, gestures, semblance. Bergman’s use of the extreme close-ups of
Alma and Elizabeth confront us with the nothingness of our Beings. The persistent, embarrassing
close up that reduces the characters to an amalgamation of body parts: eyes, mouth, nose,
hair, pores, merging their bodies together. The use of close up reveals one of the most
provoking aspects of Persona; the exploration of the duality between the physicality of
the human face and the abstract notion of Individuality. By imprisoning the characters
in this unceasing close-up, Bergman searches for the dimensions of the cinematic life as
both an intimate and alienating experience. And as the camera attempts to almost penetrate
the skin of the characters, it reveals both the human exterior and interior in a dual
gaze that imposes onto us the question: Who is the person? Who is the persona? Persona’s cinematic language then functions
as an imaginative microcosm to expand our interpretations of the story. But much more
than a film to be understood, Persona is a film to be felt and appropriated into the
depths of our subconscious. The symbols are not there as enigmas to be solved and connected,
but to function as projections of our reality, amplifying the Film into an almost philosophical
journey. The intellect cannot always cope with our cinematic experience, sometimes we
just need to feel it. For symbols transcend intellectual notions, they touch different,
primal, aspects of human knowledge. They transcend meaning itself and that’s what Bergman does
in Persona. The creative mastery of the film becomes not
a reflex of Bergman’s own desire to explore the horroscape of existence, but an almost
instinctive need to dwell on the possibilities of Art itself. But, if you insist in deciphering
Persona’s imagetic meaning, perhaps the most important clues are to be found in two important
moments of the film: first in its introduction, where we are presented with the projector
showing an amalgamation of films and symbols. At that moment, Cinema is presented as a portal.
A mirror that gives you back what you need from it and Persona confronts us with our
Truth by questioning what it is that makes us individuals without the masks of our culture. Cinema then becomes a tactile window into
the paradoxical relationship of Virtual and Reality, Individual and Collective identity.
But Bergman does not keep the spectator wandering or at a Brechtian distance. In a playful and, perhaps, daring move, Bergman chooses to play the final dialogue between
Alma and Elizabeth twice. In another important moment, he chooses to bring out the fundamental tensions between emotion, intellect, and perception. Visually we have some of some of the key elements of the film’s grammar; the lightly contoured face contrasted with the darkly silhouette, the camera proximity
of the subject, the characters mirroring each other, but facing away. Different angles almost
as to show the different perspectives that Cinema can bring, or impose the idea that
Film can be beyond time, suspending the moment, replaying it. The psychological disintegration of our characters then is represented in the famous composite
image of the two wo men’s merged faces, becoming one. This particular scene and its symbols are
perhaps what is the most perverse in Persona. By attempting to make an essential portrait
of our humanity through an almost metaphysical image, Bergman is both exposing the transforming
power of subjectivity and exploring multiple layers of meaning. He is not preoccupied with
any fundamental answer, but instead, with creating open roads of meaning. After all,
this is a film and if you don’t remember, here it is. Bergman breaks the 4th wall again. But that is not to say that all those interpretations
are not valid. There is so much here to talk about, Persona can be a deep dive into philosophical
meaning, visual storytelling, cinematic language. One that dialogues with the Feminine narrative.
Women that wear masks every day in order to survive societal conventions: to be a wife,
to be a mom. Another that dialogues with the duality of what we want others to see of us, and what we really are. The idea that those characters are just one. And, my favorite, the one that explores Cinema and media as keyholders of the world of Illusions and symbols with
a free pass to our unconscious mind. And despite the route you choose to take while reading
this Film, at the end of Persona: language and silence, reality and film, mask and person,
actor and ‘soul’ remain intertwined and the same question remains: what makes us who
we are? What defines us?

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