I Do Movies Badly: Persona

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2 Responses

  1. Ray (@RaySquirrel) says:

    The best explanation for this film I’ve ever heard is from my Film Theory professor Bruce Kawin. (I only recently read in an interview that Drew Goddard got the idea for Cabin in the Woods from taking Kawin’s course on Horror Film and Literature) He devotes an entire chapter to this movie in his book Mindscreen, which I highly recommend. In his view the film is an extention of the themes and motifs Bergman explored in his Silence of God Trilogy. (Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light, The Silence) The beginning of Persona even mirrors the beginning of The Silence with the same boy reaching out attempting to comprehend an image being presented to him. In The Silence That image was of tanks, in Persona that image is that of the faces of Liv Ullman and Bibi Anderson.

    In the opening montage of Persona there is a Spider which transforms into Liv Ullmann’s face. In both Through a Glass Darkly and Winter Light characters refer to God as a monstrous spider. Both Winter Light and The Silence both deal with characters who are troubled by the silence of God in their lives. In Kawin’s interpretation Liv Ullmann is representative of a God who has become disgusted with her children so has remained silent.

    When Bibi Anderson leaves the shard of glass for her to step on, it represents a direct attack on God similar to the Crucifixion of Christ. Once man, in the form of Bibi Anderson, has attacked God, in the form of Liv Ullmann, the fabric of the universe shatters, which in this instance is the celluloid film itself. Just as in the opening montage, the universe has to reconstitute itself. The flash of light at the beginning of the film is equivalent to God’s command at the beginning of creation, “Let there be light.” Interspersed within the montages are images which remind the viewer of the crucifixion, from the hands being nailed into the cross to the killing of the lamb.

    • Jim Rohner says:

      That’s a really fascinating interpretation, one that definitely refocuses everything. I may have to read that and revisit Persona down the line watching it with that lens in mind.

      One thing that stands out to me – in a vexing way – is how that interpretation isn’t self-evident, but instead relies on knowledge of prior films and themes in order to provide a context. I don’t really have an issue with the imagery in the opening montage being vague and artsy – the vague nature ensures that it could resonate with different people for different reasons – but since I hadn’t seen any of the Silence of God trilogy, I almost feel like Bergman’s esoteric nature becomes sort of exclusive, sort of robbing Persona of a certain extent of stand alone appreciation.

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