Persona (1966 film)

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Persona Poster.jpg
Theatrical poster
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Produced by Ingmar Bergman
Written by Ingmar Bergman
Starring Bibi Andersson
Liv Ullmann
Music by Lars Johan Werle
Cinematography Sven Nykvist
Edited by Ulla Ryghe
Distributed by AB Svensk Filmindustri
Release date
  • 31 August 1966 (1966-08-31)
Running time
84 minutes[2]
Country Sweden
Language Swedish
Box office $250,000 (U.S.)[3]

Persona is a 1966 Swedish psychological drama film[n 1] written and directed by Ingmar Bergman and starring Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann. Persona's story revolves around a young nurse named Alma (Andersson) and her patient, a well-known stage actress named Elisabet Vogler (Ullmann), who has suddenly ceased to speak. The two move to a cottage, where Alma cares for and talks to Elisabet about intimate secrets, and begins having trouble distinguishing herself from Elisabet.

Drawing on elements of psychological horror, Persona has been the subject of a vast amount of analysis, interpretation and debate. It deals with themes of duality, insanity, and personal identity, and has been interpreted as a statement of the Jungian theory of persona, cinema, vampire mythology, lesbianism, motherhood and abortion, or other subjects. The experimental style of its prologue and storytelling has also drawn comment. Given its enigmatic nature, it has been called the Mount Everest of cinema for professionals to decode, while film historian Peter Cowie declared: "Everything one says about Persona may be contradicted; the opposite will also be true".[n 2]

Bergman wrote the film with Ullmann and Andersson in mind for the lead parts, and some idea of exploring their identities, and shot the film in Stockholm and Fårö in 1965. In production, the filmmakers experimented with effects, using smoke and a mirror to frame one scene, and combining the faces of the lead actresses for one sequence in post-production. Andersson defended a sexually explicit monologue the screenplay called upon her to perform, and rewrote parts of it.

On its release, the film was subject to cuts because of its controversial subject matter but received positive reviews, with Swedish media using the term Person(a)kult to describe its enthusiastic followers. It won the award for Best Film at the 4th Guldbagge Awards and was Sweden's entry for consideration for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. In English-language restorations, the censored content has been reinstated since 2001. Many critics consider it one of the greatest films ever made, and it influenced many later directors, including Robert Altman and David Lynch.


After a series of images including a crucifixion, spider and the killing of a lamb, a boy wakes up in a hospital or morgue and pulls up to a large screen, which shows a blurred image of one or two women. One of these women is possibly Alma, a young nurse who is assigned by a doctor to see a patient, Elisabet Vogler. Elisabet is a stage actress who has suddenly fallen silent and still, although the doctors have determined this is not a result of physical illness or hysteria, but willpower. While at the hospital, Alma reads Elisabet a letter from her husband, which comes with a photo of their son; Elisabet tears the photograph up. She also becomes distressed seeing television footage of a man's self-immolation in the Vietnam War. The doctor decides Elisabet will recover better in a cottage by the sea, and sends Alma and Elisabet there.

While at the cottage, Alma talks to Elisabet, remarking no one has ever really listened to her before. She speaks about her first affair and her fiancé, Karl-Henrik. One night, she relates how, while in a relationship with Karl-Henrik, she was sunbathing in the nude with a woman named Katarina she had just met, when two young boys came along. Katarina initiated an orgy in which Alma became pregnant, and she had an abortion, feeling guilty about the matter.

Stroop Report photograph found by Elisabet: "Forcibly pulled out of dug-outs"

Alma drives to town to deliver their letters, but sees Elisabet's is unsealed. She reads it, and finds Elisabet has written she is "studying" Alma and has told of Alma's orgy and abortion. Furious, Alma accuses Elisabet of using her, though she does not know for what purpose. In a resulting brawl, Alma attempts to scald Elisabet with boiling water, but stops when Elisabet cries for her to not to, the first time Alma knows she has spoken since they met. Alma tells her she knows she is a terrible person, and when Elisabet runs off, Alma chases after her and begs for her forgiveness. Elisabet also sees the Stroop Report photograph of Jews arrested in the Warsaw Ghetto.

One night, Alma hears a man outside calling for Elisabet, and finds it is the husband, Mr. Vogler. Mr. Vogler addresses Alma as Elisabet, despite her telling him he is mistaken, and the two have sex. Alma meets with Elisabet again, feeling a need to talk about why Elisabet tore the photo of her son. Alma reveals much of Elisabet's story, that she wanted the only thing she did not have, to be a mother, and became pregnant. Elisabet came to regret the decision, and attempted self-induced abortion, but gave birth to a boy she hates. However, the boy wants her love. Alma ends the story in distress, asserting her identity as Alma and denying being Elisabet. Later, Alma coaxes Elisabet to say the word "nothing". Alma finally leaves the cottage, while being recorded by a film crew.



Writing took place at Sophiahemmet hospital.

According to Bergman, the story had its roots in a chance encounter the director had with his regular actress, Bibi Andersson,[n 3] in a street in Stockholm. Andersson was with Liv Ullmann, and introduced Ullmann to him.[20] Ullmann placed the meeting in 1964, and said Bergman recognized her and asked her on the spot if she would like to work with him.[21] He claimed a single image of the two women formed in his mind, and while in the hospital he also claimed to have found an "uncanny resemblance" between the actresses in photographs of them sunbathing. This inspired the starting point of his story, a vision of two women "wearing big hats and laying their hands alongside each other".[22] Additionally, Andersson stated that "Liv and I had worked together before and we were very close". Bergman had been in a romantic relationship with Andersson, and he became attracted to Ullmann, with Andersson remarking on Persona's conception: "He saw our friendship, and he wanted to get… inside of it. Involved".[19]

He wrote Persona during nine weeks while recovering from pneumonia,[23] with much of the work taking place in Sophiahemmet hospital.[24] In the screenplay, the story ends with the doctor announcing Elisabet has resumed speaking, reunited with her family and begun acting again. Alma remains on the island, and plans a letter to Elisabet until seeing the Holocaust photo, abandoning the letter.[n 4] Later in production, this was replaced by the blood-drinking scene, Elisabet finally being taught to say the word "Nothing", and Alma leaving the island.[25]

Bergman appealed to filmmaker Kenne Fant for funding for a project featuring Ullmann and Andersson. Fant was supportive and asked about the concept of the film, with Bergman sharing his vision of women comparing hands. Fant assumed the film would be inexpensive and agreed to offer funding.[27] Berman wrote in his book Images: "Today I feel that in Persona — and later in Cries and Whispers — I had gone as far as I could go. And that in these two instances when working in total freedom, I touched wordless secrets that only the cinema can discover." He also said: "At some time or other, I said that Persona saved my life—that is no exaggeration. If I had not found the strength to make that film, I would probably have been all washed up. One significant point: for the first time I did not care in the least whether the result would be a commercial success..."[28]

The filmmakers considered working titles such as Sonat för två kvinnor (Sonata for Two Women), Ett stycke kinematografi (A Piece of Cinematography), Opus 27, and Kinematografi.[1] However, Fant suggested something more accessible and the title was changed.[29][30]


Actor Role
Bibi Andersson ... Alma, the Nurse
Liv Ullmann ... Elisabet Vogler, the Actress
Margaretha Krook ... the Doctor
Gunnar Björnstrand ... Mr. Vogler
Jörgen Lindström ... the Boy, Elisabet's son

Bergman planned to cast Andersson and Ullmann together in a large project called The Cannibals, which he abandoned after becoming ill, but he still hoped to pair them in a project.[31] Ullmann stated she began to be cast in Bergman's films, beginning with the mute character Elisabet, believing: "It was because my face could say what he wanted to say. That made me the one he wanted to work with ... because it was my face and I also understood what he was writing".[n 5] With the conception of the project with Andersson and Ullmann, author Steve Vineberg wrote Bergman parted with his past uses of ensemble casts in films such as Smiles of a Summer Night, focusing on the two leads. Vineberg characterized the roles of Margaretha Krook and Gunnar Björnstrand as "abbreviated guest appearances".[34]

The filmmakers also cast Jörgen Lindström as Elisabet's son, having previously used him in his 1963 film The Silence.[35] Lindström was a child actor, being born in 1951; he also played child roles in other films.[36] Bergman himself is the uncredited narrator.[37]


The film was shot on the island of Fårö, including Langhammars and Berman's property at Hammars.

Principal photography took place on the island of Fårö,[n 6] including Langhammars, with its rauks in the background;[40] Berman's personal property at Hammars, Fårö;[41] and Råsunda Studios in Stockholm.[1] Shooting commenced on 19 July and wrapped up by 15 September 1965.[1] Ullmann described the initial Stockholm shot as marred by awkward performances and unprepared direction, at which point the crew opted to retreat to Fårö, where Bergman had located a house to serve as a location.[21] The weather in Fårö was ideal during shooting, and the crew redid much of the footage taken in Stockholm, recreating the summerhouse used in the Stockholm set and using a Fårö museum to host the hospital set.[42]

With the performances, Andersson said she and Ullmmann agreed to play their parts as differing sides of the same personality, and they assumed that personality was the author's, Bergman's. Andersson also stated they attempted to balance each other in their performances.[43] Bergman had instructed his actresses not to ask him what each scene meant, and Ullmann believed cinematographer Sven Nykvist was similarly kept uninformed of the director's intentions and left to work with intuition.[21]

Although the scene where Alma describes her orgy was in the screenplay, Andersson said in 1977 that Bergman had been counseled to remove it from the film, and it would not be filmed. Andersson insisted it be shot, volunteering to alter parts of the dialogue that she felt were too obviously written by a male.[44] The scene took two hours to shoot, using close-ups of Ullmann and Andersson done in single takes.[44] Andersson later stated that, while she thought some of her past performances in films such as Wild Strawberries were "corny", she was proud of her work in Persona.[45] Ullmann described her response shots as an unprepared natural reaction to the erotic nature of the story.[21]

For the scene in which Andersson and Ullmann meet in the bedroom at night, and their faces overlap, a great amount of smoke was used in the studio to make for a blurrier shot. Bergman used a mirror to compose his shots.[46]


The screenplay called for a "close-up of Alma with a strange resemblance to Elisabet".[47] While on Fårö, Bergman instead conceived of a shot where Ullmann and Andersson's faces are merged into a single face.[48] This was done by lighting what Bergman considered to be the unflattering side of each actress' face in different shots, and combining the lighted sides. The actresses were unaware of the effect until a screening in the Moviola.[49] Neither actress recognized herself in the resulting imagery, with each assuming the shot was of the other.[n 7]

According to Ullmann, the scene where Alma describes Elisabet's motherhood had been filmed with two cameras, one pointed at each actress, and it was intended for shots of each to be mixed in the editing process. However, Bergman thought both shots communicated something important, and used both in their entirety, one after the other.[50]

Bergman was unhappy with the sound in the scene where Alma describes the orgy, so he instructed Andersson to re-read the scene, which she did in a lower voice. It was recorded and dubbed over.[51]

The score was composed by Lars Johan Werle. It employs four cellos, three violins and other instruments. Werle described his composition to meet Bergman's requests, combined with lack of visual description of the scenes Werle would score:

Then he came with vague hints about how the films would look, but I understood him anyway and he gave me some keywords ... I was a little surprised to be part of an artistic work that I had so little time to digest ... One wonders how it is even possible that one could only see the movie once or twice and then compose the music.[52]

Themes and interpretations[edit]

Social critic Susan Sontag analyzed the themes.

Persona has lent itself to a variety of interpretations, with Professor Thomas Elsaesser remarking it "has been for film critics and scholars what climbing Everest is for mountaineers: the ultimate professional challenge. Besides Citizen Kane, it is probably the most written-about film in the canon". Critic Peter Cowie declared "Everything one says about Persona may be contradicted; the opposite will also be true". Academic Frank Gado said Cowie's quote was "patent nonsense" but signified "critical disarray"; Editor Lloyd Michaels acknowledged some exaggeration in the quote but welcomed the "critical licence" to study the film.[n 2]

Film scholar Marc Gervais summed up various possible interpretations, including "a metaphor of the subconscious or unconscious", "one personality consuming the other", "the fusing of two personalities into one", or "the different sides of the same personality fleetingly merging".[53] Gado observed potential readings as "an investigation of schizophrenia, a story about lesbian attraction, or a parable about the artist".[8]

Bergman stated that while he worked with an idea of what the story meant, he would not share it, because he felt it was more important people drew their own conclusions. He also stated he hoped people would never understand the film, instead feeling the emotions.[31]

Michaels summarized what he calls "the most widely held view" of Persona's content.[54] According to this view, Persona is "a kind of modernist horror movie".[7] Elisabet's condition, described by a doctor as "the hopeless dream to be", is "the shared condition of both life and film art".[55]

The "silence of God" is a theme Bergman explored extensively in his previous work. Author Stuart Coates concluded Persona represented an "aftermath" to that study.[47]

Identity and duality[edit]

Professor Irving Singer compared the merging shot to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Much of the focus has been on the resemblance of the characters, demonstrated in shots of overlapping faces, when one face is visible and part of another is seen behind it. There is a possibility that the two characters are one.[17] If they are one person, there is a question of whether Alma is fantasizing about the actress she admires, or if Elisabet is examining her psyche, or if the boy is trying to understand who his mother is.[56] Social critic Susan Sontag suggested that Persona is constructed as a series of variations on a theme of "doubling".[57] The subject of the film, Sontag proposed, is "violence of the spirit".[57] Professor Irving Singer, examining the shot where Alma and Elisabet's faces are combined, compared the repulsive effect to that of seeing Robert Louis Stevenson's character Mr. Hyde as opposed to his benign alter ego, Dr. Jekyll. Singer argued Bergman expanded on Stevenson's take on duality, the "good and evil, light and dark aspects of our nature", to portray it as "oneness" in this shot.[58]

Gado saw Persona as relying on a "double-threaded process of discovery involving motherhood".[59] Elisabet's withdrawal into silence could be a way of rejecting the role of mother, the only role the actress could not slough off. The nurse realizes that she has done precisely what Elisabet tried and failed to do: erase a child from her life by means of abortion.[60] Psychiatrist Barbara Young viewed the boy in the morgue in the story's prologue to be a stand-in for Bergman himself, in a morgue he remembered, reaching out to his mother. Young analogized Bergman's relationship to his mother, Karin, to Alma, "hungry for someone to listen to her and to love her", and Elisabet, "ravenous for precious time".[61]

In a question of duality, author Birgitta Steene wrote Alma represents soul while Elisabet represents a "stern" goddess.[62] Theologian Hans Nystedt declared Elisabet as a symbol of God, and Alma as symbolic of mortal consciousness.[63] Coates commented on the "female face", or "near-Goddess", succeeding the God that Bergman previously studied, but referenced Jungian theories to comment on themes of duality and identity. Two different people, with a "grounding in one self", allows them to trade identities.[47]


Carl Jung's theory of persona influenced the title and interpretations.

The title references the Latin word for mask and Carl Jung's theory of persona, an external identity, separate from the soul ("alma").[64] Jung believed that individuals project a public image to guard themselves, and that they can fall victim to believing in their own personas.[65] An interviewer confronted Bergman with the Jungian connotations of the title, acknowledging "persona" referred to masks actors wore in drama, but saying Jung's concept "admirably" matched the film. Bergman replied Jung's theory "fits well in this case".[66] Coates also connected this to themes of identity and duality, remarking, "the mask is Janus-faced".[47]

Alma's secret is revealed in her orgy monologue, with critic Robin Wood writing she relates it with a combination of shame and nostalgia, and it perhaps reveals her sexual liberation. Wood wrote it touched on issues of unfaithfulness and juvenile sexuality.[67] In Swedish, the boys are referred to as "pojkar", and need coaching, so they are young.[68] Professor Arnold Weinstein wrote the story is the hardest-hitting example of the "cracks" in Alma's mask, as it defies her persona of someone who only self-identifies as a nurse and leads to "collapse of self".[69] Weinstein testified the monologue is so forceful it verges on pornography, but there are no visuals of the sexual escapade.[69]

Cinema historian P. Adams Sitney summarized the story as following successive parts of a psychoanalysis, beginning with the referral, followed by the first interview, disclosures, and the discovery of the patient's root problem, and ending with termination.[25] While the narrative begins as if told from Alma's point of view, Elisabet compares their hands, and then the patient's point of view is revealed to be the source of the story, Sitney wrote.[70]

Another possible reference to psychology is that when Elisabet falls mute, the play she is in is either Electra by Sophocles or Electra by Euripides.[71] Wood wrote that while Bergman did not explore Greek tragedy extensively in his work, the character Electra evokes the Electra complex.[72] Sitney felt it related to "sexual identities" key to psychoanalysis.[71]

Gender and sexuality[edit]

The story fits the motif in Bergman's filmography of "warring women", seen earlier in The Silence and later Cries and Whispers and Autumn Sonata.[73] Professor Marilyn Johns Blackwell highlighted how Elisabet's resistance to language can be interpreted as a resistance to her gender roles. By showing this tension as one experienced primarily by women, Bergman can be said to "problematize the position of woman as other" and that the roles society assigns to women are "essentially foreign to their subjecthood".[74] She argued that the attraction between Elisabet and Alma and the absence of male sexuality cohere with their identification with each other, creating a doubling which reveals the "multiple, shifting, self-contradictory identity", a notion of identity that undermines male ideology. This theme of mergence and doubling surfaces early in the film in Alma's statement that she went to see one of Elisabet's films and was struck by the thought that they were alike.[75] Blackwell also states that the original title suggests a possible key to the interpretation of the film's themes; A Piece of Cinematography could be an allusion to a concern with the nature of representation.[76]

Authors have commented on possible "lesbian undertones",[14] or "lesbian overtones".[53] Alison Darren profiled Persona in her Lesbian Film Guide, commenting on the fictional relationship as "halfway between love and hate" and feeling Alma and Elisabet come close to having sex in one scene, "though this might easily be an illusion".[77] Scholar Gwendolyn Audrey Foster interpreted the film in feminist terms and as a depiction of lesbianism, and viewed the scene where Elisabet enters Alma's room as lesbian seduction.[78] Professor Alexis Luko, in observing the scene, felt the characters' touching and resemblance, aside from symbolizing their personalities merging, revealed signs of intimacy and erotic lesbianism.[79]

Foster believed Elisabet's stare confronts Alma with questions about her statements of engagement to a man, Karl-Henrik.[80] Foster further wrote any sexual encounters between men and women is tied in with abortion, while lesbian romance sees an increasingly shared identity.[81] The relationship is later characterized by narcissism and violence.[81] If the film dramatizes a lesbian relationship, this is not immediately clear to be a favorable depiction, Foster wrote. She elaborated that if lesbianism is considered a stronger version of female friendship or motherly love, the relationship between Alma and Elisabet replaces the prologue's depiction of the Oedipus complex, where the boy reaches out to his mother, to no avail.[82] Cinema Professor Jeremi Szaniawski suggested Bergman's use of homoeroticism, including in Persona, constituted a rebellion against his strict parentage under Church of Sweden minister Erik Bergman, and further argued homoerotic elements, gay and lesbian, could be found across Ingmar's filmography, in Hour of the Wolf, Cries and Whispers and Face to Face.[83]

Edward Dodwell's depiction of an ancient Greek persona.

Art and theatre[edit]

Originally, persona was a Latin word for mask, referring to a literal mouthpiece actors wore to increase the audibility of their lines. In Greek drama, persona came to mean the character separate from the actor.[84] Bergman often used the theatre and stage as settings in his filmography, to communicate statements on the predicaments facing people.[85]

Elisabet is a stage actress, and Professor Singer commented she is seen in "mask-like makeup" that suggests she has her own "theatrical persona". Singer remarked that Elisabet wears "thick and artificial eyelashes" even when she is not acting.[86] Scholar Egil Törnqvist observed that while Elisabet is on stage as Electra, she looks away from the theatre audience and breaks the fourth wall, looking to the cinema audience. Törnqvist added that Elisabet also makes a fist, arguing this symbolizes her revolt against the notion of performance as having great meaning.[87] While she develops a very personal relationship with Alma, Singer concluded Elisabet's realization is that she cannot shed her persona of actress, and will be left forever lonely, with "the hopeless dream of being", as the doctor said.[88]

Journalist Malcolm Browne's photograph of Thích Quảng Đức's self-immolation, which Carsten Jensen said is referenced in the themes.

Singer hypothesized that Bergman is confronting his viewers with "the nature of his art form".[89] Literary critic Maria Bergom-Larsson speculated Persona reflected Bergman's own filmography and filmmaking. While Alma initially believes artists "created out of compassion, out of a need to help", she sees Elisabet laugh at the performances on a radio program, and finds herself the subject of Elisabet's study. Alma rejects her earlier belief, remarking, "How stupid of me".[90] Just as Elisabet studies Alma, Bergman studied them both.[91]

Michaels suggested that Bergman and Elisabet share the same dilemma: they cannot respond authentically to "large catastrophes", such as the Holocaust or the Vietnam War.[7] Political columnist Carsten Jensen connected the Vietnam footage Elisabet watches to the historical self-immolation of Thích Quảng Đức. Jensen noted photographs of Quảng Đức's 1963 death were widely circulated and asserted they were used in Persona.[92] Academic Benton Meadows believed Elisabet saw herself in Quảng Đức's demise, fearing this as a consequence to her own rebellion of silence.[93] Törnqvist believed Elisabet is hit with the truth that the monk is a true rebel, while her rebellion is simple cowardly refuge behind a persona of muteness.[87]


Vampire by Edvard Munch. Persona's themes contain vampire allusions.

The film also includes symbolism about vampires as well as cinema.[17] In 1973, Dagens Nyheter critic Lars-Olaf Franzen interpreted Alma as a stand-in for the viewer watching the film, and Elisabet as the "irresponsible artist and vampire".[63] The British Film Institute wrote Elisabet "vampiristically" eats Alma's personality.[94] Elisabet is also seen drinking blood from Alma.[7] Gervais referenced the possibility that Persona is "an impressionistic vampire film",[53] while Törnqvist identified the vampire portrayal as "Strindbergian" and connected it to the spider seen in the prologue and to the "fat spider" mentioned in the screenplay, though not in the final cut.[n 8]

While psychologist Daniel Shaw interpreted Elisabet as a vampire and Alma as her "sacrificial lamb",[96] when Bergman was asked if Alma was entirely consumed, he replied:

No, she has just provided some blood and meat, and some good steak. Then she can go on. You must know, Elizabeth is intelligent, she's sensible, she has emotions, she is immoral, she is a gifted woman, but she's a monster, because she has an emptiness in her.[12]


Persona is sometimes described as an experimental film.[n 1] Professor Singer acknowledged Marc Gervais' theory that the style is a postmodern rejection of "realistic narration", though Singer assigned this as of secondary importance to the commentary on cinema.[97] The Independent journalist Christopher Hooton said symmetry was used and the fourth wall is sometimes broken, and quoted essayist Steven Benedict on the use of "reflections, splitting the screen, and shadows".[4] The fourth wall appears broken when Alma and Elisabet directly look into the camera, and when Elisabet takes photographs in the direction of the camera.[98]

Bergman believed in the importance of the face;[99] Liv Ullmann said she was cast for hers.[n 5]

The BFI assessed Persona as "stylistically radical", commenting on the use of close-ups.[94] Senses of Cinema journalist Hamish Ford also remarked on "radical aesthetics", citing a "genuinely avant-garde prologue".[100] Critic Geoff Pevere described the prologue, calling it "one of the most audacious reset clicks in movie history". He summarized the blankness before a projector runs, leading to clips of classic animation, a comedic silent film, crucifixion, and a penis, and concluded it symbolized cinema.[101] The successive imagery in the "montage" is "rapid-fire",[102] with Bergman himself saying the penis is on-screen for only one-sixth of one second, intended to be "subliminal".[103] The sheep is from a clip of Luis Buñuel's 1929 Un Chien Andalou,[65][98] while the clip of the personification of Death was previously used in Bergman's 1949 Prison.[98] Michaels also connected the spider seen in the prologue to the "spider-god" referenced in Bergman's 1961 Through a Glass Darkly.[n 9] Törnqvist said the spider is visible under a microscope, symbolizing its use for study.[n 8] When the boy reaches out to his mother on the screen, it is actually photographs of Ullmann and Andersson, shifting and becoming focused and then unfocused.[106] Aside from the prologue, the story is also interrupted by a celluloid break at the midpoint.[100]

Sequences that create a "strange" or "eerie" effect include Elisabet entering Alma's room, and it is uncertain if she is sleepwalking, or Alma is having a dream; or Mr. Vogler having sex with Alma, and it is uncertain if he mistook her for Elisabet.[98] Other scenes are "dreamlike—sometimes nightmarish".[107] The small-scale nature of the story is also supplemented with references to external horrors, such as images of self-immolation, included in the opening sequence and the hospital scenes, and the Holocaust photograph, which is the subject of increasing close-ups.[108]

Biographer Jerry Vermilye wrote that, despite having experimented with colour in 1964's All These Women, Persona represented Bergman and cinematographer Sven Nykvist's return to "stark black-and-white austerity of earlier chamber pieces". These include Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light and The Silence, with Vermilye referencing the possibility Persona is a sequel to that "trilogy".[107] For the backdrop, Bergman returned to Through a Glass Darkly's Fårö, which he used for symbolism.[n 6] Professor John Orr wrote an island setting offered "boldness and fluidity" that brought different dynamics to drama.[109] Orr added this "island romanticism" caused a distinct break from Bergman's earlier films, into "dream and abstraction".[73]

The acting styles of Ullmann and Andersson is dictated by the fact that Andersson does nearly all of the speaking. Andersson thus gives monologues, while Ullmann gives a performance of "naturalistic mime", Vineberg wrote.[110] A notable exception to this is when Elisabet is coached into saying the word "Nothing", which Vineberg characterized as ironic.[111] Altogether, Elisabet speaks only 14 words, with Berman's theory being "The human face is the great subject of the cinema. Everything is there".[99] Vineberg wrote the performances also utilize the "mirror exercise", where the two actresses look directly at each other's face, one makes facial movements and the other attempts to imitate.[112] Ford declared Ullmann's performance is defined by "twitching lips, ambivalent gazes and vampyric desire".[100]

Music and other sound also play a role in defining the style. This includes the prologue, with the score being "discordant" and accompanied by dripping and telephone ringing.[65] In the scene where Elisabet meets Alma in her bedroom, foghorns are used, along with Werle's music.[79] Musicologist Alexis Luko described the score as conveying "semantic meaning" with "diabolus in musica ('devil in music')", a style common in horror cinema.[113] Adding the foghorn effect reveals a meeting of "diegetic and non-diegetic", complementing the fourth-wall breaking when Alma and Elisabet look toward the audience.[114] The music Elisabet listens to in the hospital is Johann Sebastian Bach's Violin Concerto in E major, meant to be "nice and soothing" to divert Elisabet's attention from her mental torment.[72] However, it fails to comfort, as Wood wrote this is one of Bach's "most somber and tragic utterances", and the lighting in the scene darkens accordingly.[n 10] Luko hypothesized that Elisabet's lack of sound, or muteness, establishes her as falling into "the cinematic profile of a powerful, pseudo-omniscient mute".[117]


Persona was released on 31 August 1966, while the promotional premiere took place on 18 October 1966 at the Spegeln cinema in Stockholm.[1] The screenplay was also published as a book in Sweden that year.[1] It faced box-office losses that qualified it for subsidies from the Swedish Film Institute. Combined with the institute's earlier grant to support production, the project received 1,020,000 SEK from SFI.[118]

The film opened in the U.S. on 6 March 1967,[1] where it grossed $250,000.[3] Distributed by United Artists, its U.S. debut was at the New York Film Festival, with United Artists' marketing highlighting the similar appearances of the leads. The marketing also quoted critics, particularly about Alma's erotic monologue.[n 11] Persona finished its New York run after one month, which was considered disappointing.[120] In Brazil, it was released under the title Quando as mulheres pecam (Where Women Sin) to emphasize its sexuality.[121] In the United Kingdom, the film was released in 1967, and used subtitles at a time when many foreign language films were still dubbed.[122]

Two scenes censored from U.S. and U.K. versions of the film were a brief shot at the beginning depicting an erect penis,[123] and some of the translation of Alma's night-time monologue about her ménage à quatre, oral sex and abortion.[124][125] MGM archivist John Kirk restored the censored material, based on four translations, and translated between 30 and 40% more of Alma's dialogue in the censored scene. Kirk's version was released in the Film Forum in New York City and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2001.[126] Much of the censored material was included in Region 1 in the MGM DVD, released in 2004,[127] and on The Criterion Collection's Blu-ray 2K restoration in 2014.[128]

The 1999 Toronto International Film Festival featured a screening of Persona in a section called Dialogues: Talking with Pictures, featuring classic films, with a speech by Canadian filmmaker Patricia Rozema.[129] In February 2002, it screened in the Retrospective section of the 52nd Berlin International Film Festival.[130]


Critical reception[edit]

Critics praised Bibi Andersson's performance, and she received the Guldbagge Award for Best Actress.

Persona was released to favorable reviews in both the Swedish and U.S. presses.[131] In Sweden, Dagens Nyheter critic Olaf Lagercrantz said a cult following of Swedish critics had developed by October 1966, inventing the name Person(a)kult for them.[1] For Svenska Dagbladet, Stig Wikander declared it "a gnostic quest for divine nothingness".[63] Theologian Hans Nystedt also addressed the film in 1966, comparing it to the writings of Hjalmar Sundén.[63]

The Swedish Film Institute magazine Chaplin reported the Person(a)kult spread beyond Sweden by 1967.[131] In one of his first reviews,[132] Roger Ebert gave the film four stars, calling it "a difficult, frustrating film", and said it and Elisabet "stubbornly refuse to be conventional and to respond as we expect".[133] Bosley Crowther, writing for The New York Times, called it a "lovely, moody film which, for all its intense emotionalism, makes some tough intellectual demands". Crowther wrote that "interpretation is tough", and "Miss Ullmann and Miss Andersson just about carry the film—and exquisitely, too".[134] Variety staff remarked that "There is no denying the absorbing theme and the perfection in direction, acting, editing and lensing", and called Andersson's performance a "tour-de-force", concluding "Bergman has come up with probably one of his most masterful films technically and in conception, but also one of his most difficult ones".[135] Time magazine's review stated the film "fuses two of Bergman's familiar obsessions: personal loneliness and the particular anguish of contemporary woman".[136] In the 1972 British Film Institute Sight & Sound poll, Persona was ranked the fifth greatest film of all time, the highest placement for any Swedish film.[137]

Persona is considered one of the major artistic works of the 20th century by essayists and critics, who have referred to it as Bergman's masterpiece.[57][12][138][14] The Independent critic Geoffrey Macnab observed numerous other critics considered it among the greatest films of all time.[65] Empire's David Parkinson awarded it five stars in 2000, observing the different interpretations and attributing them to Bergman successfully distorting borders between real life and fantasy. Parkinson concluded by saluting it as a "devastating treatise on mortal and intellectual impotence".[139] Ebert added it to his Great Movies list in 2001, calling it "a film we return to over the years, for the beauty of its images and because we hope to understand its mysteries".[132] Peter Bradshaw gave it four of five stars in his 2003 The Guardian review, assessing it as "a startling, even gripping essay".[140] For The Chicago Tribune, Michael Wilmington awarded it four stars in 2006 and hailed it as "One of the screen's supreme works and perhaps Ingmar Bergman's finest film".[141] In 2007, Aftonbladet named the prologue as one of the most memorable moments in Bergman's filmography.[142] The New Yorker's Pauline Kael wrote the end result was a "pity", but the scene where Alma describes her orgy is "one of the rare truly erotic sequences in movie history".[143]

Several critics named Persona as Ingmar Bergman's magnum opus, and he won the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Director for it.[144]

Reviewing the home video, Richard Brody credited Bergman for a work that shed realism via special effects, but conveyed "a tactile visual intimacy", also praising the island setting.[145] In his 2013 Movie Guide, Leonard Maltin gave the film three and a half stars, calling it "Haunting, poetic, for discerning viewers".[146] Time Out's review stated that Elisabet can, in spite of her fraud, be understood, concluding "Not an easy film, but an infinitely rewarding one".[147] Chicago Reader critic Dave Kehr acknowledged it might be Bergman's best, but objected to unoriginal ideas for an experimental film, and tediousness.[148] Emanuel Levy reviewed it in 2016, championing it as complicated, mysterious, and an artistic psychological drama, with experimentation creating a novel result.[5]

Persona was included in The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made.[149] In 2010, Persona was ranked #71 in Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema".[150] In the 2012 Sight & Sound polls, it was ranked the 17th greatest film ever made in the critics' poll, tied with Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai,[151] and 13th in the directors' poll.[152] In 2017, The Daily Telegraph named Persona one of "the most pretentious movies of all time" in a "wholly subjective" exercise.[153] It currently holds a 88% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes, based on 43 reviews.[154]


The film won the award for Best Film at the 4th Guldbagge Awards.[155] It was also Bergman's first work to win the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Film, with his 1973 Scenes from a Marriage being his only other to receive the honour.[156] Persona was selected as the Swedish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 39th Academy Awards, but was not accepted as a nominee.[n 12]

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
BAFTA Awards 1968 Best Foreign Actress Bibi Andersson Nominated [159]
Guldbagge Awards 9 October 1967 Best Film Persona Won [155]
Best Actress Bibi Andersson Won
National Board of Review 31 December 1967 Top Foreign Films Persona Won [160]
National Society of Film Critics January 1968 Best Film Won [144]
Best Director Ingmar Bergman Won
Best Screenplay 2nd Place
Best Actress Bibi Andersson Won
Best Cinematography Sven Nykvist 3rd Place


Director David Lynch and his cast presented Mulholland Drive at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival.

Some of Bergman's later films, such as Shame (1968) and The Passion of Anna (1969) follow similar themes such as "artist as fugitive", guilt and self-hatred.[161] Robert Altman's 1972 psychological horror work Images is influenced by Persona.[162] Altman subsequently made his impressionist 1977 film 3 Women, which takes cues from Bergman as Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek's characters Millie and Pinky begin to shift roles and identities.[n 13] Birgitta Steene reports that a spoof of Persona appeared on the Canadian television program SCTV in the late 1970s.[1] Woody Allen's films Love and Death (1975) and Stardust Memories (1980) contain references.[64] Jean-Luc Godard included a parody of Andersson's orgy monologue in his 1967 film Weekend, in a scene featuring Mireille Darc describing a three-way with a lover and his girlfriend, involving eggs and a bowl of milk.[165][166]

David Lynch's 2001 film Mulholland Drive deals with similar themes of identity and features two female characters whose identities appear to merge.[6] Along with thematic similiarities, the film's "mysterious dream-like quality" is further evidence of Bergman's, particularly Persona's, influence on Mulholland Drive.[12] David Fincher's Fight Club references the subliminal erect penis shown in Persona.[64][167] Parallels in "two (usually isolated) women in an intense relationship slowly blending and morphing into one another" can also be seen in the competing ballerinas in Black Swan (2010) by Darren Aronofsky and the sisters in Melancholia (2011) by Lars von Trier.[6] In 2016, The Independent reported on a video essay touting Persona's influence by comparing shots in films such as Don't Look Now (1973), Apocalypse Now (1979) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991), also observing some shots predated Persona and are found in Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960).[4]

After Bergman's death in 2007, his residence and Persona shooting location at Hammars, Fårö was estimated to be worth SEK 35 million and sold.[41] A stage adaptation, Hugo Hansén's Persona, played in Stockholm in 2011, starring Sofia Ledarp and Frida Westerdah.[168] Another adaptation, Deformerad Persona, was written by Mattias Andersson and his sister, Ylva Andersson, about multiple sclerosis and began playing in the Royal Dramatic Theatre in 2016.[169][170] Director Stig Björkman and Ullmmann also collaborated on a 2009 documentary Scener från ett konstnärskap, featuring recordings of Bergman in production of Persona.[171]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b The film has been described as psychological drama,[4][5][6] horror,[7][8] psychological horror,[9] melodrama,[10] and experimental film,[11][12][13] with elements to appeal to patrons of art films.[14][15] It has also been categorized as a tragedy, with Professor Robert Boyers writing "Persona is a film, but it is certainly our purest modern example of tragic art".[16]
  2. ^ a b Professor Thomas Elsaesser likened the piece to Mount Everest and Citizen Kane in his essay for The Criterion Collection.[17] Cowie is quoted by academic Frank Gado and editor Lloyd Michaels, who found some exaggeration in Cowie's claim but agreed with the sentiment of the challenges of interpretation.[14][18]
  3. ^ Bibi Andersson first starred in Bergman's films in 1957, with The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries as well as The Devil's Eye in 1960, with her saying he often cast her in naïve roles. She afterwards appeared in his The Passion of Anna in 1969 and Scenes from a Marriage in 1973.[19]
  4. ^ Authors described this original ending.[8][25] In the screenplay, instead of writing her letter, Alma then falls back on her maxim: "I'm terribly fond of people. Mostly when they're sick and I can help them. I'll marry and have children. I believe that is what life has in store for me in this world".[8] The last scene featuring Elisabet called for a close-up portraying "A howling wide-open face, distorted by terror, with wild wide-open eyes and furrows of sweat running through her make-up ... [Her] face starts to move, assumes strange contours. The words become meaningless, running and jumping, finally vanishing altogether".[26]
  5. ^ a b Ullmann spoke of why she was cast in the films in 2016. Before the director's death in 2007, Ullmann starred in 11 of his works, and became known as his "muse".[32] Roger Ebert remarked Bergman and Ullmann's "lives have been intertwined since Persona, and that's been the most important fact in ... [Ullmann's] artistic life", and they also had a daughter, Linn Ullmann.[33]
  6. ^ a b Bergman used Fårö as a filming location for the first time in his 1961 Through a Glass Darkly,[38] at cinematographer Sven Nykvist's recommendation.[39] Following Persona, he returned to shooting in Fårö for Hour of the Wolf (1968), Shame (1968), The Passion of Anna (1969), Fårö Document (1969) and The Touch (1971). Fårö Document is a documentary, while the others use the island for symbolism and have been termed the "island films".[39]
  7. ^ Bergman described the Moviola screening, with the actresses unaware of the effect: "We set the machine running, and Liv said, 'Oh look, what a horrible picture of Bibi!' And Bibi said, 'No, it's not me, it's you!' Then the picture stopped. Everyone's face has a better and a worse side, and the picture is a combination of Bibi's and Liv's less attractive sides. At first they were so scared they didn't even recognize their own faces. What they should have said was: 'What the hell have you done with my face?' But they didn't! They didn't recognize their own faces. I find that rather an odd reaction".[49] Author Stuart Coates replied "Bergman's own reaction is itself odd", as a person will not "identify" with their least flattering angle, and each actress would accurately recognize the other in a shot with both faces.[47]
  8. ^ a b In the screenplay, though not the finished film, Elisbet writes a letter to the doctor, stating she takes "curiosity in a fat spider".[95] Egil Törnqvist wrote the spider in the prologue is seen under a microscope, indicating it is being coldly examined for scientific purposes, which Törnqvist compared to Elisabet's study of Alma.[91]
  9. ^ The spider-god in Through a Glass Darkly, which Michaels connected to the Persona prologue, [104] is mentioned when the schizophrenic character Karin, played by Harriet Andersson, expects to meet God and instead has a vision of a monstrous spider. In Bergman's next film, Winter Light (1963), the spider-god is referenced again, where the character Tomas, played by Gunnar Björnstrand, relates his notion of a spider-god to suffering, as opposed to his previous ideas of a God of love that provides comfort.[105]
  10. ^ Wood, in this analysis of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach in Persona,[115] contrasted it to the use of Bach throughout Bergman's filmography, such as The Silence where the Goldberg Variations play; Cries and Whispers where two sisters touch affectionately to cello music; and Autumn Sonata where it is used in a moment of unity, to conclude Bergman generally used Bach to signify "a possible transcendent wholeness". Alongside Persona, Through a Glass Darkly provides another exception to this usage.[116]
  11. ^ The marketing pictures the actresses as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, with critics' quotes which read: "'There is a bizarre sexual encounter with two boys on a beach done with remarkable simplicity and dignity' (NYT), '[Bergman] has followed the Swedish freedom into the exploration of sex' (N.Y. Post), 'Bergman proves that a fully clothed woman telling of a sexual experience can make all the nudities and perversions that his compatriots have been splattering on the screen lately seem like nursery school sensualities' (World Journal Tribune)".[119]
  12. ^ Journalist Michael Wilmington, observing the fact that Sweden submitted the film but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences did not nominate it, criticized the Academy for preferring conventional cinema beginning in 1966 and continuing to the time of his writing in 1992.[157] While Persona did not win the Academy Award, three other Bergman films did:[32] The Virgin Spring (1960), Through a Glass Darkly, and Fanny and Alexander (1982).[158]
  13. ^ Ebert wrote: "Altman says Ingmar Bergman's Persona was one of his influences, and we can see that in the way Pinky does secret things to hurt Millie, spies on her secrets, and eventually tries to absorb and steal her identity. Persona has a central moment of violence in which the film seems to break and the story must begin again, and Pinky's dive into the pool works in the same way".[163] Writer Frank Caso linked Altman's That Cold Day in the Park (1969) and Images and 3 Women, declaring them a trilogy, and identified 3 Women's themes as including obsession, schizophrenia and personality disorder.[164]


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External links[edit]