An Exploration of Ingmar Bergman's Persona

Ingmar Bergman's Persona and psychoanalysis may be to cinema what Skinner and behaviorism are to the science of psychology. While the principles of psychoanalysis are rejected by the scientific field, society shouldn't be deprived of it.
An Exploration of Ingmar Bergman's Persona

Last update: 16 June, 2021

Ingmar Bergman’s Persona contributes to how cinema analyzes the soul in the features of its performers. Films are as much about silence as they’re about dialogues. This is because the visible and invisible have always been a good way to approach the abysses of the unconscious. That part of you that escapes you but Ingmar Bergman reclaims in his films.

Some of us distrust those who want to “scientify” human relationships in the same way we’re discouraged by those who praise gods. Psychoanalysis shouldn’t necessarily be a part of a consultation. Instead, it should be within the reach of every human being, as an accessible guide to approaches and questions.

This is just what Bergman did when there was no one else transmitting the true universe of all human relationships. Candid, visceral, silent, and with an unconscious part the viewer wants to capture.

“Don’t you think I understand? The hopeless dream of being. Not seeming, but being. Conscious at every moment. Vigilant.”

-Ingmar Bergman-

Objects commonly used in filmmaking.

The absence of Ingmar Bergman and psychoanalysis in today’s society

There’s little of Ingmar Bergman in contemporary cinema. In fact, viewers tended to distance themselves from his way of making it, as most do from psychoanalysis. Not only that but they ridiculed him until, one day, the wheel turned and people were more interested in doubts than certainties.

He has a way of glimpsing the subjective side of psychoanalysis, without giving it scientific value. Indeed, psychoanalysis has social value. It’s actually an attempt to explain human beings that permeates art. People care about art.

Ingmar Bergman and psychoanalysis in Persona

Bergman’s common themes revolve around death, religion, relationships, and women as a subject in itself. His fascination with women is food for thought in Jungian terms of Ingmar’s own spirit.

In Persona, Bergman filmed what mattered to him. Two women talking crudely about their sexual desire and abortions in an introspective one-on-one. It’s a film about women who speak freely, without taboos. How many filmmakers have done it in modern cinema?

The person is just a mask of the collective psyche, one that conveys the deceptive sensation of being an individual. One that, being nothing more than a role played in which the collective psyche takes the floor, makes you think it could be you.

Elizabeth, in this state of withdrawal and isolation, merely demonstrates her fear of life. For Gestalts, it’s that moment of bewilderment in which you realize you’re no longer served by “neurotic resources” (the layer that Perls calls cliché and role).

Similarly, you experience great fear of delving deeper because you no longer know (or control) where you’re headed. Both towards yourself and your relationship with the world.

Persona, psychotherapy in film

This movie tells the story of original psychotherapeutic work. This is because it’s the opposite of the usual device of the analytical cure. It’s the patient who listens and the caregiver who speaks.

From this perspective, Persona can be the subject of a wild analysis. Cinema must offer an intense, dramatic, and even traumatic experience for Ingmar Bergman.

The strangest scene in the film is the one in which the faces of the two women, the actress Elizabeth Vogler (Liv Ullmann) and Alma the nurse (Bibi Anderson), slide over each other and overlap. The conscious parts oppose each other but their unconscious parts meet. This overlap reflects in the image by the introduction of the face of one in the shadow of the face of the other.

On a psychological level, the film raises the problem of the limits of reflexivity. That is, to what extent is the other your mirror? To what degree do you define yourself by the way you perceive others? By the perspective you want them to have of you? This film scene questions the state of your own identity.

The development of Persona

In order to understand the subsequent development of the film, it’s necessary to reflect on the concept introduced by Heinz Kohut. The one about the understanding of the phenomenon of transference. (Ingmar referred to it as specular transference).

A seemingly sad woman.

This is understood as the type of projection a patient makes on the analyst or psychotherapist. Thus, one that starts from Kohut’s concept of “empathic resonance”. That is to say, the need of every human being to reflect, on another, in order to recognize themselves.

From all this, one can infer that Persona is a psychotherapeutic and cinematographic project never seen before. It’s one in which the themes thrown up by psychoanalysis reflect on screen without any attempt to give them a formal explanation. Thus, there’s no greater explanation than the artistic one.

An introspective, feminine, and overwhelming proposal that deals with ridiculed subjects without complexes and then constitutes a powerful proposal that doesn’t need scientific validation. Only cinematographic validation, that is.

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Ingmar Bergman is one of the filmmakers who came closest to exploring the human soul throughout his career. He was also a writer.