Vagrant Journalism

Published pieces from the past, the present and of the potential future.

24 October 2008: Film Notes – Persona

Posted by Christina on March 23, 2009

personaOne of the other ways we participated in film notes was by answering a question based on one of the readings assigned to us that week in correspondence with that week’s screenings. Susan Sontag had written an article when Ingmar Bergman’s ‘Persona’ had been released called ‘Sight and Sound’ and we were to use that in reference to the stated question.

Film Notes: Sontag [“Persona, Sight and Sound”] explains that there is a theme of doubling in Persona, how does it operate?

Persona, Ingmar Bergman, 1966

Susan Sontag delivers ideas around the sense of doubling in Persona by finding dualities in the mode in which the film’s narration operates. She furthers her notions of doubling in this sense by exploring ways in which the narrative sheds light on how other thematic elements play on Ingmar Bergman’s prominent ideas on doubling throughout the film. She focuses on this dichotomy between the “traditional narrative” and a “new narration” (188) in terms of giving a duality to narrative in general. These two modes of narration are what separate other films from Bergman’s Persona for Sontag in that the “traditional narrative” showcases a clear explanation for action-reactions. The “new narrative” is a purposeful dismissal of a clear explanation, deliberate in leaving the audience with their own ideas about the overall film. She also goes through an explanation of the doubled notion towards a psychological theme in Persona. Sontag pairs the psychological awareness in the existence and diagnosis of the psychiatrist with Bergman’s overall dismissal of psychological importance as this diagnosis or nearly anything medial-related is never really mentioned again.

Sontag also delves into polarities seen in Persona as well as The Silence, in terms of giving a thematic driving force to Bergman by looking at his contemporary work and still upholding Persona as above to the rest. She describes the “polarities of violence and powerlessness, reason and unreason, language and silence, the intelligible and unintelligible” (186) in what seems like a parenthetical afterthought. However, it’s evident that these found “polarities” are true modes of doubling in terms of one theme since they are the opposite sides of that singular theme’s spectrum. In this, Sontag creates two forms of one. For example, with “language and silence” it is a mode of communication that is represented twice-one is through the verbally audible or readable form of language and the other works as communication by creating an utter void of verbosity. We obviously understand Alma through her incessant speech because we hear her language and understand the words. Similarly, there is a reason why the psychiatrist in Persona has a long monologue of understanding towards Elizabeth even though she has heard nothing from her patient. In this way she provides modes of understanding the way in which doubling operates in Persona.

Undoubtedly, the visual aspects of doubling are prominent throughout the film. Not only do the two women share an uncanny facial similarity-a seemingly deliberate casting choice-but their doubling is further amplified even when they are in a shot by themselves. By means of shadows and reflections, the characters are doubled even when they are on their own. When Elizabeth is by herself in her hospital bed watching TV, her shadow is almost overbearing behind her. Further, scenes with Alma have her and her reflection in the mirror and in a pool of water visible thanks to proper camera angle in the mirror shot and subject-apparatus distancing in the pool of water shot. These visual cues are considered when Sontag mentions the reality and fantasy experienced mainly through Alma. This double existence between reality and fantasy or the confusion of reality as fantasy and vice versa in the film gives the film itself a doubled existence as Sontag describes the film to ultimately “[exist] in space as well as time” (189).

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