Ingmar Bergman is remembered by scholars and film fans as one of the most influential visionaries of the 20th century. Through his art, Bergman explored religio-philosophical questions that haunted him throughout his life – evident in some of his most well-known masterpieces such as The Seventh Seal and Winter Light.
Bergman’s cinema was a manifestation of the spiritual crises imposed by modernity on a world that was being subjected to rapid change. Working within that framework, Bergman continuously worked towards formulating a comprehensive cinematic exploration of the contemporary human condition.
His projects were also deeply influenced by his personal conflicts and one film was particularly responsible for restoring his desire to create art. Titled Persona, Bergman’s 1966 masterpiece is counted among the finest cinematic examinations of the question of individual identity and it also had a huge impact on the psychological thriller genre.
In an interview, Bergman recalled his condition during the initial stages of production: “I was very ill. I got a cold and I had to work. I got pneumonia… I was allergic to penicillin, and I was ill about half a year. And I thought I will never return to filmmaking, but then I started slowly, very very slowly to write Persona… So, I think Persona saved my life.”
The film stars Liv Ullmann as a prominent actor who decides to never speak again after suffering from some sort of nervous breakdown. The doctor advises her to spend some time in a cottage located in a picturesque environment where she can recover without any stress, under the supervision of her nurse (played by Bibi Andersson).
Persona is one of the most popular films by Bergman but it also happens to be one of his most enigmatic creations. As the film progresses, the lines that separate one character from another slowly dissolve. By the end of this surreal cinematic experience, we are consumed by the unnerving questions put forth by the auteur.
Andersson once said: “It’s a film that only has two roles, two female roles. I cannot give you any more details on the film. I don’t want to do it. In addition, it’s very difficult. But it’s a film that was very important for me, because it’s a film that covers a very important theme: the theme of man’s identity, and of the possibility of bringing humans together.”