Persona (1966 film)


The original Swedish 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 (Sweden), Lopert Pictures (US), MGM (2004, DVD)
Release dates
  • 18 October 1966 (1966-10-18)
Running time
84 minutes
Country Sweden
Language Swedish
Box office $250,000 (US)[1]

Persona is a 1966 Swedish psychological drama film 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 becomes troubled distinguishing herself from her.

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. Often categorized as a psychological horror, Persona deals with themes of duality, insanity, and personal identity.

In its release, the film was subject to cuts because of its controversial subject matter but received positive reviews. 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. Many critics consider it one of the greatest films ever made, and it has been the subject of a vast amount of analysis, interpretation and debate. The film has influenced many later directors, such as Robert Altman and David Lynch.


After a series of images including a crucifixion, tarantula 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 it 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 that Elisabet tears. She also becomes distressed seeing TV footage of monk Thích Quảng Đức'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 she had just met named Katarina, 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, stopping 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.




According to Bergman, the origins of Persona trace back to an accidental meeting on a Stockholm street corner where Bibi Andersson introduced him to Liv Ullmann.[2] His mental association of the two women helped form the idea behind the film. He stated that its seminal image – of two women "wearing big hats and laying their hands alongside each other" – derived from the "uncanny resemblance" he noticed in a slide he was shown of Andersson and Ullmann sunbathing.[3]

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.[4]

Bergman wrote Persona during nine weeks while recovering from pneumonia.[5] He writes 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..."[6]

Persona had several working titles: Sonat för två kvinnor (Sonata for Two Women), Ett stycke kinematografi (A Piece of Cinematography), Opus 27, and Kinematografi. However, Fant suggested something more accessible and the title of the film was changed.[7]


The film was shot on location on the island of Fårö and Råsunda Studios in Stockholm.[8] Principal photography began on 19 July and was completed by 15 September 1965.[9] The weather in Fårö was ideal during shooting, and the crew redid much of the footage taken in Stockholm, recreating the summerhouse that was portrayed on the Stockholm set and using a museum to host the hospital set.[10]

Although the scene where Alma describes her orgy was in the screenplay, Bibi 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.[11] The scene took two hours to shoot, using close-ups of Ullmann and Andersson done in single takes.[12] 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.[13]

For the scene in where 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.[14]


While on Fårö, Bergman conceived of a scene where Ullmann and Andersson's faces are merged.[15] This was done by combining the lighted sides of shots of each actress' faces,[16] and using what Bergman considered to be the unflattering side of each actress. The actresses were unaware of the effect until a screening in the Moviola.[15] Neither actress recognized herself in the resulting scene, assuming the shot was of the other.[16]

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.[17]

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.[18]

Themes and interpretations

Persona's frequent shots of overlapping faces.

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."[19] Much of the focus has been on the resemblance of the characters, demonstrated in shots of overlapping faces, and the possibility that the two characters are one.[19] If they are one person, there is a question if 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.[20] In a question of duality, Alma represents soul while Elisabet represents a stern goddess.[21] Susan Sontag suggests that Persona is constructed as a series of variations on a theme of "doubling".[22] The subject of the film, Sontag proposes, is "violence of the spirit".[22]

Lloyd Michaels sums up what he calls "the most widely held view" of Persona’s content.[23] According to this view, Persona is "a kind of modernist horror movie."[24] Elisabet’s condition, described by a doctor as "the hopeless dream to be", is "the shared condition of both life and film art".[25] Bergman and Elisabet share the same dilemma: they cannot respond authentically to "large catastrophes," such as the Holocaust or the Vietnam War.[24]

Frank Gado sees Persona as relying on a "double-threaded process of discovery involving motherhood".[26] Elisabet's withdrawal into silence could be a way of rejecting the role of mother, the only role the actress couldn't 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.[27]

Marilyn Johns Blackwell highlights 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".[28] She argues that the attraction between Elisabet and Alma and the absence of male sexuality cohere with their identification with each other and the permeability of boundaries between the self and the 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 so much alike.[29] 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 (the status of the image, of the word, of action, of the film medium itself).[30]

The film also includes symbolism about vampires and cinema itself.[19] The title Persona references the Greek word for mask and Carl Jung's theory of an external identity, separate from the soul ("alma").[31] The film has sometimes been categorized as a tragedy.[32]


Persona was released on 31 August 1966, while the promotional premiere took place on 18 October 1966 at the Spegeln cinema in Stockholm. The film opened in the U.S. on 6 March 1967.[8] In Brazil, the film was released under the title Quando as mulheres pecam (Where Women Sin) to emphasize its sexuality.[33] In the United Kingdom, the film was released in 1967, and used subtitles at a time when many foreign language films were still dubbed.[34]

Two scenes censored from U.S. and U.K. versions of the film were a brief shot at the beginning depicting an erect penis,[35] and some of the translation of Alma’s night-time monologue about her ménage à quatre, oral sex and abortion.[36][37] Much of the censored material was restored in Region 1 in the MGM DVD, released in 2004,[38] and on The Criterion Collection's Blu-ray 2K restoration in 2014.[39]


Critical reception

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

In one of his first reviews,[40] 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."[41] 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."[42] 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."[43] Time magazine's review stated the film "fuses two of Bergman's familiar obsessions: personal loneliness and the particular anguish of contemporary woman."[44] In the 1972 British Film Institute Sight & Sound poll, Persona was ranked the fifth greatest film of all time, the highest of any Swedish film.[45]

Persona is now considered one of the major artistic works of the 20th century by essayists and critics, who have referred to it as Bergman's masterpiece.[22][46][47] 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."[40] Persona was included in The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made.[48] 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."[49] In 2010 it was also ranked #71 in Empire magazines "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema".[50] In his 2013 Movie Guide, Leonard Maltin gave the film three and a half stars, calling it "Haunting, poetic, for discerning viewers."[51] In the 2012 Sight & Sound polls, Persona was ranked the 17th greatest film ever made in the critics' poll, tied with Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai,[52] and 13th in the directors' poll.[53] It currently holds a 88% "Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes, based on 43 reviews.[54]


The film won the award for Best Film at the 4th Guldbagge Awards.[55] The film was selected as the Swedish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 39th Academy Awards, but was not accepted as a nominee.[56]

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
BAFTA Awards 1968 Best Foreign Actress Bibi Andersson Nominated [57]
Guldbagge Awards 9 October 1967 Best Film Persona Won [55]
Best Actress Bibi Andersson Won
National Board of Review 31 December 1967 Top Foreign Films Persona Won [58]
National Society of Film Critics January 1968 Best Film Persona Won [59]
Best Director Ingmar Bergman Won
Best Screenplay Ingmar Bergman 2nd Place
Best Actress Bibi Andersson Won
Best Cinematography Sven Nykvist 3rd Place


Some of Bergman's later films, such as Shame (1968) and The Passion of Anna (1969) follow similiar themes such as "artist as fugitive," guilt and self-hatred.[60] Robert Altman’s impressionist 1977 film 3 Women is influenced by Persona as Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek begin to shift roles and identities.[61] Birgitta Steene reports that a spoof of Persona appeared on the Canadian television program SCTV in the late 1970s.[8] Woody Allen's films Love and Death (1975) and Stardust Memories (1980) contain references.[31]

David Lynch's 2001 film Mulholland Drive deals with similar themes of identity and features two female characters whose identities appear to merge.[62][63] As well as thematically, the film's "mysterious dream-like quality" is further evidence of Bergman's, particularly Persona's, influence on Mulholland Drive.[64] David Fincher's Fight Club references the subliminal erect penis shown Persona.[31][65] Parrallels 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.[62]

See also


  1. Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry, University of Wisconsin Press, 1987 p. 231
  2. Ingmar Bergman, "Bergman on Persona," Persona: A Film by Ingmar Bergman, The Criterion Collection, 2014, p. 26.
  3. Frank Gado, The Passion of Ingmar Bergman, Duke University Press, 1986, p. 321.
  4. Bergman, "Bergman on Persona," p. 27.
  5. "New Ingmar Bergman Film Set for Fall of '66 Premiere." New York Times 17 July 1965: 14.
  6. Jerry Vermilye (1 January 2002). Ingmar Bergman: His Life and Films. McFarland. p. 123. ISBN 978-0-7864-1160-3. Retrieved 23 July 2013.
  7. Fleisher, Frederic. A bit of cinematography. Christian Science Monitor 11 November 1966: 8.
  8. 1 2 3 Steene Birgitta, Ingmar Bergman: A Reference Guide, Amsterdam University Press, 2005, p. 270.
  9. Birgitta Steene, Ingmar Bergman: A Reference Guide, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2005 .
  10. Bergman, "Bergman on Persona," p. 33.
  11. Andersson, "Bibi Andersson on Bergman," p. 49.
  12. Bibi Andersson, "Bibi Andersson on Bergman," Persona: A Film by Ingmar Bergman, The Criterion Collection, 2014, p. 49
  13. Andersson, "Bibi Andersson on Bergman," p. 47.
  14. Andersson, "Bibi Andersson on Bergman," p. 50.
  15. 1 2 Bergman, "Bergman on Persona," p. 31.
  16. 1 2 Bergman, "Bergman on Persona," p. 32.
  17. Robert Emmet Long, Liv Ullmann: Interviews, University Press of Mississippi, 2006, p. 5.
  18. Andersson, "Bibi Andersson on Bergman," pp. 49-50.
  19. 1 2 3 Elsaesser, Thomas (27 March 2014). "The Persistence of Persona". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 20 November 2016.
  20. Birgitta Steene, "Bergman's Persona Through a Native Mindscape", Ingmar Bergman's Persona, Cambridge University Press, 2000, p. 40.
  21. Steene, "Bergman's Persona Through a Native Mindscape", p. 42.
  22. 1 2 3 Susan Sontag (6 March 2002). Styles of Radical Will. Picador. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-312-42021-5. Retrieved 23 July 2013.
  23. Michaels, Lloyd (2000). "Bergman and the Necessary Illusion". Ingmar Bergman's Persona. pp. 16–19.
  24. 1 2 Michaels, p. 17.
  25. Michaels, p. 18.
  26. Gado, The Passion of Ingmar Bergman, p. 342.
  27. Gado, The Passion of Ingmar Bergman, p. 343.
  28. Marilyn Johns Blackwell, Gender and Representation in the Films of Ingmar Bergman, Camden House, 1997, p. 135.
  29. Blackwell, Gender and Representation in the Films of Ingmar Bergman, p. 151.
  30. Blackwell, Gender and Representation in the Films of Ingmar Bergman, p. 134.
  31. 1 2 3 Parkinson, David (18 October 2016). "Persona 50th anniversary: five films inspired by Ingmar Bergman's masterpiece". British Film Institute. Retrieved 20 November 2016.
  32. Boyers, Robert (1968). "Bergman's Persona: An Essay On Tragedy". Salmagundi. Retrieved November 21, 2016. "Persona is a film, but it is certainly our purest modern example of tragic art."
  33. Ingrid Stigsdotter and Tim Bergfelder, "Studying Cross-Cultural Marketing and Reception: Ingmar Bergman's Persona (1966)," The New Film History: Sources, Methods, Approaches, Palgrave Macmillan, 2007, p. 220.
  34. Stigsdotter and Bergfelder, pp. 221-222.
  35. Stigsdotter and Bergfelder, p. 222.
  36. Egil Törnqvist, Bergman's Muses: Aesthetic Versatility in Film, Theatre, Television and Radio, McFarland & Company Publishers, 2003, p. 230.
  37. Stigsdotter and Bergfelder, p. 224.
  38. "Persona - Ingmar Bergman". Retrieved 2012-11-19.
  39. Monk, Katherine (24 March 2014). "Home Movies March 25: Wolf of Wall Street howls while The Past haunts". Postmedia Network. Retrieved 20 November 2016.
  40. 1 2 Ebert, Roger (7 January 2001). "Persona". Retrieved 19 November 2016.
  41. Ebert, Roger (7 November 1967). "Persona". Retrieved 19 November 2016.
  42. Crowther, Bosley (7 March 1967). "Persona". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 November 2016.
  43. Staff (31 December 1965). "Review: 'Persona'". Variety. Retrieved 19 November 2016.
  44. "Cinema: Accidie Becomes Electro". Time. 17 March 1967. Retrieved 19 November 2016.
  45. "The Sight & Sound Top Ten Poll: 1972". British Film Institute. Retrieved 20 November 2016.
  46. Hubert Cohen, Ingmar Bergman: The Art of Confession, New York: Twayne, 1993, p. 215
  47. Lloyd Michaels (2000). Ingmar Bergman's Persona. Cambridge University Press. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-521-65698-6. Retrieved 23 July 2013.
  48. Peter M. Nichols; A. O. Scott (21 February 2004). The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made. St. Martin's Press. p. 751. ISBN 978-0-312-32611-1. Retrieved 23 July 2013.
  49. Kael, Pauline (13 October 2008). "Movies". The New Yorker. Retrieved 19 November 2016.
  50. "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema – 71. Persona". Empire. 11 June 2010. Retrieved 20 November 2016.
  51. Leonard Maltin, Leonard Maltin's 2013 Movie Guide: The Modern Era, Signet, 2012.
  52. Christie, Ian, ed. (1 August 2012). "The Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time". Sight & Sound. British Film Institute (September 2012). Retrieved 6 June 2013.
  53. "Directors' Top 100". Sight & Sound. British Film Institute. 2012.
  54. "Persona (1966)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 19 November 2016.
  55. 1 2 "Persona". Swedish Film Institute. 1 March 2014.
  56. Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
  57. "Foreign Actress in 1968". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved 19 November 2016.
  58. "1967 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved 19 November 2016.
  59. "Past Awards". National Society of Film Critics. Retrieved 12 November 2016.
  60. Amir Cohen-Shalev, Both Worlds at Once: Art in Old Age, University Press of America, 2002, p. 138.
  61. Ebert, Roger (26 September 2004). "3 Women". Retrieved 19 November 2016.
  62. 1 2 Collin, Robbie (27 June 2016). "When two women become one: is the 'persona swap' cinema's tiniest, kinkiest movie genre?". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 19 November 2016.
  63. "Persona (1966) | The Film Spectrum". Retrieved 2016-02-04.
  64. Young, Barbara (2015-10-15). The Persona of Ingmar Bergman: Conquering Demons through Film. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9781442245662.
  65. Remes, Justin (2015-03-17). Motion(less) Pictures: The Cinema of Stasis. Columbia University Press. ISBN 9780231538909.


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