persona (bergman, 1966)
What is it to want to watch any film? If film teaches us how to desire and fictions structure our reality what am I doing watching this slow half conversation between two women who are one? The film functions at a very elemental level where there is constructed in this viewer desire for the actresses, it teaches desire in that sense but more than that? It holds the attention through long speeches, practical soliloquies that err on the side of philosophy and poetry, it makes desirous these voices and timings; if that is all that is meant by teaches us how to desire then…?
To return to the theme I discussed writing about Dogville, I looked in Persona to find a film that takes us all the way rather than stopping half way. The double person of Elisabet and Alma are evidence of that, they each make the other go all the way, making of themselves in the act a single person, one inevitably unstable.
The fury that Alma feels on reading Elisabet’s letter is that of not knowing. Alma had believed she was getting to know the real Elisabet, taking her silence for something else. The letter was a normalisation of their relation, a rather boring descriptive letter about something in a way profoundly mundane causing Alma to realise Elisabet had only gone half way to meet her. Alma’s anger and passion is the attempt to go further but it meets silence, a silence that pushes her that bit further. If they go all the way what happens? One of them disappears?
That for me was the crux of the film – when Elizsabet drags a blade through her wrist and Alma strikes her on the cheek again and again. Like this they reached the end, they got to know each other. In a dream or waking? They, like us, the mundane, writing our tedious letters to ourselves or at best our doctors, only get to the end in our dreams. Or our films. And there, seeing that fictions structure our reality , it doesn’t matter.