Los Angles, September 21, 2015
Monday, September 21, 2015
Ingmar Bergman | Persona
whatever happened to elisabet vogler?
by Douglas Messerli
Ingmar Bergman (writer and director) Persona / 1966
At first these seem only to involve a few criticisms from her boyfriend, Karl-Henrik, who accuses her of lack of ambition. Although she’s a bit unsure of what he means, we cannot help but perceive, in her desire to serve both her career like the elderly retired nurses who live on site and her future husband, that she clearly has no deep aspirations. It’s only gradually, particularly in her long recounting of a sexual incident with another woman and two adolescent boys who have strayed from home to watch the women bathing in the nude upon the beach, that we begin to perceive that she is perhaps a far more complex being. She reveals that the sexual incident was the most fulfilling sexual encounter that she has ever had, and that the foursome with the two young boys resulted in her becoming pregnant, ending in an abortion, performed by a friend of Karl-Hendrik’s. Suddenly, perhaps for the first time, she regrets both her lying to her fiancée and the fact of the abortion.
Given her own guilt over having successfully “erased” her own would-be child, Alma projects (played out in the script twice, the first with the camera tracing the reactions of the accused, the second focusing on the accuser) a scenario that argues Elisabet, told by a friend that she was missing the qualities of a good mother, determines to become pregnant, only to be immediately terrified by everything that comes with it: the changes the body, the fear of pain, and the possibilities of death, not to say anything about how it might change her independently active life. In Alma’s telling, Elisabet grows to hate her son even before he is born, and turns the new baby over to her husband and nanny for its upbringing. Much as in Bergman’s later film, Autumn Sonata, the lonely child only grows to love and idealize his mother further in her absence, the fact of which only further fuels Elisabet’s hate. For Alma, the final self-imposed silence is an attempt to block out all those who might love and wish to communicate with the great diva.
The intelligent viewer recognizes, perhaps, that the young nurse who imagined herself as able to “become” Elisabeth, is perhaps a version of Elisabet’s earlier self, and that their encounter in a time out of time, has allowed the tortured actress to restore some of her own past.
If we never discover precisely what actually happened to Elisabet Vogler, we can certainly imagine it through Bergman’s complex depiction of the slings and arrows, large and small, that gradually destroy the heart, that lead to the hateful revenge of an Electra who can no longer abide the beating of the human heart. Whatever happened to Elisabet Vogler, we can hope has finally been resolved by the film’s last frame, which takes the finally unburdened soul into its future possibilities.
Los Angles, September 21, 2015