Haunting and complex, Ingmar Bergman’s Persona is perhaps the director’s most unforgiving look at the human condition. Probing the depths of the human psyche with surprising intimacy, the intensity never lets up, leaving the viewer to experience every uncomfortable twist and turn in the two main characters emotional stability.

Elisabeth Vogler (Liv Ullman) is a noted stage actress who, in the middle of performing Elektra, mysteriously stops speaking. After a brief hospital stay, Elisabeth is ordered to retreat to her psychiatrist’s (Margaretha Krook) remote seaside cabin, where she is under the care of twenty-something private nurse, Alma (Bibi Andersson).  The young woman talks incessantly, telling Elisabeth her deepest fears; sharing secrets she thought were long buried. In one particularly emotional sequence, Alma tells of an unexpected foursome on a beach that she was involved in, despite being in a ‘committed’ relationship. At that moment, Alma seems to feel she can trust the older woman.

Even as Alma opens herself up, she struggles to get Elisabeth to talk, or show any emotion. Things eventually boil over, after Alma reads one of Elisabeth’s letters and learns that she regards Alma as nothing more than an endearing specimen in her observations about emotions and relationships. If there’s still any doubt, from here on, Persona is a frustrating, yet fascinating mind game. There are several ways to deconstruct it, and none are wrong. However, it is important to understand that Bergman continues to play with the viewer’s mind through events that happen outside of the story presented in the film. The final shot exposes the crew and equipment making the movie, a self-reflexive gesture, suggesting that not even a film, despite its best efforts, can solve all the mysteries of the human heart and mind.

The acting is superb. Essentially a two character drama, Bibi Andersson’s monologues give the story some direction, but provide no clear answers. While Ullman utters few words, her face conveys countless emotions, sometimes several in a single shot. In long shots, it becomes evident that both women are practiced in using their bodies to express what isn’t being said.

Persona has been the subject of many a thesis. Is it a vampire story of sorts? Is it really a story about Bergman himself, and his filmmaking process, or something else entirely? In the end, no matter what the viewer decides, Persona should be viewed by any serious student of film.

Presented in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio, Criterion’s 1080p transfer is nearly flawless. Contrast is deep and rich, highlighting Sven Nykvist’s beautiful cinematography. Image detail is sharp, and is particularly noticeable during the film’s many close-ups. The gray outdoor shots also look great. Criterion has provided another excellent transfer

The LPCM mono track is clear and consistent throughout. The score by Lars Johan Werle doesn’t sound quite as full as you might expect, but it’s not bad at all.

English subtitles are included.

The following extras are available:

  • Persona’s Prologue: A Poem in Images (HD, 20:15) Produced exclusively for Criterion in 2013, this is a visual essay by Bergman scholar Peter Cowie.
  • Archival Interviews with Bibi Andersson, Ingmar Bergman, and Liv Ullmann (HD, 19:34) In this excerpt from an interview originally recorded for Swedish television in 1966, the legendary Swedish director and the two stars of Persona discuss their interpretation of the film. Bergman explains that the film is not to be understood, but rather, felt emotionally.
  • Archival Ingmar Bergman Interview (HD, 8:12) In this excerpt originally recorded for Canadian television in 1970, the director explains how the idea for Persona came about. He also discusses the idea of ‘existing.’
  • Liv Ullmann Interview (HD, 16:07) In this interview conducted exclusively for Criterion in 2013, the actress discusses role in Persona, its themes, and how the film changed her life.
  • Paul Schrader Interview (HD, 10:58) In this interview conducted exclusively for Criterion in 2013, the writer/director discusses the importance of Persona in the history of film.
  • On-set Footage (HD, 18:07) Silent black-and-white footage shot during the production of Persona in the Swedish countryside. An audio commentary is provided by Bergman scholar Birgitta Steene.
  • Liv & Ingmar (HD, 124:25) A fascinating 2012 documentary film by Dheeraj Akolkar, Ullmann is surprisingly open about her loving but complex relationship with the director. She discusses their work together on numerous films, including Persona, as well as their personal relationship. Additionally, the film uses passages from Ullmann’s autobiography Changing, excerpts from Bergman’s personal letters to Ullmann, and more. This is a must-watch extra!
  • Trailer (HD, 2:44) Original English-language trailer for Ingmar Bergman’s Persona.
  • Booklet: An illustrated booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Thomas Elsaesser, an excerpted 1969 interview with Ingmar Bergman, and excerpted 1977 conversation with Bibi Andersson.
  • DVD: Two DVD’s with a standard definition copy of the film, and all extras, are included.