Ingmar Bergman’s film, PERSONA, which is #3 on my all-time best films list (right behind #1 ORDINARY PEOPLE and #2 THE HOURS), is the one film in history that has had the most critical analyses written about it (I read that somewhere). In fact, the line from PERSONA that is the title of this blog post, I carry in my heart. When I feel the need to isolate and withdraw, which is often enough, I will repeat this line to myself. Yes, indeed, when I want to withdraw and isolate, “life will trickle in from the outside, and I will be forced to react.”
Elisabeth Vogler (played silently and brilliantly by Liv Ullmann) in PERSONA is aiming her camera at us (see above), “for here, there is no place that does not see you.” Bergman as a film director is a master of closeups. He stated in an interview that his love of closeups in his films has to do with leaving his characters (actors and actresses) with no place to hide. They have been exposed (camera pun intended). They cannot run away. They are forced to re”act.” And we are, too.
“You must change your life.” We all need to change our lives, whether we know it (imperfection) or not (denial). We all have much room for improvement. If I ever thought I did not need to change my life, I am not sure why I would need to “stick around.” It would be over, right? Nothing to change. Nothing to alter. Nothing to fix. A perfect specimen of anything will have to sit on a shelf and be admired but will not need to change or be altered or be fixed. It is perfect, right? But, ah, “life will trickle in from the outside,” and the perfect specimen will be forced to react. How we react is paramount. But we MUST react.
In Bergman’s PERSONA, actress Elisabeth who has gone mute to escape life is forced to react because nurse Alma, who is assigned to care for her, pushes all Elisabeth’s buttons, forcing her to react….to speak. But there are only two words that Elisabeth speaks in the film until she is returned to speech, or so we deduce, and those two words are “Don’t!” and “Nothing.” “Don’t!” is the word Elisabeth expresses when Alma grabs a pot of boiling water to throw at her in anger. “Ingenting,” which means “nothing” in English, is spoken in the film when after everything Elisabeth and Alma have endured together, even switching personas, Alma wants her to know that it was all relatively meaningless. Alma doesn’t say this to be mean to Elisabeth or because Elisabeth hasn’t had a profound effect on her; she says it because whatever crazy things we do in this life that we think will completely and utterly heal our hurts and fill up that “hole,” it is all meaningless until Jesus comes and we no longer see “through a glass, darkly” (another film title of a Bergman film and another Bergman masterpiece). The Swedish word, “ingenting,” has had such a profound impact on my life that I wrote a collection of plays with that same title (it is available for sale at: https://www.amazon.com/Ingenting-Collection-Spiritual-One-Act-Plays/dp/1979636850). “Nothing” might connotate “absence” or “lack,” but “nothing” is actually EVERYTHING. “In the nothing, there is the EVERYTHING. In the God Surrender, there is the God EVERYTHING.” I wrote that….not Ingmar Bergman! 😎
We were dust before we were something. We came from “ingenting,” but oh look what we are now, i.e., living and breathing and feeling beings with a soul. Who else but God could have performed this miracle? We have life and we have life to react to. We are forced as such. We can withdraw and isolate, as I mentioned previously and as I do a lot, but we will have to react eventually. We will have go from mute to speech. We will have to go from “nothing” to EVERYTHING. But, once again, it will be precisely in the “nothing” that we are EVERYTHING! From the dust we have been granted life, for Jesus came “that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10[b]). Jesus didn’t come for d”us”t; He came for us.
If you have not seen the film, PERSONA, I invite you to watch it. Please let me know your insight and input by contacting me at: https://timothyjverret.blog/contact/. I know the film is not for everyone, but the film IS about EVERYTHING. It IS about life trickling in from the outside and how we are forced to react. It is a “self-help film.” God has blessed Bergman to go to the deepest recesses of the human condition and report back to us what he has found. God has blessed me with this same journey that I take VERY seriously. I may not always get it “right,” but I promise to report back to you what I find.
-Timothy J. Verret