Persona; screenshot from Kanopy

Next up in “Quarantining with Kanopy” is the stunning 1966 black and white psychological thriller Persona by renowned Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. With Hallowe’en just around the corner, selecting a “thriller” seemed appropriate as far as themes go. Yet, in particular, psychological thrillers have the power to affect us in ways that typical horror and gore films simply never can. Perhaps it’s due to their ability to simultaneously entertain, fascinate, and certainly to disturb us without the need for fantasy, fiction, or CGI. Instead, they show us how truly terrifying our lives can be through nothing more than what already exists in our minds.

Indeed, Persona is a journey through the psyche of its two young female protagonists, Elisabet, a famous actress who is struggling with mental illness, and Alma, a nurse tasked with providing companionship and comfort in hopes of restoring the actress. The two women isolate themselves in a cottage on the stunning and remote seaside of Sweden, where the primarily one-sided dialogue of Alma (Elisabet has ceased to verbally communicate) weaves the plot along through her memories, thoughts, feelings, and wonders. Over time, the women develop an intense relationship that oscillates between affection, eroticism, resentment, and disdain, as the identity of the two women begins to overlap—a compelling comment on the perils of codependency.

In one of the most moving dialogues in the film—of which there are many—a doctor speaks directly to Elisabet while directly facing the camera, commenting frankly on Elisabet’s existential anxiety:

“You can refuse to move or talk. Then at least you’re not lying. You can cut yourself off, close yourself in. Then you needn’t play any roles, wear any masks, make any false gestures. So you might think… but reality plays nasty tricks on you. Your hiding place isn’t watertight enough. Life oozes in from all sides.”

Arresting moments such as these are frequent throughout the film and are only made more poignant against the stunning black and white cinematography, conceived by Swedish cinematographer Sven Nykvist, in which every scene throughout the film is as striking as a photograph.  

While the film’s themes of mental health, isolation, identity, and the performance of gender have always been relevant, they are certainly exceedingly prevalent today given our current global reality, which is why Persona is The Phoenix’s monthly film recommendation from Kanopy.

The Phoenix would love to hear your take on Persona or any movie suggestions you may have from Kanopy. Connect with us on Facebook or Instagram, or send an email to to have  your movie suggestion featured in the next volume of “Quarantining with Kanopy.”