Perhaps part of why I love Persona so much is because I have always been interested in the idea of self-delusion. Ingmar Bergman’s film has many layers, and multiple meanings—the core of it is the concept of persona, the mask, the social role; persona vs the true self; individuality; the changing of masks and merging of identities, but the film is also about falseness, lies, and truth; about self-delusions and self-deceptions. Elisabet (Liv Ullmann) rejects acting; she discards the masks she has to wear as an actress, as well as the masks in life—her personae, as a wife and as a mother, by putting on another mask—the refuge of silence. She cannot escape. But Alma (Bibi Andersson) too has her persona and self-delusions. She convinces herself that she is happy and has what she wants, only for the falseness to be stripped away in her chattering to the patient, revealing her uncertainties and unhappiness.
Persona inspired 3 Women, a film that I like a lot more than the overrated Mulholland Drive. Like Persona, the film feels like a dream, and has a swap of identities—the 2 main characters are Mildred “Millie” Lammoreaux (Shelley Duvall) and Mildred “Pinky” Rose (Sissy Spacek). Robert Altman too tackles the subject of self-delusions, but goes further—Millie creates a persona for herself out of what she has read in women’s magazines, and perceives herself to be attractive, fashionable, and popular. She is the most deluded female character I’ve ever seen in cinema—she is always seen preparing for dates that never happen, and she never notices that others are uninterested or even laughing at her. Millie’s awkward failures make us cringe and then pity her, but should we feel bad for Millie when she herself does not realise it?
The ironic part is that when Pinky “steals” Millie’s identity and the 2 characters switch positions, so to speak, she becomes the person that Millie sees herself as. She becomes a better Millie than the real Millie.