Monday, April 2, 2007

The Facade

Ingmar Bergman kept me engaged tonight as AJ and I watched Persona. We were a bit uncertain that we could manage another Bergman film after viewing the trilogy of Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light, and then the killer, The Silence. We were in agony after three Monday's in a row of suffering souls. Should we go again? Could we handle so much agony? Well, we did. Who could miss Persona, the ninth film in the ninth week in the Bergman retrospective at the Charles Theater?

The weird vampire-like, lesbian over toned, Freudian laced film was worth the watch and a big relief from the sodden, god trilogy that preceded it, nearly causing these two fans to give up Bergman all together.

Simply, a nurse takes care of an actress who has stopped talking after confronting a trauma on the stage while performing Elektra. I think it is pivotal that the role of Elektra caused the trauma. In Greek mythology, Eleckta is an assassin, in cahoots with her brother Orestes, to the avenge the death of their father, the great Agamemnon.

In the Elktra play one witnesses the rapid changes of the characters' sentiments - tension, hatred, fear, joy, ecstasy; not unlike Persona, only in reverse. Elektra finally kills herself, having avenged, with her brother Orestes, her father's murder. One believes, in the most operatic sense, that it is with some joy that Elektra kills herself after years of rage, yearning for her murdered father and the terrible treatment by her step family. So one must ask why Elektra, the play, traumatizes Elizabeth Vogler---the speechless, hospitalized actress?

Here is my read. Elizabeth Vogler has mastered the artful facade to such an extent that she has no idea who she is. This is not unique to anyone who lives in the world. We all play so many roles that we have difficulty sorting our our real selves from all the roles we play to please all the players in our lives; hopefully, we differ by degrees from the actor. The actor must become very confused. While we, the non-professional actors, are playing roles to survive amongst the plethora of people with whom we must interact, there is purpose to our roles, albeit sometimes groveling; the actor on the other hand, chooses and masters roles, for a livelihood. Some would say it is a livelihood driven by narcissism. Though narcissism is not my issue, it is pertinent to the extent that it drives the facade in a way entirely different from the "facade" of the work-a-day life most of us lead.

The turning point for me in the film was the moment when the silent Elizabeth passes a TV that is showing footage of the war in Vietnam. On the screen is Thich Quang Duc, the Buddhist monk who self-immolated to protest the torture of Buddhist monks and nuns by the unmerciful, American-backed, Diem regime. Elizabeth is horrified and trembles. She lets out a sound of fear. Some critics attribute this reaction to the sensitivity of the great actress. They posit that her vulnerability to the world is what contributes to the intelligence of a performance. Nonsense.

I think this act by the monk mirrors the traumatizing aspects of the Elektra play. Both the monk and the character Elektra were moved to perform authentic acts. Repeat: authentic acts. They wore no masks. They carried out horrific acts with authentic behavior and authentic courage. These acts required an innate self-knowledge and self-confidence that empowered them to carry out their roles.

Elizabeth on the the other hand is empty of an authentic personality. I think that while she is playing the role of Elektra, she is forced to confront her inauthentic existence. Who IS Elizabeth? The only reaction she can take, in light of her profound Elektra epiphany, is to stop acting. Say nothing. Play no role. Purify her being.

Unfortunately, Elizabeth is unable to realize an authentic self, because, even in silence, she is compelled in the most cynical way to cannibalize the nurse, Alma, whose name translates as "soul." Actor as monster / inauthenticity as destruction of the soul---that's my read. It was the astonishing appearance of the footage of Thich Quang Duc in the midst of this solemn film that lead me to this thinking.


Anonymous said...

Hi Narrative, that's an insightfull entry on an incredible film. I'm inspired to re watch it.


jamm said...

Hi Fuzby,

Glad I could inspire you. You should definitely snag "Seventh Seal," too. Watch Max von Sydow try to win some more time on earth by playing chess with Death. And then that great dance of death at the end.