Ingmar Bergman's film Persona (1966) is considered both one of his greatest masterpieces and his most enigmatic and abstract film. The highly influential film achieved global critical acclaim and has been the subject of numerous studies and interpretations.
In Wordless Secrets, a ground-breaking new study of Persona, Peter Ohlin asserts that the essential Swedish context of the film has been overlooked by Bergman's international audience which has mistakenly preferred to focus on the abstract and metaphysical aspects of Persona.
By repatriating the discussion of Persona to its Swedish context Peter Ohlin argues that:
the film's setting is seen not just as a barren rocky shore, but as a landscape with people who live and work there and whose marginalization is not metaphysical but immediate and political as well as cultural
the profession of the nurse is not accidental, nor only symbolic: Alma's confusion may in part stem from the transformation of the nursing profession in the 1960s in Sweden
the Holocaust photograph from the Warsaw ghetto: it is not just an image of total violence and cruelty, but also alludes to the Swedish guilt over neutrality in the face of Nazi war crimes
In addition, the book discusses the relationship of Bergman's radical attack on formal cinematic language in Persona to Swedish and international modernism, as well as the institutional incorporation of Bergman and his work in the cinematic canon.
Peter Ohlin is Professor Emeritus at McGill University, Montreal, Canada. He has post-graduate degrees from Stockholm University and the University of New Mexico. In addition to many essays on Ingmar Bergman's films, he has published on James Agee, Pierre Perrault, and modern American authors. He lives in Montreal.