Friday, 27 May 2011

Persona versus The Matrix

Persona is one of the most talked about films in world cinema. There have been huge reams of essays written just about the psychoanalytic motifs alone. Whole books have been written about the film. Therefore it makes sense to ask a question no-one has asked: How does it compare to The Matrix?


In The Matrix, humans are fed false images by machine overlords. In Persona, we see that false images are of human making; our hopes, fears, and dreams projected onto each other. Alma wants her patient, the mute-by-choice Elisabet, to say anything, any word at all, to preserve the illusion of everyday reality. Alma tries different roles to cope with Elisabet's silence: titillator, intimate confessor, tragic sinner, happy holidayer, chatterer, sulk, vociferous injured party... but without feedback to smooth the transitions, we see each role in isolation, as a tactic, as a part played, never wholly sincere. Lacking the validation (or even refutation) of reply, we see much of ordinary speech for what it truly is: a coathanger for the playing out of emotions.

Persona features burning film and the movie completely coming to a halt at one point. The reality of the film about Elisabet and Alma competes with the surreal beginning, which is reprised midway through the film. The "film within the film", about Elisabet and Alma, is preceded by a young boy running his hand over the giant blurred images of the actresses. Later we wonder if he is Elisabet's son.

It is difficult to tell where Persona ends and we begin. In the Matrix it is never clear why Neo should accept the reality he finds himself in with Morpheus and the gang after taking the red pill. That world may be just as false as the one he had been living in previously. Yet he accepts it without question. One layer of false-reality is all The Matrix dares; whereas Persona breaks through the fourth wall and doesn't stop.

Who am I?

In The Matrix, identity must be fought for. Or at least at first. Neo has to uncover his true identity, yet the film mainly treats identity conventionally: Once Neo has broken out of The Matrix, we know who the good guys are, and the bad guys are parodies.

In Persona, identities merge. Elisabet's husband makes love to Alma, mistaking her for his wife; Elisabet and Alma's faces merge into one. Alma has projected herself onto Elisabet.

Elisabet's silence threatens Alma's most coveted illusion, her sense of self. Alma's most revered emotive secret, her great defining event, was an act of copying. Only by seeing her friend have sex with the boy on the beach does she take part herself.


Neo's true identity is as a Christ figure, "The One", leading humans away from the false everyday reality into a promised other world.

In Persona, we have the nails going through the hand in a disconnected crucifixion shot. Jesus is barely in the same film. There is no redemption, only the suffering. Speech throughout the film is met by silence. God is notable by absence. There is no guarantee of a better world. Persona shows that when we try to turn away from the world, there is nowhere else to go.

What did we learn?

In The Matrix, we are told never to take anything for granted. Persona goes further, and dares us to question ourselves (or our selves). Don't take you for granted. The Matrix ultimately uses the falsity of reality only to say we can be as cool as we like. It panders to the American Lie that nothing is impossible. Persona warns us of the rocky shores of transference, that to be a realized self is an everyday struggle with others. In life we cannot really achieve whatever we set our minds to. The truth is that we feed off of others to do what we can, and not always with a positive outcome for the other.

1 comment:

  1. Really really interesting post...
    really liking this blog.. gonna follow :)

    i have a movies blog too.. but i usually post reviews on newer movies.. check it out :)