Did Persona inspire The Exorcist?

There are lots of great links at the Close-Up Blog-a-thon, hosted by the group blog The House Next Door. One that jumps out at me is this post by Tim Lucas at the Video WatchBlog, on a couple of shots in Ingmar Bergman‘s Persona (1966) that are eerily similar to a couple of shots in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973).

Both films feature subliminal glimpses of a demonic figure:

And both films feature close-ups of a face, half of which belongs to one character and half of which belongs to another character:

In the latter case, though, I think the image from The Exorcist may be unique to the digitally enhanced “writer’s cut” that came out in 2000; I haven’t checked my DVDs yet, but I don’t recall seeing that particular image in the original version of the film.

At any rate, after posting these images, Lucas writes:

To the best of my knowledge, this relationship between PERSONA and THE EXORCIST has not been previously explored or detected. It certainly isn’t noted by Bergman biographer Marc Gervais in his audio commentary for PERSONA. I would find it hard to accept that these shared images could have happened unconsciously on Friedkin’s part; they are too studied. To me, this discovery does nothing to detract from Friedkin’s brilliance as the mastermind behind the film of THE EXORCIST; any director could have taken William Peter Blatty’s script and made a more straightforward film of it, but Friedkin had the sensitivity and the panache to recognize that PERSONA, too, in its own way, was a story of demonic possession. I not only accuse him of using this imagery knowingly, I also congratulate him for intuiting that PERSONA’s extreme, nerve-flaying visual vocabulary was precisely what THE EXORCIST needed to rattle audiences — a primary and wondrous instance of the commercial American cinema being secretly pollenated by the international art cinema.

And of course, The Exorcist co-starred Max von Sydow, who often starred in Bergman films — though admittedly not in Persona.

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his film column, which won multiple awards from the Evangelical Press Association, the Canadian Church Press and the Fellowship of Christian Newspapers, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02850572368098319317 Erich Kuersten

    Hey, I just found this, but I actually wrote an article about the RING remake and meta-textuality that compares that film to both Persona AND the Exorcist, and them to each other as well: here.


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