After an introductory collage of disturbing images the story begins in a hospital where Nurse Alma (Bibi Andersson) is being informed about a patient she is to take care of: the actress Elisabet Vogler (Liv Ullmann). In the middle of a performance Elisabet stopped speaking and has remained speechless ever since. The doctor sends the two women to her own summer house, where Elisabet is to recuperate. Since she continues her silence there, Alma talks all the more and tells her intimate details from her life – about an orgy, for instance, that she experienced on the beach. An almost erotic rapport develops between the two young women, who bear a great resemblance to one another.
The intimacy is deceptive, however, for the actress begins to dominate Alma. When Alma reads an unsealed letter Elisabet has written to her doctor, she recognizes the arrogant way in which the actress “studies” her. Alma’s admiration turns into outrage and loathing: she deliberately leaves a piece of broken glass on the ground, causing Elisabet to injure herself, and fights constantly with her. At the peak of their conflict their two faces converge into one. A breach between them seems inevitable.
PERSONA marks a turning point in Bergman’s oeuvre: due to the profound psychological exploration of the two protagonists, the film remains one of his most discussed films.