This surrealist masterpiece from Swedish director Ingmar Bergman is a claustrophobic mindfuck bordering on psychological horror.
Elisabet Vogler (Liv Ullmann) is a famous stage actress suffering from an unknown affliction. She stopped speaking one night in the middle of a performance of Electra and has been mute ever since. Alma (Bibi Andersson) is her live-in psychiatric nurse at an isolated seaside cabin by the Baltic.
The actress swims, reads, writes and sunbathes but never speaks a word throughout the film. The nurse, meanwhile, unleashes a flood of confessional chatter, revealing herself to be a neurotic, sexually-frustrated person.
Elisabet gradually absorbs the personality of her nurse, and the two women have a metaphysical love-hate affair.
The movie is more of an abstract visual poem than a narrative story, and critics still argue over its true meaning. But knowledge of psychoanalysis and the Brechtian technique is not required to be deeply creeped out by it.
Bergman constantly upends any attempt at a narrative with seemingly random images – a dead lamb, a crucifixion and a flash of a sudden erect penis – and filmic references, including a shot of cinematographer Sven Nykvist filming the movie itself.
It’s a traumatic experience you’ll remember long after you’ve given up trying to figure it all out.