A projector begins screening a series of images, including a crucifixion, a spider and the killing of a lamb, and a boy wakes up in a hospital or morgue. He sees a large screen with a blurry image of two women. One of the women may be Alma, a young nurse assigned by a doctor to care for Elisabet Vogler. Elisabet is a stage actress who has suddenly stopped speaking and moving, which the doctors have determined is the result of willpower rather than physical or mental illness. In the hospital, Elisabet is distressed by television images of a man’s self-immolation during the Vietnam War. Alma reads her a letter from her husband that contains a photo of their son, and the actress tears the photograph up. The doctor speculates that Elisabet may recover better in a cottage by the sea, and sends her there with Alma.
At the cottage, Alma tells Elisabet that no one has ever really listened to her before. She talks about her fiancé, Karl-Henrik, and her first affair. Alma tells a story of how, while she was already in a relationship with Karl-Henrik, she sunbathed in the nude with Katarina, a woman she had just met. Two young boys appeared, and Katarina initiated an orgy. Alma became pregnant, had an abortion and continues to feel guilty.
Alma drives to town to mail their letters, and notices that Elisabet’s is not sealed. She reads it. The letter says that Elisabet is “studying” Alma and mentions the nurse’s orgy and abortion. Furious, Alma accuses Elisabet of using her for some purpose. In the resulting fight, she threatens to scald Elisabet with boiling water and stops when Elisabet begs her not to. This is the first time Alma is certain the actress has spoken since they met, though she thought Elisabet previously whispered to her when Alma was half-asleep. Alma tells her that she knows she is a terrible person; when Elisabet runs off, Alma chases her and begs for forgiveness. Later, Elisabet looks at the famous photograph of Jews arrested in the Warsaw Ghetto from the Stroop Report.
One night, Alma hears a man outside calling for Elisabet; it is Elisabet’s husband. He calls Alma “Elisabet” and, though the nurse tells him he is mistaken, they have sex. Alma meets with Elisabet to talk about why Elisabet tore up the photo of her son. Alma tells much of Elisabet’s story: that she wanted the only thing she did not have, motherhood, and became pregnant. Regretting her decision, Elisabet attempted a failed self-induced abortion and gave birth to a boy whom she despises, but her son craves her love. Alma ends the story in distress, asserting her identity and denying that she is Elisabet. She later coaxes Elisabet to say the word “nothing”, and leaves the cottage as a crew films her.