Sunday, May 6, 2012

Movie Appraisal: Possession (1981)

So, I was about to watch and review the American version of Dark Water and then, seeing as how that movie is pretty terrible, almost ridiculously painful to watch, I stopped and decided to watch Possession instead. So, I'm watching this movie, intrigued by its style and a very young Sam Neill as the male lead, and my mouth drops open, my eyes as wide as they could be, fear and bile are rising in my throat and a thought comes into my head, a thought that seems to be the driving force behind this movie: OhboywhatdidIgetmyselfintohere?

Okay, I think if the image above doesn't tell you that this review may involve some graphic images, then I'm certainly telling you now. The movie is fairly graphic at times, with some of the hardest scenes to watch that I've seen in a very long time. Slasher movies with unrealistic gore and all those gorn films that exist out there have nothing on the methodical and paranoid way that this film drives its creepiness and blurs the edges between reality and fiction. And it does it in such a subtle way, causing the watcher to be dropped down a rabbit hole from which there is no escape. With Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani in the starring roles, this movie has a brilliant cast, amazing acting, and a story that screams paranoia and distress through its every pore.

The cinematography is unsettling to the extent of making the audience itself feel unease at what is coming next. I kept thinking about the scenes that might be coming next, what could happen. And the fact is that this movie surpassed every expectation by bringing out something more disturbing than I had in my own mind every time. The fears and threats that are brought out in this movie incredible. I don't know if I've ever seen a movie that works quite like this or that even feels quite like this one. Everything makes you squirm, from the simple environment to the ways characters act. The character of Anna, the wife, is particularly hard to watch or to be involved with at all. Any person with a significant other who happens to be female will find fear in that character, the cold-bloodedness, the insanity, the beauty mixed with the absolute danger. I've never found myself frightened of small and pretty women, but with the acting here blended with the utter insanity of the character, Anna has entered my own personal nightmares as a demon herself. A man-killing demon.

In some ways I think this movie may in fact be unreviewable. I spent half of the movie (at least half) with my mouth or eyes as wide opened as they could be, both shocked and awed by what I saw. It's so unlike anything else. It's like a movie about insanity that actively involves the viewer in that insanity. I'm not comfortable enough with my own sanity to watch this movie with discomfort. I don't think anybody is.

This movie seems to be an allegory of a disintegrating marriage, separation, and the fact that some people can never work out as a couple, but the movie is damn well near impenetrable at times anyway even with that knowledge. I mean I simply think back on Anna's apartment and the scenes therein or the calm way characters deal with absolute terror, murder, and the most twisted sorts of acts imaginable, and I find this movie viscerally mind-shattering. The twisted and complicated plot, the doppelganger characters, the way that characters react to problems, and the horrific elements of the film are all very intense and are all very confusing, and create a story that literally feels more terrifying than most other movies, even without absolutely horrific images, monsters, or... My point is that there is a subtle horror here, one that hits a person in the back of the mind rather than in the front of the eyes. Focusing on this movie, I found myself needing a break from the intensity, only to find myself drawn back in for another round. Movies like this are very few and far between for me, and that makes it even harder to say that I have no idea whether I liked the movie or not.

I think a few good comparisons in films might be Mulholland Drive by David Lynch or Lost Highway by the same. Possession has a very Lynch-like feel to it despite being a much creepier and crazier ride than either of those movies. Although I will admit that I had a very similar feeling to Mulholland Drive after watching it as I did to Possession. Both films gave me a lot to think about, and both were not necessarily a film I came out loving. In some ways, to a video gaming crowd, the film also reminded me of Silent Hill 2 and its plot. I can't really explain the connection except that the feeling of the two movies somehow seemed similar to me. I really can't say why, just a brain thought I had, I guess.

Andrzej Żuławski directs this film beautifully and almost sadly. There is an intensity to every scene, and it is also very hectic even while nothing is actively going on. The filming itself is very different, evoking Lynch and also other directors who have chosen to explore the mind and its facets. The imagery is wonderful, blending mundane and absolute horror without alienating itself. It's very reminiscent of Jacob's Ladder is some very specific ways and that is probably the strongest comparative piece I know of. I have heard that Repulsion by Polanski would be a similar comparative piece, but although I own it, I've never actually watched it. So, I have a very hard time comparing it.

I had never heard of Possession before, even being the psychological horror fan that I am. I'm incredibly glad that I found it and could watch it, but at the same time it's almost as if my brain has gone through a change by watching it. I feel like I'll never be the same, never look at a relationship... or for that matter a woman... the same way again. There is such an emphasis on a lack of knowledge between two people, lack of trust as well, showing both as hypocrites looking for perfection and instead getting a normal person as a spouse or significant other. It's a very powerful message, one that I have a hard time not squirming at in one way or another.

I don't know how much I should actually say about the movie. It's heavily metaphorical, but plays as if it is a plotted out story. The problem is that although the story is not hard to follow, the captivating element is not the story or the plot, but rather the interactions between characters and those characters interacting with their environments as well. Mark, played by Sam Neill, plays an undeniably Sam Neill role, both crazy and sane, hero and villain, blending the lines as he has proven time and time again that he can do so well. This is certainly a wonderful preview of the things that would come from his career. The way he nonchalantly cuts himself on the electric steak knife, cold eyes, no wince in pain... that image will stay with me for a very long time.

To point out just how... how tough this movie is to review and watch and... and enjoy, I guess... I'll describe a scene: Anna moans at a statue of Jesus while holding a bag for a straight minute, begging or pleading perhaps. Then a scene goes by and she absolutely freaks out in a subway station for minutes as liquid pours out of her. This is the story of her miscarriage. Think about that for a minute. Those first two sentences are literally Anna telling Mark how she miscarried. Oh my... how can I even, for a minute, begin to express words that mean anything to this movie? How can I go and say I understand it as well as I should?

It's a brilliant movie, in my opinion, but difficult to follow. I assume with repeat viewings I'll get more out of it, but I'm going to find myself hardpressed to watch it again anytime soon.

Anyway, I recommend it to people who like psychological horror, but with the warning that it is a really screwed up movie, one that really might affect you in an unexpected way. I think I liked it, but I really can't promise that I did. That's weird when I can't even decide whether I liked it or not. Really weird...

Anyway, I've been doing this blog for two years today. I've had a crazy time doing it. I really wanted to get a review out today and since Dark Water sucked pretty badly (although I'll probably review it) I thought that an actually deep and interesting movie would be a good one for a two year review. Oh, and if any readers have any questions on the movie, ask in the comment section, and I'll try to answer as best as I can. It's a really cool movie to debate and talk about.


  1. you didnt even try to explain the whole plot involving the creature. What is it? a demon? You took the easy way out and just avoided talking about it entirely. Why do you think people click on an analysis? to hear about the cinematography and what movies you compare it to? No, they want to know how to understand what they fuck they just watched "the camera work was.." FUCK THE CAMERA WORK, WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT GODDAMN WRITHING BIOMASS!

    1. Um, okay?. The movie was technically all about the main characters' relationship together, or that relationship falling apart more precisely. The creature was her remaking her husband, which is why, at the end, it i his double. She's trying to find the passion that was lost in their relationship, and what she's making is what she fell in love with, which is a foreign monster to the current protagonist.

      Yes, the movie is complex and ridiculously odd, but you can't view it as a straight movie with a straight story. It's all allegory about a marriage disintegrating before the eyes of the characters, who can do nothing about it. Again, the creature represents a ton of things, none of them explicitly stated. I'm sorry I didn't focus on that aspect, but it truly doesn't make the most sense ever even if you take it as the monster of her side of the relationship. Whereas his monster is his own wife. Wish I could help more, but that's simply what I've taken from it. And this movie freaked me out enough that I don't have all the answers.

    2. I could debate and talk about this movie's meaning at length. I love the imagery and the way the movie flows. I love the horror, but not as concrete horror, but rather as horror of the mind. Now, some people may take this as a straight film, but then the movie is simply ridiculous and nonsensical. The ending wouldn't make a lick of sense, nor would the screaming scene in the subway. I think the story starts off normally enough, but it changes and morphs into a fragmented and very mental horror film.

      The creature is the wife's guilt and sexual appetites and her freedoms all put into an idealized man... the form of her husband eventually. Before that it is simply a concept. And I know you might balk at that, but divorcing the reality of this film as an allegory is literally taking away the entire point of the film. I focused on other aspects because I figured telling the point of the allegory would put the character's in their respective roles quite easily.

    3. The Creature is seperation or to be more precise, communism. The whole relationship theme is just a metaphor for the pain and conflict that the ideologies of the cold war created.

      There are several scenes in which the theme becomes more than clear for example when Mark takes a look out of the window and the boarder patrol of the Berlin wall ocserves hin with binoculars. (BTW those guards were real) The setting of the movie in Berlin during the time of the Berlin Wall is no coincidence and supports the theme. Also the fact that Annas appartment in which the creature live is on a street devided by the Berlin Wall.

      There is an excellent documentary about the movie themes and the ideas of the director behind it as a speccial feature on the UK DVD.

    4. That's very interesting and something I have not heard before. I'm not in the UK and therefore have no real access to the DVD. (I saw it on TCM channel on TV, loved it, tried to get a DVD and found that they're impossible to find.) I'd love to see the documentary though, although I think my mind is kind of made up about a certain amount of the themes though. I can't get the idea of a disintegrating marriage analogy out of my head, but that whole cold war metaphor adds even more to the movie for me.

      Anon, thanks for that!