Possession

This week we tackle another request – this time from loyal listener, Chase, who saddled us with an intense and tricky “art house” horror film from legendary Polish director, Andrzej Żuławski, starring a young Sam Neill.

This is the story of divorce amidst a failing relationship, told with style and high-intensity and a very obtuse plotline. We often didn’t know what to make of the goings-on, but we couldn’t deny that this film unsettled us both, and that’s a good thing. Have a listen.


One Reply to “Possession”

  1. R Williams

    I really enjoy your show and I’ve listened to nearly every episode you guys have put out so far, but I think you might have “whiffed” a little bit on this show- particularly if the mission statement of your podcast is to look at and judge each film you cover critically.

    It’s true and you did concede that POSSESSION has a lot to “unpack” within it’s runtime. And the fact that you two normally cover films with a more exploitative or “accessible” flavor to them might have left you relatively unprepared for such a surreal, unusual, heightened and abstract piece of cinema. And that’s more than fine- not every movie should be “easy”. However, analyzing POSSESSION can be considered “challenging” for even the most seasoned art-house macabre cinephile.

    More to the point- I’m willing to bet that although you both admit you can identify (to SOME level) the stresses and angst that Żuławski was bringing to the movie… unless you have been though a full-fledged breakup or divorce with **someone whom you had no business actually becoming romantically involved with**, POSSESSION can miss it’s mark.

    I would strongly encourage you to re-examine POSSESSION from a different angle: Each scene establishes a character whom we are identifying with as being “their” scene. From that moment on- we are seeing the actions and behavior of other people **through the viewpoint of that established character**. Considering that Mark and Anna are BOTH mentally unbalanced, their impression of the dialogue and extreme action the other characters in the scene display makes more sense. When you break up, YOUR version of a fight is vastly different than your former partner’s version. The things we see in each scene- if we see them broadcast from the point of view of the established character- suddenly makes more “sense”

    Use this somewhat neutral example: Mark is reporting his covert operations to his benefactors after returning from his mission. But his head is spinning and his thoughts about the personal trouble he has “come home to” fills him with anxiety and an inability to focus. Hence the camera wanders and sweeps about the debriefing room and fills us with the same sense of unease and distraction.

    Anna is already mentally tormented and distracted. Doesn’t it make sense that she seems **completely** unhinged and borderline schizophrenic whenever we see her/hear her argue with Mark when a scene has been established to be from his point of view? When he sees her cut herself with the electric knife- doesn’t the scene play out more like Mark’s retelling or re-thinking of the event after the fact? “She lost her freaking mind and ended up slicing herself in the neck and she didn’t even FEEL it!”

    Moments later the scene shifts to her point of view, and she sees Mark cut himself in an attempt to somehow attach himself emotionally to his distressed and unstable wife. Wouldn’t SHE “see” Mark react to it almost the same way?

    The biggest issue I have with your coverage of POSSESSION happened when both of you failed to see something that seems so obvious once you adopt this frame of mind during the film: We create ideals for ourselves and disregard the reality of a person’s actual traits and characteristics if they don’t suit our vision/version of them. When those partners begin to behave in ways that contradict the personalities we have idealized them for, we start to see them “behave strangely”.

    Is it possible that Mark is the ONLY person who thinks that Bob’s teacher (Helen) resembles Anna because that’s all HE sees? Once again (after losing a woman he has married but whom he has no real identity with or true knowledge of)… Mark has impressed what HE believes is the “Ideal traits” of a person on to a woman he encounters in order to justify his own delusions. “This one is similar to Anna but she’s BETTER… she’s more STABLE… she treats Bob like a woman should treat a little boy”… No no, Mark… you are so wrapped up in your own narcissism and insecurities that you aren’t able to see anyone for who *they* are.

    And yes, Anna is deeply, DEEPLY conflicted, disturbed, and unbalanced. What more could you expect from a director who sees himself as “slightly more stable than a woman whom he has just divorced”? But he still attempts to empathize with her confusion and philosophical dilemma by showing her wrestling with her sexuality, her morality and her feelings of feminine oppression.

    The movie is called POSSESSION for a reason. It’s about “having” someone even though you don’t really know who or what it is that you have. It’s about “seeing someone for what they really are” after you have removed yourself from the miasma of emotions and doubt and vulnerability and self-inflicted pathos that you endure when a relationship falls apart. It’s about breathing life and existence into things that are only ideas or feelings outside of a nightmare. The monster Anna creates is a personification of so many dark, seething conflicting emotions in her broken mind. The evil Doppelganger Mark suggests a man who is once again unable to be seen for who and what he actually is.

    And as for that ending… well… when you have failed miserably at a relationship and you have been reduced to nothing more than a footnote and a symbol of what your former partner perceives you as being… doesn’t that make you feel like your world is ending?

    I’m obviously an avid student of film and I would love to engage you in a discussion about some of the more unusual concepts & elements in “trickier” movies like POSSESSION. Again- I’m not criticizing your show or your analysis of this piece… I just think that it deserved to be approached by an angle that you two got close to approaching but seemed to shy away from.

    Please keep up the great work, and watch more movies that challenge you. That’s where the real joy comes from.

    Best,

    Ryan

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