Just finished watching Andrej Zulawski’s Possession for the first time. It was my first of this director’s films as well. I can’t tell (right now) whether I liked it or not. It’s pretty dramatic right off the bat and soon veers further into surreal/insane territory. The performances match the over-the-top atmosphere so they didn’t feel out of place to me, as others have mentioned Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill are quite good – I can see why Adjani’s freakout scene is still mentioned.
But what is the content in this film? Dissolution with marriage, distrust, confused sexuality, the inability to communicate and the inability to fully divorce oneself from their significant other… these things jumped out pretty clearly to me anyway – but much of the film confused the hell out of me.
It seemed like there was political subtext with the Berlin Wall, the general isolated atmosphere of the film as a whole, the nature of Mark’s work and the ending – but can anyone shed light on this? As I know nothing of the director and I’m not a history major, this would be helpful to get clarification on.
What is the significance of the doppelgängers? What did all of that mean, metaphorically/symbolically?
What is this film saying about religion/faith? There were a few key scenes that I couldn’t quite understand due to Adjani’s thick accent (where’s she’s talking about faith and chance).
Does the Heinz character have any significance beyond being a catalyst/comedic relief? Also, what was the purpose of the female best friend character, Margaret? Margie? I don’t quite recall her name. EDIT – Margit, I looked it up.
Do you think the film satisfactorily utilizes the little kid character, Bob? I feel it didn’t really delve into the effects of having two crazed, abusive parents and how much that would mess up a child. But obviously, this was not the focus of the film.
How do you interpret the ending?
Lastly, do you like this film? Why or why not? Did it disturb you or was it too cartoonish? Which scenes stand out in your memory and why? What do you take away from it? It’s clearly influential in it’s own way. If I had to describe this film quickly using other films, I’d say it’s a mishmash of Scenes from a Marriage (which I love) and Antichrist (not so much). I haven’t seen Repulsion, but in my brief search I see that film has also been mentioned quite a bit when discussing Possession.
Anyway, I’m counting on you guys to shed some light on this film – annnnnd go.
If the objective of the film was to make the audience laugh, then i guess i liked it, it’s so ridiculous that it’s hard to not laugh.
Anyone else? I’ve seen it mentioned here several times but there’s no good discussion topic on it. Come out of the woodwork!
I saw it about a month ago in the theater. I thought it was pretty ridiculous and bizarre. I didn’t hate it though; pretty indifferent about the whole experience.
I’m hoping the people come out of the woodwork here, too, Taka! I saw it and didn’t really get it either. It was really enigmatic, and went through about a million different genres and themes before ending. I did really enjoy the surrealism of it, but I need to watch it again now that I know what happens. The cinematography was pretty awesome though, even though the version I saw was a pretty shitty torrented one! Here’s hoping it comes out on blu ray soon – it’s one I would buy pretty much immediately!
For me the dominant theme was the characters instant willingness to do adjust himself to remain with the woman he wanted to be with.
I thought overall it was okay but some of the character behavior was a little too bizarre, and too many parts were grosser than they needed to be for shock value.
^ I thought the grossness of it really heightened the surrealism and complimented the ridiculous acting and character behaviors.
I’m pretty much in line with the postings so far on this thread, but this did very well in MUBI’s last greatest films of all time poll and many here regard it as a masterpiece. Not sure I get why.
There are all sorts of ways to come at this film. One of the best, imo, is to watch a few other films by Zulawski first, so you’re somewhat familiar with his aesthetic, his attitude, his tactics. His The Third Part of the Night or L’important c’est d’aimer is a good place to start. It would be easy to argue that Third Part is a precursor to the apocalyptic world presented in Possession (check out the echo between the two staircase scenes, e.g.) and Romy Schneider’s performance in L’important c’est d’aimer is, as I mentioned on the film’s wall, the heartbreaking inverse of Adjani’s in Possession.
Another way would be to take a look at some of the criticism surrounding the film:
–– Sight and Sound review
Excerpt: “Although it’s easy to see why it was pigeonholed as a horror film, its first half presents what is still one of the most viscerally vivid portraits of a disintegrating relationship yet committed to film, comfortably rivalling Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, David Cronenberg’s The Brood and Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage … Like Bergman and Cronenberg, Zulawski was dealing with very personal demons: he’d just undergone a psychologically traumatic divorce from his first wife, actress Malgorzata Braunek. At one point, Mark sticks a feather down his throat to induce vomiting, and Zulawski seems to have done something similar when conceiving the film, spewing out every raw emotion that he could recall.”
–– Senses of Cinema review
Excerpt: "Do not be confused, this is above all a love story. In fact, according to the director, the film stems directly from his own life, reflecting his separation and divorce from his first wife. Viewed from this biographical stance, the film becomes a painfully honest confession by its director. It is in many ways a classic melodrama – an ‘inhibited soap opera’. What makes Possession so unique is that it dares to let go of logistical barriers, accentuating the bareness of emotions that are exposed for us to see like bleeding wounds. This is reflected in Zulawski’s direction of his actors. Adjani and Neill seem to be in a state of cataclysmic seizure for most of the film: their bodies are in constant and aimless movement, lurching and jerking as if trying to exorcize some unspeakable evil. Of course, the pay-off is that Adjani does exorcise the darkness within in the form of a slimy, tentacled monster courtesy of Carlo Rimbaldi.
–– One of the many Notebook entries surrounding the recent US retrospectives
Excerpt: "But at Cinespect, L Caldoran finds Possession to be honest enough to depict the emotional extremes of passion and conflict experienced during a breakup, yet self-aware enough to acknowledge how histrionic and ridiculous such squabbles can appear to outside observers. It’s both uncomfortably candid and deeply cynical. And with its blood-and-gasoline-drenched apocalyptic ending, Possession joins the recent Melancholia in portraying the sense that it must be the literal end of the world simply because it feels that way.
–– And some words from the man himself, via Film Comment
Q: There’s obviously a personal truth to it [Possession] but it’s also one of your most fantastic films. It jumps effortlessly between different genres of filmmaking, with a surprising turn toward horrific science fiction. It’s an interesting way to tell such a personal story.
A: It stems again from the simple fact that I was living in Paris and I went to see Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage. It’s an extremely well acted and brilliant film, but I left the cinema feeling empty. I went out and I said, All right, the analysis is perfect. It’s cold, it’s brilliant, like always. But so what? I was walking the streets I remember, it was raining and I said look, the beauty of the stories that we are telling our children is the moral at the end. That is to say that there is always something fantastic by the end of the story. So they walk along the pavement and they go into the house… this is the first floor, this is the kitchen, blah blah, but what’s in the attic? And I was thinking, okay, in my little story what attic does it really have? If I go up the stairs out of the realistic realm and into the fantasy, the science fiction, what is the fairy tale? What is the bad fairy tale at the end? So I went to the attic and I found a monster.
Hope this helps––as the recent retrospectives of his films attest, Z.’s body of work is nothing if not rewarding, the more you wade in.
http://mubi.com/reviews/24540 Mr. Arkadin has written an excellent review which I cant say better. (explains the boy) I’ll just try to add and clear some things for you or anyone bewildered by aspects of the film.
Outside of Mr. Arkadins post and his review I’d like to try to pin point in relation to Mr. Arkadin’s review the second apocalypse an obvious thread throughout the film, the walls around the city, the men with the binoculars watching , The man in the pink socks, the dog under the bridge, the ending the bombs “don’t open”…
All of this I hope will make clear cut sense for anybody confused I’ve seen the film 3 times in theaters (over a span of one month) Each time it has the same to greater affect (I have to keep reminding myself to breathe) and the same mental carousel crystalizes so clearly and profoundly " Faith has sent man on a search to find himself again and again leaving his world in a spiral of chaos and madness as there was no quicker route towards self destruction"(its hard to put into words) Luckily enough Zulawski does it better. First thing first the film more than a horror film is a piece of performance art in fact the film at times is stripped down to just its performances, and not always to each other or to themselves but to the audience.(Brecht would have liked this one)The stage is set when we see the men in binoculars look at them from outside the walls. The film begins with missing someone you possess as in within you Mark for Anna Anna for Bob ( one of my favorite motifs is Mark holding the boys body in his hands than identically Anna’a) possessing another. After this period of separation we hereby witness the stripping down of themselves uncovering the curtain of conventions and finding madness. The hidden truth behind chance and faith. When Anna talks to us about sister faith and sister chance I believe she’s referring to the two parts of her self which hid the third that easy step towards madness. The stage obviously refers to her conscious mind. If this is so about faith and chance all gods are gods of destruction or no god at all.
The cycle of looking for something that isn’t there you either need to stop looking or leave yourself with nothing. This tired search is in fact a recipe for destruction or Apocalypse.Heinz is a backdrop to there possession a man so full of himself while his mother gives what I believe is the most important scene in the film for a first viewing bringing the struggle of faith to the surface of the film she is also possessed in fact I believe you can argue Anna and Mark are the ones who aren’t possessed.It is man who has set this into action ( to refer to another great film Alphaville) the men who hired Mark The man in the pink socks are operating the machine for the time being looking on( a constant motif in the film with the private eyes and the monsters) The rolling of the pink socks is a brilliant brechtian devise telling the audience they are more than just active participants this expands with his double ( brilliantly explained in Mr. Arkadin’s review) This is happening within all of us, than the world set into this mode destined for destruction “dont open” “dont open” dont let this in as the world is crashing down around her the the atomic bomb? The cinematic poetic display of our coming destruction set into action.
^ Nice insights, Mr. Grillo. FYI, I’m going to be driving to Chicago to see Possession screened in three weeks. Can’t wait.
I just thought of it as a visual cinematic representation of extreme emotions of confusion guilt jealousy rage possessiveness co dependency
We make stuff up about films in our own need to dissect and analyse a lot of the time and there’s nothing wrong with that, Possession is a fascinating vehicle to assist and observe our own subjective meaning making cognitions linking possibly to personal experience, beliefs, values, associations etc
I bailed on this after only a few minutes. I found it to be unwatchable right out of the gate.
lol why? Nothing that wacky happens in the first few minutes!
Yeah, nothing that odd happens until Adjani goes to the bathroom in that apartment……..
I LOVED this brain drain. To call this horror film disturbing would be an understatement.
A circular horror story to be sure and director Andrzej Zulawski creates a sense of dread with nearly every scene, grounding the film in reality making the freakish things that occur even more horrifying. it’s a little David Lynch, a little David Cronenberg and a little Roman Polanski. Isabelle Adjani is BRILLIANT…didn’t she win a CANNES for this?
Yeah she won Best Actress.
That scene in the tunnel works. It just works. Anyone else would have made it campy.
I adored Sam Neill in this and was amazed to see him in such a film. I wish I could see it on the big screen – i rang up a radio station last year and told Sam Neill who was on as a guest that I’d never forget him in Possession, they were talking about all his mainstream more recent stuff and going on about the so called controversial … “meat – we were meant to eat it” ad campaign – he was pretty chuffed to have it mentioned I think as so few in the broader community have seen or heard of it
“But what is the content in this film? " looking for concrete meaning or content in such films is kind of difficult if not impossible. Think of Eraserhead…
Okay, so this film has still been in my head since I watched it a few nights ago. That’s one sign that I consider this a solid film; definitely had a visceral and emotional impact. Thanks for all the responses by the way. I read Arkadin’s review and I read your mini-review as well, Grillo – I’m fairly positive I get the intent of the film, emotionally. It helps a bit also to know that the director was going through a divorce around the time he made this film. The core relationship (and film itself) as a descent into or an illustration of madness/apocalypse – I see that, and I think it’s portrayed very well for the most part.
@Grillo – So do you think this film is saying that faith and chance are both negative or destructive concepts (if they both lead to madness)?
@Meg – I’m with you, for sure.
@Francisco – I get that, I’m not looking for definitive meanings for this film – but symbolically/thematically there are still some things I’m very hazy on, like the doppelgängers and the monster who eventually becomes one, the man in the pink socks, the company Mark works for – I don’t expect literal explanations as I don’t believe the film offers any, but clearly all of that stuff means something so I just wanted different opinions.
As for the end itself, I’m still undecided. On the one hand, yes it’s a natural culmination of everything preceding it in terms of tone – the madness dial has been cranked way past 11 and the apocalyptic nature has taken on its most literal form. On the other hand, it comes right back to the doppelgängers I think. Since they’re the remaining two characters at the end of the film (and I guess Bob), and because I’m still confused about their purpose/meaning, I’m still somewhat unsatisfied by the ending.
Overall, while many moments are genuinely horrific, there are also many moments that are too goofy to be effective in my opinion. Most importantly, however, Possession feels very personal, which I respect and appreciate.
The following is taken from an article written by Daniel Bird for the L’ Amour Braque mubi release this part in particular focuses on Faith & Chance in Zulawski’s work.
… This should answer your remaining big questions on the film Taka.. Or anyone.
Roda-Gil’s pun on the title of Jacques Monod’s 1970 book Chance and Necessity is impossible to translate. Clutching a french paperback edition, Le hasard et la Necessite, Ferdinand le Baron reads Lezard et le Necessite- ‘The lizard and the Necessity’ Monod’s book is a biochemical reiteration of Democritus ascribing the causes of things to necessity and chance. It is an excursion into ‘philosophical biology, although it did not have the impact as recent popular science books by Richard Dawkins or Stephen Jay Gould. It’s basic question- if man came into existence through chance why do we conceive ourselves( i.e through religion and philosophy) as being necessary? Or as Zukawski puts the perdicament in relations to Ethel’s journey to stardom in La Femme Publique, ’ Is there a destiny’
Questioned about the reoccurring staircase motif in his films Zukawski often refers to the biblical image of Jacobs Ladder, the stairway to heaven described in Genesis. However in an important essay on the film by Eyeball magazine Stephen Thrower likened the staircase at the climax of Possession to a DNA double helix. Are both images two faces of the same coin? Central to Possession is an evolutionary image-’a perfect man emerging from the primordial slime. Perhaps Possession is similarly about the tension between necessity and chance? or to use the words of Anna Faith & Chance. Is chance and necessity the two sisters wrestling in the mud at each others throats?
A Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’ mentally underpins Possession. Much like the more recent novels of Michael Houellebecq. Marc perhaps half jokingly says that maybe his marriage boils down to a sexual contest. Anna in her madness ’ relinquishes notions of love in favor of natural selection: We are all the same but with different bodies, different versions like insects…meat! Is not that the horror at the heart of Possession? The emotional pain caused by an uncontrollable biological drive to replace loved ones with more perfect specimens along a hopeless parabola in search of an ideal?
TCM showed the film as part of their TCM Underground stuff Friday nights and got the chance to finally see it for the first time. I don’t know. I was lost. It is, for sure, a very dramatic showcase for Ms. Adjani and the Cannes award she won for this performance is so well-deserved.
As a side note, does anyone know of Mondo Vision’s planned release for this title? Will it be BD or DVD?
I lasted about halfway through watching this film. Turgid, badly paced, overwrought performances. And believe me, I tried, but I just couldn’t do it.
Please leave the film and Zulawski’s work where it is cult or displaced masterpiece either way people like Zulawski or even Rocha should never be in the public eye. Without sounding nasty myself I’ll refer to Zulawski’s quote on his page… It makes his work only accessible to those who understand it and for those who don’t forget about it. You shouldn’t start with Possession if your coming from viewing the Coen Bro’s or Tarantino or even Ford, Tarkovsky or Kurosawa. It is different from a normal viewing experience. Like I stated in my response above (20 days ago) Please don’t be mistaken this is not just another horror film looking to press buttons more than a film it is a piece of performance art. I’d refer to Godard and Gorrin’s Tout Va Bien, Glauber Rocha’s films, or early Oshima, I’m thinking Diary of a Shinjuko Thief for some basis on what I mean by performance art on the screen. I don’t mean Bergman and I don’t mean Cassavetes.
Just watched this, and I’m floored. But what was up with the ending? Did the world end? Was there some sort of conspiracy? All very confusing and fascinating.