| Finn Odum |
Possession screens at the Trylon from Friday, December 31 to Sunday, January 2. Scroll to the bottom of this page for tickets and more information.
Several weeks ago, I attempted to watch Possession so I could prepare for this piece. The vast majority of the film passed in a caffeine-fueled blur; my well-intentioned notes dissolved into aimless questions like, “Why is this homoerotic?” and “DILF Sam Neill?” My remaining shreds of sanity vanished into the ether during the convoluted final act. By the time the credits were rolling, I could only think of one thing: Going to see Possession would be a killer first date.
Listen. I know that Andrzej Żuławski’s 1981 thriller isn’t the pinnacle of romantic media. It’s quite the opposite: the root of all conflicts in Possession is the deterioration of Mark and Anna’s relationship, born out of his absence and her infidelity. That’s exactly what makes it such a great first-date adventure! Possession is like Red Flags: The Movie. It explores how unhealthy coping mechanisms and poor communication between partners can lead to the death of a once-great relationship. It also examines what happens when your partner replaces you with someone else–albeit through an extraterrestrial lens.
Possession follows Mark (Sam Neill) and Anna (Isabelle Adjani) as their marriage crumbles beneath their feet. After returning home from a year of espionage and war crimes, Mark discovers that Anna wants a divorce. His physical and emotional distance led her to cheat while he was away. Their separation is instantly fraught, as Mark falls into a drunken spiral and spends several scenes in the first act attacking Anna. He’s violent and volatile. A villain played with Neill’s classic manic mannerisms, Mark’s stalker-like behavior sets him up to be the film’s real antagonist. Then Anna feeds a detective to a tentacle alien she’s been keeping in a beat-up apartment, and the audience is left wondering if her personal safety is enough to justify manslaughter.
Anna’s mental decline doesn’t come out of nowhere; there are hints throughout the first act, including that kitchen scene with the electric knife. However, it’s not until our first glimpse of the tentacle-thing that we really know how bad things are. From that scene on, Anna’s sanity decays. She feeds a second man to her alien lover, and eventually has sex with the mass of tentacles (right in front of Mark, no less). The alien is never explained; nor is Anna’s downfall. Though one can infer it had something to do with a violent miscarriage she had in a subterranean subway tunnel. Perhaps it was a combination of her trauma and her husband’s absence that led to Anna’s cheating. Again, neither of those things explain why or how she found her cosmic companion.
But maybe we don’t need to know where the alien came from. In the grand scheme of the film, the creature is only the backdrop for Mark and Anna’s decay. A demonstration of how they allow their red flag behaviors to unravel their lives. Anna feeds the alien with the flesh of other men and eventually uses it to replace her husband—literally, as the creature turns into Mark’s unsettling doppelgänger at the end of the film. Mark, upon discovering the alien, falls into a murderous rage as he tries to win his wife back. He kills her first lover to ensure that he has no competition, and ends his and Anna’s lives in a violent confrontation with his doppelgänger.
They return to their coping mechanisms—infidelity and violence—in order to try and preserve what their perception of a healthy relationship is. Mark’s ideal life is with Anna, and Anna’s ideal life is with a Mark devoid of his volatility. And okay, they both die and get replaced by an idyllic couple of pasty, green-eyed doubles. The doppelgängers are the first bright-spot in an otherwise muted film, representing what Anna and Mark could’ve been if they’d taken a different route with their relationship.
Possession occupies a special space in the horror genre. It can stand on its slimy alien legs as a paranormal thriller, while also being a word to the wise about red flags in relationships. It’s up there with the likes of The Shining and Midsommar, the latter of which I consider one of the best break-up movies of the last few years. Horror movies like these present real-world lessons wrapped up in the guise of an inexplicable flesh-monster or a Scandinavian cult.
So go text that Hinge match you weren’t completely sold on and ask them to come see Possession with you at the Trylon. Buy a large popcorn to share (with butter, obviously) and get cozy in the back row of the theater. The protagonist’s relationship will be a great conversation starter for the dinner you have afterwards. And if your date doesn’t get the point, or for some reason thinks that Mark didn’t deserve what was coming to him? You can always ditch them for another round of Isabelle Adjani acting her ass off, or follow it up with Don’t Look Now (dir. Nicholas Roeg, 1973). Just do yourself a favor and don’t follow your date into any decrepit apartment buildings. You never know who—or what—awaits you.
Edited by Michelle Baroody