Saturday, January 28, 2012
36. POSSESSION (1981)
Someone clever at Turner Classic Movies had the idea to show this film in tandem with Roman Polanski's REPULSION (1965); both films were made by Polish expatriates and are about psychotic French women who give vent to their madness in empty apartments and lure various curiosityseekers to their deaths. But POSSESSION is also indebted to David Cronenberg's THE BROOD (1979), in that it's about a woman who literally births a Monster of the Id -- and then quantum leaps beyond this idea by having her fuck the resulting Carlo Rambaldi-made octopus in a surreal moment that brings Hokusai's 1814 painting "The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife" to startlingly icky life. ("Anna" resonates with "Ama," the female component in the painting's Japanese title "Tako to Ama.") When her husband catches her en flagrante with this thing, Anna looks into his face and repeats the word "almost...", an incantation that ultimately permits it to assume his form. Meanwhile, Anna has her own physical surrogate in the form of their son's schoolteacher, whom Mark fucks into being in his own way.
In the past, I've been deliberately provocative in calling this one of the great films about marriage, but I've been married long enough to state this with some authority, and each new viewing assures me this is not really too extreme an exaggeration. Every marriage is challenged by the growth of the individuals within it, and any enduring marriage must learn to stretch, to accomodate, to forgive each partner's faults and needs and aspirations. The more passionate the marriage, the more screaming is likely ensue, and Mark and Anna's connection is so passionate that they can only end one argument by cutting themselves with an electric knife. (Possessed with restored calm, they agree it doesn't hurt as much as everything else they're feeling.) The goal is to survive the pain, the uncertainty and the horror of our humanity for the right to die as a spiritual couple, which Mark and Anna somehow do, miserably yet triumphantly, leaving their strange-eyed representatives behind them to withstand another apocalypse in the generational war between the sexes -- if they should ever dare to open the door that separates them. (The film is set in Berlin, and wall stands directly outside Anna's pièd-a-terreur on Sebastianstrasse.) Adjani is formidable, giving one of the genre's greatest female performances, and perhaps its most incendiary; Neill is fascinating, nearly as mad as she; and Bennent is strangely endearing, hatefully self-conscious in his artistry of eros and self-defense, but when he admits to being as lost in this firestorm of marriage as we are, we hug his repugnance to us like a life buoy.
Viewed on Turner Classic Movies (in its restored Euro version, again disappointingly missing the shot of two alien eyes staring up from the gooey palms of Adjani's hands, in the wake of her subway "miscarriage," so far included only in the original US release).