Grump Selects: Possession



It’s my pleasure to introduce Grump Selects, wherein Mora and I go on and on about the cream of the crop. Whether it’s a favorite movie, a video game, a comic or how we like our eggs done (over easy. if it’s scrambled it must be with cream cheese), it’s sure to be something that we both agree is utterly fantastic. It sorta goes against our credo – to nitpick and tear apart everything that blows – but that’s why they’re special. They’re gooood. We’ll still acknowledge the pockmarks but Selects will always be near and dear to us and, hopefully, to you too.

Our first Select is Possession, a movie so bonkers Mora had to share it with me by mailing the DVD just so I could see it. He wasn’t kidding. It is bonkers. It’s surreal. It’s HYPERBOLIC!! I don’t even know where to BEGIN!!!

Let’s start with Andrzej Zulawski, a Polish filmmaker (with an impossible first name) who’s had a MADDENING time making movies in his stupid censorship-crazed homeland. After a production of his was shut down by ASSHOLES in the government he fled to BERLIN OF ALL PLACES and wrote a movie while going through what was presumably a very messy divorce! Zulawski funnelled all of his anger and creative energy into the film, about a crumbling marriage and, perhaps, just maybe, if you’re sharp enough to pay attention to the FRINGES of the FRAME, the Cold War.

Entryways to... POSSESSION!

Released in 1981, Possession is the culmination of the frustrations of a NUT with a capital N. And a capital U and T too. MMM, CAPITAL LETTERS EVERYWHERE!!! This movie, starring Sam Neill (so young!) and Isabelle Adjani (a cute yet completely unhinged French actress) as the sparring spouses, takes everything to the extreme fucking edge. Seriously, if you think you know acting, think… again!! Dialogue isn’t delivered, it’s TIED to a BRICK and CHUCKED through a window. These two scream at the top of their lungs while throwing conniptions so violent you fear for the stability of their spines and their minds. If you think you know what OVER-THE-TOP is you don’t know a fucking thing. Hear me? A FUCKING THING.

…I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to yell.

Maybe this happens to all couples. :(

I’d hate to say too much because, really, Possession NEEDS to seen. Problem is, it’s so rare it’s probably more convenient to go ahead, get married and go crazy yourself. I will, however, toss around some film school jargon and praise the performances of everyone involved because everyone involved is mad as a Hatter and they are fucking good at it, if good is even the right word. Classic quantifiers like “good” and “bad” have no place in a discussion about something as batty as Possession. Its genre can’t even be pin-pointed. Sometimes it’s a bizarre horror thriller, most of the time it’s a bizarre drama. More than drama… it’s… it’s TRAUMA.

11 on the 1-10 scale


Take Sam Neill. You may remember I made some vague mention to his nutjob status in a previous article about something or other. If all you’ve seen of him is Jurassic Park and Merlin (ah, grainy VHS) then, wow, you’d be surprised how young he looks here. And how insane. He’s like a kid, fitting, because if there was an Oscar for Most Complete Infantilization of a Neutered Husband in a Motion Picture, Sam Neill would be a shoe-in. With all the security of an admonished 3-year-old, he rocks back and forth in every chair he sits in, whines and throws tantrums at his cheating wife each time she walks out on him and their neglected son.

Hey Dad.

The movie wastes no time making visual comparisons between Sam and his son, who in one scene, is covered in jam and peanut butter. Likewise, Sam kneels down to his leve, decked out in a gross business suit stained with sticky substances. In the next scene Sam undresses the kid so he can take a bath but takes the time to hold him by the torso and soak in the sight of the undernourished tyke. Uncomfortable to watch? You bet. Crazy? Absolutely. Is there a theme running here? You bet your ASS.

How about a little PICK ME UP?

urfff... too heavy :(

So. Catch the game last night?

The setting is Cold War Berlin so that pesky Berlin Wall is around, with the same two soldiers guarding one of its entry posts every time the movie decides to show it. The whole film could quiiiiite possibly be a giant metaphor for the splintered country, indeed, the splintered nations of THE WORLD. The parents, Sam and Isabelle, could be jerk-off politicians gnashing their teeth at each other and taking meat slicers to their own arms when, really, they should pay attention to more improtant things like taking care of their filthy child. The kid is forgotten for most of the film, which focuses mainly on Sam striving to figure out just what the hell his wife is up to. Tying this all together, the Berlin in Possession is a shithole with dogs rotting in canals, virtually void of life on the streets. You’d be hard-pressed to see more than two to three characters onscreen at the same time. This is very much a movie about interiors and secrets, with the interiors as scummy as the sidewalks outside and the secrets as unexpected, sick and hilarious as you’d never expect. Fans of Cronenberg, whose movies tread some of the same adulterous ground here, should be pleased.

Familiarity and similarities pop up like nobody’s business in Possession. This is Germany after all, and there’s no better place for copycats doubles twins strudel doppelgangers. Isabelle Adjani plays TWO characters. Aside from the crazed wife she also shemps the part of the the son’s schoolteacher, gussied up in a brown wig and green contacts. Sam Neill is certainly suspicious, even attracted. Understandable given the schoolteacher has all the cuteness and none of the nail-biting, raving madness the wife displays.



The object of desire and center of mystery Isabelle is by far the most memorable, the most OUT THERE character in the story, though her sidedish lover is another good candidate. An unsettling mixture of Voldo from Soul Calibur and Hannibal Lecter, he has all the equilibrium of an intoxicated invalid on the deck of the Poseidon. But he still fancies himself a sophisticated fellow, in the way that it’s tough to believe the guy would ever have sex with a woman and not, say, a whole barnyard while doing lines off a heifer’s taint. He also lives with his mother. What’s that mean? Well, it’s up in the air.

Ah, stretch those hamstrings out...

Phew! Workin' out my glutes...

Some things are more concrete, as concrete as symbolism can be. Whatever that means. GUH. What I’m trying to say, Possession is symbolic as HELL. Hidden meanings and claptrap like that are everywhere, thanks to frantic camerawork as shaky and manic as the actors. When it’s actually still and FOCUSING on something it’s not only unsettling, it’s composed in an interesting way to suggest curious subtext, such as a top-down shot of Isabelle staring UP at the camera which is situated as the point of view for a CRUCIFIX. The weirdness is doubled by the crazy waif’s whimpers and moans of forgiveness or longing or FUCK ALL, because Possession is not just a horror thriller trauma it’s also an arte filme.

Please, God, kill Peter Parker.

Religious imagery and talk of faith and God come up late in the movie but it all seems ancillary, almost too typical for a movie that shatters all other conventions of acting and writing, and er, everything… despite it ALSO being, perhaps, the movie’s core message, whatever that is. I have no idea. Despite typical talk of God and whatever he’s up to, the writing and dialogue is seriously ATYPICAL especially when normal conversations are had as the characters are LITERALLY!!! bouncing off the walls. It was tough to capture screenshots for this Select. All the best moments are in motion!



So, that’s Possession. Mora says it’s a movie he loves seriously as much as he loves ironically, and now I’m gonna have to fall into that camp too. It’s fairly shocking but in an amusing “Oh my god I can’t believe she’s doing this and for so long” hilarious kind of way. That link was my first glimpse of the movie so it’s not exactly a spoiler, but it is absolutely the psychotic highlight of the movie and it CERTAINLY piqued my interest. It’s not work safe either, so er, click at your own risk and DO NOT click if you want to save the surprise in context. If you thought my rambling too abstract and you feel a good example is needed then that clip your ticket.

Your ticket to…


8 Responses to “Grump Selects: Possession”

  1. IGoByChad Says:

    Why do you people watch crazy movies? It makes me want to see just how crazy they are.

    “Mora says it’s a movie he loves seriously as much as he loves ironically, and now I’m gonna have to fall into that camp too.”
    Am I reading this wrong? I think I misunderstand it. Like, with all his love?

    And I was waiting for the you Mora AND I portion of this review. You mislead me, sir!

    Have either of you checked out Danny Elfman’s brother’s work? Look up The Forbidden Zone. Unfortunately, I can’t say it’s good. It’s just… wow.

  2. johnmora Says:

    The Mora and I portion comes from the fact that I heartily endorse this product. \:3

  3. Film Walrus Says:

    What a perfect movie to kick of a “best of” series with. Possession is certainly a cult classic that even members of a cult would be freaked out by. I’m very pleased with your hearty endorsement of this film as well as the attempts to describe its insanity which, like all such attempts, must enevitably fall short of the actual experience.

    I’m not going to resist linking to my own essay-review of Possession on the Film Walrus, because, to be honest, I will probably never have another appropriate opportunity to plug it:

    If it makes it any easier (somewhat) his first name can basically be pronounced “aund-shey,” their equivalent of Andrei or Andrew. He shares his name with a more famous Polish director: Andrzej Wajda.

  4. sirtmagus Says:

    Haha! Thank you! Thank you so much for dropping by. I knew you had a review of it too, I should have linked to it. Though we talked about a lot of same themes, yours is definitely a more robust take on the movie. I noticed the strange audio work too, but for the life of me I cannot talk about music without straining myself. “It was weird and cut out suddenly” was the best I could come up with. =P

    Isabelle Adjani reminded me of Isabella Rosellini in Blue Velvet as well. Maybe it’s got something to do with their first names… First names! GAh! So that’s how you pronounce the director’s name. That will be invaluable knowledge when I recommend this movie to others. Er, when I try anyway.

    I really like your look at Ann’s lover, Heinrich. He is the ultimate embodiment of “that” halfwit guy, someone so up his own asshole, who shouldn’t deserve any amount of attention, let alone that of your estranged wife. Tim Robbins played a similar bare-chested obnoxious douchebag in High Fidelity, albeit not as nutty.

  5. riotsword Says:

    We were gonna call it Strudel-ganger, but…

  6. Watch Out, Men - The Housemaid « Grump Factory Says:

    […] enhanced by that special blend of psychotic Korean melodrama (think Oldboy) that, similar to Possession, goes from high drama to pure trauma in zero to 60 flat. The father is constantly grimacing from […]

  7. martovoy Says:

    This is one of the most stunning movies I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure that I understood it completely, I’m not sure even who is the main character – he or she, or even who is really mad among those two.
    Some scenes, espessially this one are just so awkward and yet so beautiful (she’s dancing here, right?)

  8. Grump Talk – Amazing Finds « Grump Factory Says:

    […] the story of how I waltzed into a Vintage Stock store and found them selling a copy of Possession on DVD for roughly 1/10th of the price it was going for on Amazon. Your […]

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