Warning: light spoilers ahead.
Chaos. Order. Chance. Faith. It’s enough to make one go mad.
The apocalyptic mania at the heart of Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession (1981) is rooted deeply in both ontology and cosmology. This is a film, in the end, about our end. With that comes a frightening acknowledgment of life and death. Much like Lars von Trier’s Melancholia (2011), the audience is subjected here to two branching, reactive states of hysteria in regards to an exacting, lingering proposal of death. It’s a hysteria emanating from the devastation of all we find to be good and right. In Zulawski’s diegesis, God — or what we’re led to believe is God — can be discovered in the corner, or on the bed, in various stages of rebirth. He has been oozed into the world, forced from a virginal birth of blood and slime. He is an assimilation, perhaps even an expulsion, of hate, the failure of love. As Mark and Anna’s marriage disintegrates into madness, the disease of life, manhood, womanhood, and death is slithering its grip on finality. It isn’t a coincidence, then, that Anna’s other lover notes for us that the only way to find God is through disease. Indeed, in life we find death; through death, we find life. But what kind of life?
There is much posturing to be found online and in cinematic circles about Possession and what religious or social subtexts Zulawski implanted within it. I would argue it’s quietly political, more than anything, similar to Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice (1986), wearing a devilish smirk as the film’s finale drops its bombs… quite literally. As Mark’s double, God himself, has fully formed himself, so has our end. And wouldn’t you know it — chance, or faith, chaos, or order, has granted him the ability to hunt down Anna’s double, who’s taking care of a child smart enough to know when not to answer the door and when to hide in the tub of water, just as the sirens begin to ring their earth shattering song of ruin.
Many Polish people born in 1940, as Zulawski was, can attest that just because the sirens are ringing, just because the bombs are dropping, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the end. The climax of Possession actually posits a new beginning, perhaps the same beginning that can be found after death. One where God is hovering just behind the frosted glass of the front door, a doomed silhouette bringing with him the unknown.
Tyler Harris is a film critic, English teacher, and former theater manager from Louisville, Kentucky. His passionate love for cinema keeps him in tune with his writing.