It might make you a little twisted.
Zulawski get it: when you're gone on strong drugs, baby, none of the old signifier chains apply -that's also art, the Antonioni signifier melt-down. With a head full of mescaline you are just like a child, new to the world, free from labeling and judging your sensory impressions, things are neither this or that, good or bad, they are all just new and 'weird.' Without judgment, it's all good, until you gradually realize it's all bad, because it's gnawing on your leg... and working its way up to your crotch. Whatever it is, better kill it quick, and eat it for its placenta nutrients. Second chakra sacral wheels alight in twisted backfiring surges of desire and loathing, rust and dried blood flaking off the re-ground gears. Eat or be eaten, and don't hesitate. If the cops come in and see you've been eating a helpless old neighbor who came to the door to borrow some flour, well, eat them too. You're on a roll - and you taste great. Or at least it tastes intense.
If you never experienced all that, man, you might not dig all of POSSESSION. But for some of us, those who can still hear colors and see sounds, the ancient, semi-ancient, and recent history of the human race is always clattering on the kitchen floor of our collective mind like a dropped casserole dish that grows Rob Bottin spider legs on contact with linoleum. European border tensions live in our sacral chakras, interlocking serpentine tentacles connect every groin, mouth, and fingertip in the whole of existence, to the tip of our extremities, which is not more infinite than a tomb, and our breathing. The flushing of the toilet sounds like the diving of Stuka followed by VE day revels as the tank refills. But is that American jubilation in the west VE or the screams of East Berlin women being mauled by drunken Russian soldiers? Don't judge, man - you were doing so well. Here, do this shot.
Even if your knowledge of post-war European social psychology and bad trip acid horror iconography is incomplete well, there's bound to be something in POSSESSION still able to suck you down with the cigarette butts into the tangy blood-flavored mud of 70s Euro-horror, which is the same really as just shrugging your shoulders and sashaying toward the exit while the huns are distracted.
POSSESION is set in West Berlin, in an apartment with windows that look out over towards the Wall (so you can see East German guards smoking and looking at you in the distance, feigning neighborly disinterest) But meanwhile everyone speaks English all the time, except when Adjani speaks French while torturing a girl in her ballet class in a super 8mm movie that Neill's fellow cuckold, a sexually fluid and tantric fellow named Heinrich (from the East side), sends over. My point? Less.
And when Adjani moans up at the cross in a church, unleashing a prolonged, piteous whine, one senses Harvey Keitel stirring from his noon feeding, and making a mental note that would lay buried for 10 years until BAD LIEUTENANT.
Still, even if you're type of crazy psychedelic surfer who used to watch the R. Bud Dwyer suicide tape over and over on acid, fascinated by the suddenness of it (one split second Dwyer's in the room, and then BAM - he is completely gone - where'd he go?) even then, that hardcore as you are, Adjani's prolonged miscarriage in the tunnel scene might be too much. Her convulsive jerkiness might be read as an interpretive dance, encompassing the history of mental illness--from electroshock to the miracle of Clozapine--it's mind-bogglingly fearless and fully committed in ways I just don't think it's possible for American actresses to ever be, nor would they want to, for certainly it won't win them an Oscar. Adjani could give a shit about your Oscars; she just goes for it with more gusto than most American actresses ever dare muster without an A for 'Art' burnished on their chest, not this isn't artsy. Has America ever had any women either this beautiful or this crazy? Nein. The English have maniacs like Kate Winslet, Australia has Judy Davis, who was originally attached to POSSESSION since Zulawski and his casting director loved MY BRILLIANT CAREER (which was why they cast Sam Neill) and maybe her wanting to do it is why she gamely wound up in a similar legless monster sex scene in NAKED LUNCH ten years later. (it all fits, doctor, since the whole creature / pregnancy angle--a kind of symbol-made-flesh ala 'psychoplasmics' in THE BROOD--was done by Cronenberg two years earlier, with super crazy (Brit) Samantha Eggers). But whom do we have? No one --our actresses can afford good SSRI meds and the best clinical care Beverly Hills ha$ to offer. Their health is Hollywood's loss.
Sometimes that change of countenance has to happen: you've seen too much; you've peered beyond the veil and the veil has left its gnarly mark. Or you've aged 100 years in a goddamn 13-day bender. Or just got old, suddenly, as it always is when you dare to take the voyage into the maelstrom or walk that yellow "brick" road. Some of us are called to the curtain and bid look beyond, and some do, and they get white hair, if not a diploma. I've never seen a film before or since that made the color white such a violently post-modern wrenching force (not even in Kieślowski's WHITE or Argento's TENEBRE) except maybe--in a humorous and romantic way--ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, wherein white swallows up whole bookstores and kitchens of Jim Carey's memory of Kate Winslet.
In fact, the hair and split subject aspects of POSSESSION are there in SUNSHINE's mind washing machine, with Sam Neill trapped in inescapable loops with the same woman in different forms, with Winslet's hair changes and bi-polar mood swings reflected in Adjani's careening back and forth between the sterile apartment she shares with Neill and their son, Bob, and this decayed East Berlin apartment building with its goop-covered floor and writhing tentacled lover, looking like a decayed animal carcass swathed in glistening rainbow brown blood / oil paint palette runoff and being devoured by long large white worms. "He's very tired, he's been making love to me all night," Adjani says before bashing a cop's brains in with a paint can.
At such times as these, Adjani makes Klaus Kinski seem dull as Walter Pidgeon.
By this point in the film, Neill has more or less detoxed and is playing the clean-cut parent, subject to fits only when Adjani comes careening back to put laundry away (in the fridge) and throw some cold cuts from the pantry into her suitcase and carve herself up with an electric knife while shouting and convulsing like she's not in their kitchen at all but receiving electro-shock therapy in a mental hospital while performing a MACBETH monologue. Now split between two opposite roles (either two characters or a fragmented persona), one is a nurturing elementary school teacher / potential love interest (ala Susan Hogan and Egger and in THE BROOD) the other is the homicidal birther/fucker/self-mutilating/cop-killing painter of her own monster, a blazing insane nightmare woman, shrieking and miscarrying an array of colors all over the Metro, as if dissolving a painting in her womb and reproducing it as performance art. (there's a kind of mention that she brought the ejected fetus whatever-thing over to that apartment and its been her sickly lover ever since).
Is this monster a metaphor for her art, the way a true artist is in a state of exalted frenzied madness when working on their project, giving themselves over completely, maybe never to return, except in the form of that immortal art? A squid. Three Olives. A feather. A dead bike messenger. bombs.
Oh yeah, SAM... whom I never liked much in films like DEAD CALM or THE PIANO (or worst of all, IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS). He's just somehow dislikable, though that's inevitably why he's often cast, there's just something about him that if you're a dog you'd want to bark at him. Often his characters need to be cock-blocked by some younger, looser man, i.e. Harvey Keitel, Billy Zane, even Jeff Goldblum, in order for his wormy smug petulance to have context. But when delivered from being just a weird side platter of Pierce Brosnan /Anthony Perkins surf-and-turf, when given a part that calls for truly insane and giddy grace, and looking young and actually handsome, he's suddenly big as all the ocean. He makes you want to keep an eye on him so he doesn't suddenly appear behind you, or show you his new razor from your insides out. What makes him such a good secret agent (his last mission was something across the Wall where he'd been sizing up some scientist defector in pink socks) lies in his ability to ride this tide of lunacy with confidence and eye-for-eye madness glint. Wherever Adjani's crazy boat's going, he's going to be on it, bob for bob. Sometimes going under, sometimes rising above, absorbing everything and everyone he sees. From his son's crashing toy airplanes to his rival's 'love of everything,' he's always reacting and seeing deep, surfing the crest of that Poesy maelstrom.
And like Neill, Mason is a guy who you can never quite trust no matter how refined and loquacious his character is onscreen. Well, maybe you do trust him for a few reels, but then he takes that cortisone again and he's at you with a knife.
So there's your moral: sometimes you can't get at the audience with a razor, so you have to use the only thing you can find that's even sharper, and sometimes that thing is named Sam Neill. POSSESSION stabs us with him until even the screaming sound of Stukas dive bombing his neighborhood to hell is like a soothing nursery school lullaby and the scorching beauty of Adjani is like a freezing of the blood in the veins and on the floor. Lick it up, like a good dog.. (tape cuts off)