Friday 17 July 2020

The Question in Bodies #21: Lectio Infernalis

Possession (1981)

(This, written in late 2018, is still, in my opinion, the single best piece of film writing I have ever produced. Some things have changed for me since this was written, as I'm sure you can imagine, and I have no doubt things have changed for you too in the last few years. I'm in no worse a place, though, and it's still true. All of it is true. The part about “no masks” holds a weirdly different meaning now, but let's keep it there anyway.)

(OK, look. I'm just going to list the things worthy of a content warning and be done with it. This post includes talk on: suicidal behaviour; self harm; spousal abuse; misogyny; childhood trauma; infidelity; God. Probably some other things too. But that's your warning. Do what you want with it.)

Writing about films saved my life.

That’s a pretty serious statement to make, true, and of course it’s hyperbole, except that it isn’t, not entirely.

Deep breath, then. Over the space of about three years, I underwent what they used to call a nervous breakdown. I’m kind of cagey about talking on this; there’s always the sense that a thing like this is never really in the past tense. And yeah, I had a couple of false starts, and lulls, and times when I was fooled into thinking the fragile flame of a candle was the distant light of the sun at the end of that tunnel, only for it to be extinguished, which is somehow worse than never having had that light in the first place. The extent to which in my adult life I’ve been free of my mental health issues has only ever been a matter of degree, although it's only in the last two years that what I have wrong with me has really been pinpointed in any way that allows me to work with it. Writing about it, as I have increasingly in the last year, as my recovery has been something I’ve gradually become more confident about, has been a precarious, frightening thing.

There is the risk, for one, when you self disclose with any kind of honesty, that you might be revealed as a terrible human being. The risk that your honest appearance to the world might be as prejudiced, or as self regarding and pretentious, or as a navel gazer, or as inflated and pompous, or worst of all, as pathetic and creepy and small. I've been all of them at times, I think. I'll try not to be any of them here and now, but the problem with honesty is that there are no filters. There are no masks.

Lectio: i
With Possession, Andrzej Zuławski said that he used horror as a mask, to hide the truth. It's a matter of record that he wrote the script for Possession off the back of a traumatic marriage breakup, which resulted in his gaining custody of his young son. We don't have his ex-wife Małgorzata Braunek's version of the story, at least not in the publicly available detail that we have Zuławski's, and in many ways it's none of our business.

Zuławski's ambivalent rage infuses Possession, but so does his absolute emotional honesty. And an odd thing appears to have happened during its creation. It is apparent whose side Zuławski is on, but nonetheless he does himself no favours.

It's not entirely an accident. The adulterous wife of the film, as played with such terrible intensity by Isabelle Adjani, is called Anna, and that's a reference to Anna Karenina. Zuławski was apparently partly inspired by an apocryphal story about how Tolstoy wrote his novel: the story goes that Tolstoy had intended to write about a woman and mother of a young son who cheats on her husband for another man, and how that ruined everyone's lives, and that he'd intended the husband and the lover to be decent and sympathetic, and the wife monstrous, but the truer he made his narrative, the more tragic and noble the woman appeared and the weaker and more base the husband and lover became until he could do nothing other than name his text after the woman, Anna Karenina. And Anna Karenina is about the disastrous consequences of infidelity, inasmuch as it's about any one thing, because it's a Tolstoy novel and it's about fifty different things as well, like faith and chance and the way that changes that swept the world back then were grinding up the people caught in their wake. A lot like Possession, in fact.

And although this is an insane statement on the face of it, Possession is an attempt to apply the basic plot of Anna Karenina to both the story of the director's own breakup and an apocalyptic crisis-of-identity horror.

Zuławski, who died back in 2016, did not come across in commentaries and interviews as a man who held a great deal of respect for women. That's evident; obviously I tackled this a bit when I covered Szamanka, but I think for me the decider with the later film was not the allegation of abuse, but his response to it, his absolute lack of sympathy for the experience of a young first time actor who was barely even an adult. And likewise, hearing him talk about Isabelle Adjani apparently, in his words, attempting suicide while making the film because making Possession messed her up so badly is shocking because it's almost like he sees it as her playing the diva (although let's be cautious there, I think a language barrier comes into play, since what Zuławski described in the interview I heard sounds more like self harm than a full suicide attempt, and was that Zuławski being a dismissive jerk, or not understanding what really happened, or simply not having the words? It's moot. He did not respect his star, and did not respect what she went through, and that's all we have to take away).

So in the first act of Possession, secret agent Marc (Sam Neill) comes back from his trip across the Berlin Wall and finds that Anna, his wife, is uncommunicative and disordered. She is leaving him. She cheated on him. Marc, whose entire professional life is predicated on hiding himself, masking himself, responds with raw, unhidden, even embarrassing candour: confusion, flailing attempts to understand, raw fury. Marc and Anna engage in a series of increasingly fraught confrontations, often around and in front of their young son, Bob (Michael Hogben). These scenes, split by brief lulls where Anna and Marc seem to be working on things, are taxing, traumatic in their own right. A meeting in a cafe turns into a screaming match, and then into a furious fight where eating implements and tables go flying, and staff have to pile on Marc to bring him down. A fraught domestic that's already drawn blood erupts into the street and causes a traffic accident as a truck swerves to avoid them.

What's especially odd about this is that despite the lines these actors speak not really sounding like anything a real person would say, despite the fierce emotional and physical violence, or maybe because of it, this all feels true. It's true. This is what it feels like, how it feels like to be forced into a flashback.

When Marc, after one of these fights, loses himself to alcohol and despair and winds up spending three weeks in a hotel room, foetal and non-verbal, it feels like the way that traumatic episodes can mess you up for weeks. I can't speak for anyone else, but it is like this.

It is like this.

This is what it feels like.

Meditatio: i
When it comes to issues of mental health, I have never written with confidence about anything I haven’t experienced myself or which I haven't seen first hand. I can’t. I’m not a mental health professional. I’m just someone who has an experience of long-term abuse and complex trauma that I sorely wish I didn't. And I'm no more an expert on mental health than I am on the mechanics of film.

But it came to me, and not actually all that long ago, I think while I was writing about Upstream Color, that writing about films has saved my life. Writing is therapeutic. Finding a community with other people with the same interests as me, and some of the same experiences, has been valuable and powerfully helpful. This has been therapeutic in ways that I'm only really beginning to understand.

I had a number of conversations with friends about the catharsis I find in doing this, in writing about cathartic cinema, and I was talking to Kite about it, as I do, and he suggested that I was approaching the writing of film as a form of Lectio Divina, and that intrigued me, and I thought, let's look at that further, let's look at therapeutic media criticism from the standpoint of a spiritual discipline. And let's see what comes out of it. If you're going to do something soul baring, I thought, you're going to have to engage with a film that encourages that, aren't you?

So I decided to take another look at Possession.

Lectio: ii
Marc: You want me to break down the bloody door?
Heinrich: You don’t have to. It’s open.
Marc finds a postcard addressed to Anna, from the Taj Mahal. It reads: “I have seen one half of the face of God. The other half is you.” It's from a lover, of course it is, and one who can evidently give Anna more than Marc can. And this is Heinrich (Heinz Bennent), pseudy and verbose, snake hipped, open shirted, touchy-feely, living with his mum, a black belt in kung fu, and perfectly able to ask questions that are, for Marc, utterly humiliating.
Heinrich: Would you permit me to enquire on a specific point? [Marc is silent] On your last visit home, were you content with your wife? I mean, sexually?
Marc [anguished]: Why?
Heinrich: Because in that period, we reached a state of perfect harmony.
[Marc lets out a groan of misery]
Zuławski described Heinrich as everything that he hated most, but nonetheless we can't hate Heinrich like Zuławski did. He's been present for Bob in a way that Marc hasn't, and every indication is that he's solicitous and caring, devastatingly romantic and dynamite in bed. He even expresses what appears for all intents and purposes to be sincere concern for Marc, even when Marc attacks him and he takes Marc apart with ease. And as much as Zuławski based him on the man for whom he says his first wife left him, Heinrich is in most ways a better man than Marc.

Zuławski hated him. But Heinrich is still better, because for all of his evident shortcomings, Zuławski had an inescapable streak of honesty. Zuławski may have been against a whole lot of things he perhaps shouldn’t have been, but he was nonetheless always pro-truth.

Heinrich and Marc's conversations are among the strangest in a film full of strange conversations. Heinrich's calm, the final explosion of which accompanies the explosion of the narrative itself, gives him the space to analyse the the story in which he finds himself. He is mostly wrong. But then, analysing a situation from within is a mug's game. It is Heinrich's biggest mistake. Still, Marc and Heinrich talk about Anna, of course, but they also talk about existence. And they talk about God.
Marc: I used to be afraid of you, but I don’t think I am anymore.
Heinrich: There is nothing to fear, except God. Whatever that means to you.
Marc: For me, God is a disease.
And in fact, the presence of God, however you frame something like that, is a subject of continual reference. But the divine, in Possession, is fearful and deadly and grotesque. And it's contagious. For Marc, and Anna, and Heinrich, God is a disease.

Meditatio: ii
Lectio Divina – Latin, “divine reading” – is a practice that goes all the way back to the early middle ages, back all the way to the sixth-century abbot, St Benedict. It's supposed to be done using the Bible, but like any spiritual or self-revelatory practice you don't need a Bible to make it work.

But if you were using a Bible, it would go like this:

Lectio is the first step, and the word just means “reading” in the Latin but it's really careful reading, the way in which you take a text and look at it, really look at it, and then look at it again. You read, with an openness, a willingness to receive from it.

According to Dom. Christopher Jamison, Abbot President of the English Benedictines, “The text is seen as a gift to be received, not a problem to be dissected... let the text come to you.” You approach each other, putting out your hands and making a move, but letting the text meet you halfway.

As a consequence of close reading, and partly simultaneous with it and partly consecutive, comes Meditatio. You meditate on your text. You ruminate on it. You chew it over. You examine it. This is examination, coming from both a critical and emotional standpoint. Know contexts, know facts, sure; but also, know what this means to you. Engage with it. Engage personally.

Reading and rumination bring Oratio, which, in strictly Christian Lectio Divina, is prayer. But really, what this means is a verbalised response. Words that, in the Christian conception, come out of your engagement with the text.

And drawing from all of those things more or less equally without favouring any one is Contemplatio: the stage of contemplation and self-illumination, where you rest in the results of the practice and allow it to have a meaningful effect on you. Here is where Lectio Divina is therapeutic. Here is where it is self-revelatory.

You don't have to be a practising Christian to use Lectio Divina. The last conversation I had about it was with a magician and a pagan. You don't even need to believe in God. Even if you do believe in a God, that's kind of a vague boundary anyway (most people who believe in a divine don't, it turns out, follow Richard Dawkins’ God Hypothesis: who knew?)

In the past, I've done the Christian variety. But a while ago I had some success using Virgil, and it occurred to me that this is more or less exactly how I look at film, how I watch a thing and become absorbed in it, even to the extent of watching things I don't even enjoy several times over (I watched Evolution three times back to back; I watched The Texas Chain Saw Massacre twice, The Skin I Live In twice, Szamanka twice). That's Lectio. At some point I formulate a response. Often I'm better with sociological and historical context, but there are holes in my knowledge, and this is why I don't want to be called an expert. But I do my best to bring the gut feeling and the intellectual engagement (Meditatio). And then I write, and in the act of writing I formulate a response, verbalised. And this doesn't always work. Sometimes even in the writing I don't get anywhere, and you can tell with those: they're the ones that read like (but not entirely like) reviews. So sometimes I get to Oratio, and sometimes I don't.

And then in and around all of this I sometimes find something about myself, and that even can be cathartic and therapeutic. And sometimes you can read that in the text, where I make it plain (as in the piece I wrote about The Elephant Man) and sometimes you don't. One of the nicest things anyone has ever said about my writing is that reading one particular piece was “like bathing in a warm, deep pink and white light.” And this statement, which is on the face of it pretty oblique, hit exactly what it felt like to finish that particular piece, and the real good it did me, the tiny contribution it made to the process of healing. I suppose that this counts to some degree as Contemplatio.

Even fearful, painful cinema has its uses. When you've spent more time than not in the last few years being forced to nurse the animate and hungry cyst of anxiety embedded in the lining of your stomach, the catharsis of dread and pain that a horror film can bring is sometimes a useful temporary relief.

The vicarious release of a scream and the infliction of ersatz wounds can be healing.

But. There seems to be very little of the divine in the films I respond to like this, and besides, the process of Lectio Divina is designed to be a healthy thing. It uses texts of assurance and comfort and love, enabling an intuitive, emotional understanding, an internalisation of being loved and held. On the other hand, this way of looking at film pivots on a meditation of the painful, the fearful, and the traumatic aspects of traumatic texts as a means of achieving catharsis.

It isn’t so much Lectio Divina, perhaps; maybe it's more like a Lectio Infernalis I'm doing, a reading from hell.

Lectio: iii
Marc finds Heinrich when he gets a call from someone who says, “Anna is with me,” but Heinrich doesn't know what he's talking about when Marc confronts him. He hasn't seen Anna for weeks, hasn't even been in town. We don't receive any direct explanation for the voice on the phone, but it can only be the voice of Anna's lover, the as yet unformed being that she keeps in a dilapidated apartment overlooking the Wall.

Zuławski believed in the real existence of evil, and to him the most explicit manifestation of evil was given form in the Berlin Wall, because, like many Eastern Europeans of his generation, the generation that would eventually bring about the collapse of communism in Europe, Zuławski hated communism, utterly despised it, and blamed communism for the bitter division of the continent, which he felt the Wall symbolised. In some ways the Berlin Wall and the divided state of Berlin, and the Man with the Pink Socks (Maximilian Rüthlein), the communist bloc's representative in Possession, reflect the story unfolding on the screen.

Anna and Marc repeatedly take up opposite sides of the frame. They have an invisible wall between them, and it makes them unable to process, to communicate.

Separated from each other, both Marc and Anna are even separated from themselves. And that’s represented by the way that each has a doppelganger that represents some part of their self. Marc begins a relationship with Helen (also Adjani), Bob's nursery teacher, who is gentle and agreeable where Anna, a former ballet teacher who used to abuse her pupils, is saturnine and uncommunicative. Helen has green eyes and wears white; Anna, dark-eyed, wears deep blue, and throughout Possession, Zuławski uses colour to show emotion. Blue is for turmoil. Blue is for pain.

Helen, though, clad in white, is what Marc wants Anna to be. Of course she is, for she is not a threat in the way Anna is.

Marc, too, has a doppelganger, for when the creature achieves its final form, it has become Marc. Marc has sex with Helen; Anna has the creature. These doppelgangers are not strictly opposites to their originals, and they can't be. By the end of the film, Marc and Anna are in similar places, conceptually. They're both losing the plot, they’re both violent, and they’re both murderers. They are together. They die together.

The doppelgangers, the angelic Anna and the diabolical Marc/creature, oppose each other. As diametrically opposed beings they cannot be brought together without catastrophe occurring. And so, having left Anna and Marc reunited in murder/suicide, the Marc/creature comes for Helen and the sirens begin to sound. The bombs begin to fall. At the thought of the creature being admitted into the flat, the little boy drowns himself. Atomic light and deafening explosions smother the frame. And then an odd thing happens. Helen turns to us, and the expression on her face is one of enigmatic calm. Of catharsis.

Oratio: i
I've spent a lot of time recently consumed by what I've learned to call the Dread. For much of the summer it went away, and then in September it came back with a vengeance, because it tends to come back in September. And there are lots of reasons as to why this might happen, which are basically immaterial, really.

It's a thing, is all. And I know I'm not the only one to live with it. Catharsis can help, but where to find it?

Where to find that brief release?

A few weeks ago, I was talking about trauma with another friend, not particularly a film buff and not a horror fan, and talked about the ways we find release, and how I find it in film. I’d just seen Szamanka, and I was still reeling at how much pain and dysfunction there is in that film, and I told this friend about it, and the allegations surrounding its unlucky star, and she said that perhaps watching horror films was for me a substitute for self harm.

And well. On the one hand, this is a person who knows about things like this, and who I would trust to talk about it with some authority. And on that same hand I’d admit that what I’ve seen over the years from friends, some close, who have self-injured, is that many people who self-harm do so because it’s a cathartic act, a release of tension. But it’s also unbelievably complex, and I don’t think it’s the same for any two people. Can my putting myself through the wringer in watching these harrowing films be in some way the same thing, in the sense that the range of manifestations of self-harm is so wide that I can't help but fall into it? Is exploring the question in bodies through responding to film an unhealthy release? Am I hurting myself?

Lectio: iv
Anna and Marc's kitchen fight, where even the way Anna shoves her hands into the meat grinder as she prepares dinner takes on a queasy, terrifying tone, because by this point you're half expecting the fingers to come out mangled up with the raw red mince, ends with both of them attacking themselves with the electric carving knife and drawing blood. Anna carves her own throat, Marc his left forearm.

And in the calm after that confrontation, Marc and Anna agree that it doesn't hurt. The pain was never the point.

But the pain nonetheless is unhealthy, because of who it affects, because of who it kills. Their catharsis has its casualties. Much in the same way that Zuławski's own catharsis through cinema seems to have taken its toll.

Anna's inchoate demon lover is the product and producer of catharsis. It fractures the story when it appears, reaches backwards and forwards through the structure of the film, causing hairline cracks to run through its edifice. It exists outside time. It speaks before it can speak, and is born, or rather unborn – when? Zuławski resisted the interpretation of the subway scene as a simple flashback. It's actually pretty lazy to describe the creature as Lovecraftian, but it's fair to say that in its form, and in the way it represents a collapse of narrative, and in the way it presages the Apocalypse, and in the way it traumatises people who see it just through the fact of having seen it, it conforms to some of the more complex readings of the Lovecraftian tradition of horror.

In this version of the Lovecraftian tradition (and Lovecraftian rather than Lovecraft, because we're including better writers than Lovecraft like Ramsey Campbell and Thomas Ligotti), the tentacular abominations are window dressing for a bleak view of the universe where God is hostile and ravenous, and our idea of linear story is just a limited way of seeing a universe where causality isn't as cut and dried.

Still. Perhaps it's a coincidence that aside from Marc, the first thing anyone who sees the creature says is “My God!”

Oratio: ii
On a number of occasions now I've posited on this blog that religious experience is traumatic. It shakes you to your core, and it transforms you emotionally. It promotes flashbacks. It turns you inside out. It even has physical effects.

But then a relationship with God – and as strange as it may seem, this holds regardless of whether God actually exists – is a human relationship. All relationships are, whether with people, or technology, or institutions, or the divine. They're human. Because they have a human in them.

And this is a principle that I've held close to my self for a long time: human relationships are fragile, and it takes courage to have them.

(Footnote: I didn't come up with that. Someone said it to me some years ago. But it's one of the most important principles I hold to in my life.)

It takes courage to have them because they can be toxic, or harmful, or abusive. It takes courage because they make you vulnerable. It takes courage because the best of them can end. It takes courage because they change you, and for some of us, the prospect of being changed from within, of ceasing to be who we are and becoming someone else, is terrifying.

And to be transformed by something that is so easily broken to pieces is doubly terrifying.

And so. Human relationships are fragile, and it takes courage to have them.

Lectio: v
Margit: You’re still full of belief, Marc. I love seeing you miserable. It’s so reassuring.
Margit (Margit Carstensen) hobbles onto the scene in her ankle cast and hobbles out again and you wonder what went on between her and Marc, the way they tell each other they hate each other, even while swapping clothes and draping themselves over each other, smiling, making eye contact. She'll wind up dead and shoved into a bin bag come the end of the film, but in the meantime she's here to tell Marc he's full of belief, and that he's miserable.

Because his belief is miserable. For he believes still in Anna in some twisted way, because she is half of the face of God. The other half of the face of God is not in India, it is gestating in a pool of blood, pus and slime in a run down apartment, but that other half is also, eventually, a perfected Marc, just as Anna appears in part as the angelic Helen. To Marc, God is a disease, and both the illness of Anna and the shape of the unformed creature, resembling an animate cancer, reinforce that.

The creature's birth, too, reinforces it.

In the subway, Anna screams and howls and laughs hysterically; she thrashes around, she gyrates, she “fucks the air”, as Zuławski legendarily directed her to do. And then, with the explosion of her soul her body explodes, and fluid bursts from every orifice of her body, even her ears.

Anna's ecstatic agonies in that subway flashback, ending with the time-fractured miscarriage of her own husband's malformed doppelganger, and holy crap what a sentence that was, attract a disproportionate amount of attention. And that's maybe as it should be. Isabelle Adjani won something like seven awards for her performance, including a César, the nearest I suppose to a French-language Oscar, although the idea of the Academy giving anything at all to a film like Possession only throws the gulf between European film and American film into sharp relief. But it's a matter of record that it took its toll on her, and you can see how red her eyes are, how clammy and tight the skin of her face.

But directly before she goes into the subway, Anna stands silently in a church, looking mournfully, desperately up at Christ on the cross, hoping for some sort of help, or support, or redemption. And it's only after that moment that the blasphemous nativity occurs, in screaming, and writhing, in physical and emotional catharsis.

Meditatio: iii
Where do we find God in this sort of text? It seems that conventional ideas of the divine are absent. But still, that idea of a God immanent in relationship, in the spaces between a human heart and a human heart, seems to spring out at me from the gaps of narrative found in the film. More, it seems to supply an explanation for the brutal expression of God that predominates in the world right now, for evil is a potential of the human heart. If each of us is one half of the face of God (which is not the same as God), then the other half is everyone else, and we are incomplete unless in relationship, in relationship with lovers, or families, or social structures, or institutions. And all of our relationships are human, and flawed like humans, and human relationships are fragile and it takes courage to have them.

Lectio: vi
Anna: From now on she'll know how much righteous anger and sheer will she's got in her to say, “I can do as well. I can be better. I'm the best.” Only in this case can she become a success. Nobody took me there. That's why I'm with you. Because you say “I” for me. Because you say “I” for me.
This is clearly a vital moment, but let’s not lose sight of the context here: when Anna tells Heinrich she is with him because he says “I” for her, that he serves as a proxy for her fractured self, she has just been filmed abusing a young girl in her ballet class. She has forced the child to do something impossible, and inflicted agonising pain on her, and has then turned to another girl who is not nearly as proficient and given this second girl unconditional praise, causing the first girl to break and run from the room, sobbing. Anna seems to think it's some sort of a lesson. But it's followed by a pained, rambling dialogue, again on super 8 film, a film within the film, where she tries to make some sort of sense of her infidelity, of how she understands faith and chance and evil.
Anna: I suffer, I believe, I am, but at the same time I know there's a third possibility, you know, like cancer or madness, but cancer and madness contort reality. The possibility I'm talking about pierces reality.
And immediately after these fractures in the narrative, she and Marc talk and the subway scene intrudes. And this pair of sequences – Marc watches a film of Anna, Marc hears a narrative from Anna – sits right in the middle of the movie. They're its turning point, where the film turns from one where the supernatural gradually intrudes on the mundane to one where only emotional truth exists in the apocalyptic bloodbath that tears the story into bloody sobbing shreds.
Anna: I can't exist by myself, because I'm afraid of myself, because I'm the maker of my own evil. Because I'm… Because… goodness is only some kind of reflection upon evil. That's the way it is.
Neither Marc nor Anna is what you'd call a good person. They're both selfish, and self absorbed, and abusive to each other, and indirectly responsible for neglecting and traumatising a child. And neglect and abuse are closely related.

Marc, a secret agent, is in a job where deception and betrayal are expected, but all the evidence of the film suggests he's really not that competent a spy. The absurdity of a spy needing to hire a private detective to shadow his wife is, deliberately, pathetic. And when his failed mission from the start of the film catches up with him, along with the Man in the Pink Socks, his fate is sealed, regardless of the carnage he causes. He's selfish, and querulous, and unable to understand Anna. He patronises and bullies. He is, frankly, awful.

Anna is unfaithful, but she is unfaithful because she is desperately lonely. The knowledge of her infidelity consumes her with guilt. She wishes it and does not wish it. She cannot leave Marc, even while she leaves him. And so she gives birth to a version of him, the Other Half of the Face of God.

Marc, towards the end of the film, finds Anna having sex with the creature. The creature came out of her, and in a sense she miscarried it, it's an unborn thing, which makes this a sort of incest, except that what's she's given birth to is only the idea of her husband. It's her own evil, of which she is, as she's said, the creator.

She makes eye contact with Marc, even as the creature ruts on her. And she says, “Almost. Almost.” And that admits multiple meanings, but essentially all of them depend upon catharsis. She has almost reached the point of orgasm. The creature is almost in human shape. The story has almost come to the point of final narrative collapse. The film is almost over. Almost. Almost.

Oratio: iii
There's so much pain here, and the conclusions this text comes to, that we make our own evil, that good is but the absence of evil, that God is a disease, these are not on the face of it ideas that offer comfort and assurance.

But here's the thing: we can still nonetheless find a spark of the divine in a work like this. We can still find something redemptive.

Because all of this pain is like the bleeding out of an infected wound. In our relationships we have the potential to find the Other Half of the Face of God. And although human relationships are fragile and it takes courage to have them, and although there is a good reason why it takes courage to have them, since they can go so very wrong, it is worth the effort. It is worth the risk.

But. Courage alone is not enough. If we create our own versions of the people we love, we risk creating something monstrous. Making a disease of God will destroy us.

The things that lead us to betray each other aren't nearly as cut and dried as we would like to think. Our motives are complex. Our needs are ill-defined. And human relationships are fragile, and it takes courage to have them.

I keep watching Possession. I keep finding new things in it. Is it strange that I should find something spiritual in this film, this film that stinks of tainted bodily fluids, betrayal and blasphemy, that speaks of abuse and neglect, infidelity and turmoil? I don't think it is. I found this film in the darkest time of my adult life, not long before I began writing about film in earnest, and it has inspired me in unexpected ways, not least in demonstrating that there is a value in the cinema of trauma.

And as for the personal lessons I have gained while writing this, I was going to write them here in full, or in summary anyway. But I don't think I will.

I've said enough, I think.

That's all.

Want to read more of my film criticism? We Don't Go Back: A Watcher's Guide to Folk Horror is out now!

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