mike@projection-booth.com mike@projection-booth.com

May 20, 2014

Episode 167: Possession (1981)

Special Guests: & Daniel Bird
Guest Co-Hosts: Chris Bricklemyer

We're joined by Mr. Chris of the Outside the Cinema and Are You Serious podcasts to talk about Andrzej Żulawski's 1981 film Possession, a beautiful and challenging tale of a marriage falling apart in Cold War Berlin.

Visit the official Frederic Tuten website
Visit the Andrzej Zulawski fan site
Read about the Mondo Vision release of Possession
Order the Mondo Vision Blu-Ray of Possession
Order the Second Site (UK) Blu-Ray of Possession
Buy House of Psychotic Women by Kier-la Janisse
Listen to the Are You Serious? podcast
Listen to the Outside the Cinema podcast
Buy the Outside the Cinema archives

Listen/Download Now:



  1. I'd just like to say how much I enjoy these longer episodes.

    1. Thanks! Glad you enjoy the show. Please feel free to give us a rating on iTunes or stitcher and spread the word to your fellow film fan friends!


      Rob St. Mary
      co-host of "The Projection Booth"

  2. Bird is dope. I've learned a lot from his Zulawski writing.

  3. Is it possible to get a list of the other polish film directors mentioned in this episode?
    They're mentioned quickly mentioned in the 2nd interview, but they are damn hard to spell...and I'm polish!

  4. Dominik - thanks for writing. Are you talking about the interview with Daniel Bird? If so, I imagine you mean some of the filmmakers such as Juraj Jakubisko or Walerian Borowczyk?

  5. The Foreign ViewerJun 21, 2014, 10:26:00 PM

    Another great show. Sam can't talk about the shooting "because certain parties are still with us"?! How hideously intriguing. In fact, the interview with the screenwriter and your own further discussions were so interesting they finally convinced me to watch the film. I knew about it for a while now (big fan of mr. Neil), but always had something else to see first.

    Although I completely agree with your impressions of the movie, the acting and the story, there was only one thing on my mind when it was over - "damn, I wish Cronenberg (re)made this in the 80s".

    Yes, it's highly atmospheric and eerie, the (over)acting is disturbingly well done and the themes and allusions to everything from psychosis and communism to demonology and Lovecraft are a-plenty, but I still couldn't help but feel that the king of flesh-phobias would have made something, for the lack of a better term, "more" out of it.

    In the end, this is just a very interesting milestone among the outside-the-box creative Euro cinema. Still, there's plenty to analyze here once the film is over, so there's that.

    The most obvious interpretation is perhaps that the film shows how lack of fulfillment can eat us up whole and turn us into slaves of desires if we can't handle it. Here's my line of thought, and if this starts to sound like fan fiction at some point, I completely failed in my analyses..

    Adjani is an empty person that can't live with that fact. Maybe she became like that when she failed at the first thing that made her feel wholesome - the ballet. One of the key scenes is when she tells her lover that she pushes her ballet students until they feel pain because no one told her that life is hard when she was young. This could imply that she wanted to be a ballet dancer but for some reason never achieved the career she wanted (too much pain and effort and no one to force her to stick with it, so she is compensating with her students?), so now she has to teach, since she can't do.

    Love for her husband also filled her emptiness for a while and so did the child, literally. But love faded away, and the child left the womb and became daddy's boy. With her career and her family failing to give her fulfillment, she gave up on the positive (and rational) ways to find fulfillment in life - to compromise with life - and allowed for irrational raw primal self-destructive force of instinct, need and desire, to take over. She accepted a pushy lover and let herself be taken and consummated by his passion. Maybe he had passion strong enough to fill her emptiness for a while, but in the end that also failed, for her emptiness was too great even for a lover who claimed to be the master of his (love)craft.

    But she still wanted for something to take over. This attracted the demon/raw force/unbounded desire of lust and consumption of the flesh that formed itself physically in her belly. Once she aborted it, it fed on her "soul" and mind through carnal and mental consumption and shaped itself after the object of her original desire and frustration - that her husband can't satisfy her emotionally. In a metaphorical way, she sold her soul to get the husband she wants, although what she got didn't need her anymore.

    What the Neil-creature wants with the boy and the green-eyed Adjani is left to interpretation, but it's not illogical to presume that its true goal is to corrupt and possess the good and innocent.

    Or to put it in a less literal way - people's fears and desires can destroy them / family / society / the world if they are allowed to overcome us. We all search for something to boost our satisfaction, adrenalin or complacency - love, drugs, family, sex, job, slacking, books, violence, but in the end we either give in to our demons, give up and die, or suffer life for better or for worse.

    Continued below...

  6. The Foreign ViewerJun 21, 2014, 10:26:00 PM

    That is a trait of most characters here. They represent all the ways people react to their inner emptiness or life's frustration. Those that give in to their demons of desire, end up annihilated, the lusty neighbor and the lover, for one. On the other hand, the lover's mother represents those who can't live without their fulfillment (her son). Since she refuses to give in to her desires and chase the spirits or perhaps revenge to fill / replace this emptiness like Adjani and Neil did and since she's too old to live with her loss, she simply quits life. In her mind, life that offers no fulfillment attrackts the demons that feed on the soul, so it needs to end, while there's still some soul left to save. .

    The only two "happy" characters who are able to deal with life are the oblivious and quite naive /optimistic green-eyed Adjani (the lucky airhead who has no needs other than to help others) and the kid who seems to have accepted that his parents are insane, but he still loves them and succeeds to live and deal with this without giving in to raw emotions like anger, or self-pity. Life is tough, but he has the will to move on and he won't give in (at least not for now). That's why he can sense the threat of demonic Neil.

    Of course, then we come to some elements in the story that just add to confusion.,,

    Does the sirens at the end of the movie mean that WW3 has begun (because the demonic Neil is the antichrist and the apocalypse has begun?).

    Why are there two Adjanis? Maybe the mad blue Adjani is the doppelgänger of the green-eyed Adjani. The blue Adjani was born without inner peace, and the green-eyed "twin" is born without malice or ego.

    The second Niel is simply the form the creature takes based on the mad Adjani's desire to create a lover in her husband's image.

    Or all this writing is just a hodgepodge and I completely missed the point.

    I'll wrap this unintended essay up with three more unrelated points.

    The creepiest scene in the movie for me is the moment when Neil checks out his son's body with his hands. He does this later to Adjani and she does it to him, so this probably isn't sexual (good god, I sure hope it's not). Maybe it's a way for these empty characters to remind themselves what real contact with another feels like, or maybe it's an automatic response by someone who simulates a loving contact, but does not quite remember anymore how its suppose to work, so this "real" living flesh intrigues them (hence the curious look in Neil's and Adjani's eyes when they touch others in such way).

    I really can't blame the US distributors for advertising the movie as a possession horror, since there clearly is some possession in the movie. When the lover enters the flat where the creature is, he gets a heavy migraine which turns him blind for a second (Lovecraft Mythos anyone?). When Niel enters the flat and suffers the migraine it turns him not blind, but psychotic. Although his emotions are so strong that he suffers a drug-like redrawal phase when Adjani leaves him (or was he actually hooked on drugs during his time with the secret service?), he still, although seriously unhinged, tries to accept the shitty turn of events and fight his desire for revenge and tries to live his normal life as best as he can. Once in the creature's flat, however, he gives in completely and gets some hold on himself only when the creature turns into him. It's as if the proximity to the maturing creature blackens the mind of those who are close to the edge.

    Finally, I wish you asked the writer about the Lovecraft influence.

    That's it. Thanks for another great show and take care.

  7. The American cut of this film was probably trying to capitalize upon Sam Neill's Hollywood debut... As Damien in Omen III: The Final Conflict.

    I like Neill. He always seems enthusiastic about his horror output in interviews I've seen/read. It was nice to see him show up in the John Carpenter retrospective documentary on the Masters of Horror "Cigarette Burns" DVD, cackling about the dark humor of In the Mouth of Madness.