It's crazy how our bodies are just vessels, right? In looking at myself in the mirror the other day I felt, for a moment, as if I didn't recognize myself and the belief that what people saw is all they associated me with if they didn't know me further kind of took me off my feet. We attempt to craft our outward appearance as much as possible to give others the best, most accurate first impression of who we are and what we represent as an individual, but there is so much more going on beneath the surface-beneath the skin-that it's difficult to sometimes grasp that others will take not from what you believe you have to offer, but what they assume you are or are not capable of. This isn't a new idea of course, everyone over the age of six knows one shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but I'm talking more about distilling down the difference between the identity and the character. The identity being who we truly believe ourselves to be on a level so personal you feel only you yourself know who you truly are whereas the character is that of the one you've constructed based on the context of your life. Whether it be little indicators in your physical appearance that make you lean toward dressing a certain way, the interests of your friends that you don't mind taking a liking to that influence your verbiage, or the beliefs of your parents that convey their expectations and naturally impact how you shape your own perception-there are a thousand different reasons as to why one might have constructed the outward character they've become. As we grow and as appearances and inhabited character traits become more and more a part of who we are we begin to discover what we actually like and don't like and more importantly-who we want and don't want to be. It would be easy to say all of these previous words have accomplished is to break down the psyche of what it's like to brave the terrain of the brain during one's adolescent years, but as much as that may be applicable what was actually the catalyst for these considerations are the ideas at the center of writer/director Brandon Cronenberg's second feature film, Possessor. From the outside, Possessor would appear to be a film made purely in the vein of Cronenberg's father, David's "body horror" genre and while the movie certainly has some gnarly violence woven into its fabric its clear Cronenberg, also like his father, is more interested in intertwining the psychological with the physical and in this movie specifically-the idea of how everyday life has become more like a movie than the movies have grown to reflect everyday life themselves. 

Tasya Voss (Andrea Riseborough) is the ideal assassin in Possessor as brain implant technology allows her the ability to execute crimes through others consciousness.

To even speak of genre feels futile as Possessor doesn't really fall into any one specific category despite that poster undoubtedly assuring the viewer it's a straight-up horror flick. Yeah, there are some horrific elements largely contained in the aforementioned violence, but mostly this is an adult drama with some action and mild sci-fi components to boot. This lack of a distinct classification does not hinder a definitive tone though and while some have stated the concept hues closely to James Tiptree, Jr.'s 1974 novella, The Girl Who Was Plugged In, it's hard to comment on as much given I haven't read Tiptree's work. As for Cronenberg's film though, it feels very much-in speaking of appearance versus insight-like something as visually stimulating as a major blockbuster in many regards while having the mentality of a more independent spirit-a rather unconventional and somewhat sadistic spirit-but an independent one nonetheless. And so, while Possessor doesn't necessarily fit into any one genre it does concentrate on something as genre-specific as the tale of the long sought-after "perfect crime". In the film (and we're getting into spoiler territory here, so fair warning), Andrea Riseborough (Birdman, Oblivion) plays Tasya Voss who is a trained assassin in the highest form. Voss works for a company who have clients that seek out hit(wo)men that will not only get the job done, but do so in a way where the idea of foul play and/or involvement from anyone outside those explicitly involved in the murder is never suspected. These types of results are accomplished through Voss inhabiting the body of others through brain implant technology. As interesting as this all may sound Cronenberg's script doesn't spend a lot of time within the semantics of how this technology works and even leaves a dangling question that could either potentially undo the entire operation or be explained away in a single line of dialogue (and maybe it was and I missed it), but we won't harp on that here as the important part of what this technology produces and what Cronenberg's story is more interested in exploring anyway is that of not just committing the crime, but the shapeshifting Voss must constantly be performing in order to convincingly occupy the psyche of others. The catch here is that Voss has seemingly become so accustomed to becoming others that she is no longer tethered to her own identity thus leading to the question of how does someone who doesn't know herself genuinely become others?

Possessor, while giving the audience an example of the types of assignments Voss typically takes at the top of the film, more specifically focuses on a job that deals with a young man named Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott). Tate is a recovering drug user and dealer who has somehow stumbled into a relationship and is now engaged to Ava (Tuppence Middleton), the daughter of a wealthy businessman (Sean Bean) who owns one of the largest data mining corporations in the world and who Colin now works for. Ava's step brother has hired Voss' company to enact the narrative that Colin can no longer deal with having zero power in the relationship and therefore relapses prior to killing Ava, her father and himself at a scheduled dinner party forty-eight hours or so after Voss' consciousness is transferred to Tate's body. There are a few scenes in between the prologue as it were and the beginning of the job including Tate where Riseborough is granted permission to be the person Voss actually is or at least attempt to remember her own character long enough to visit her ex-husband, Michael (Rossif Sutherland, son of Donald and younger brother of Kiefer) and their son Ira (Gage Graham-Arbuthnot) for a short time before submersing herself in her work again. It is in this sequence, the only time in the movie that we see Voss in a setting of her own making, that Cronenberg intentionally mirrors the scenarios to that of what her experience as Tate will be. You'll notice guests who overstay their welcome followed by intercourse in both scenarios with the distinction that in the former Voss is detached and not present in the moment no matter how much it seems she would like to be, whereas, when in the body of Tate she is not only engaged and present, but seemingly getting off (in more ways than one) by being this infiltrator of strangers most personal moments. Within the film Cronenberg is sure to leave plenty of space for discussion around these types of ideas and the countless interpretations sure to come from them, but taking cues from the traits Voss displays and mainly her dependency on her job as a type of outlet for her own desires it seems there is a definite inability to feel in control of her own life. Control being the key word here as the ability for Voss to live out her desires by inhabiting the bodies of others for a limited amount of time allows her the freedom to construct a character without having to maintain an identity. Acting and building an identity are crucial parts of maintaining the character one wants to convey in society and the lack of control over those elements due to time and no guarantee of consistency in the real world seem to be what Voss wants to avoid, but can achieve in short, satisfying flourishes when becoming others.  

Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott) is the latest target of Voss' employer, but doesn't succumb as easily as past targets.

It's a hell of a concept and one that could have taken any number of roads once it established the major point of conflict within the narrative. There is a sense that after the culmination of the second act though, that Cronenberg's script somewhat loses itself to that strong concept in a way that feels like he's no longer in control of the rules of the technology or the logistics of the ideas. It's difficult to say if the movie ever fully recovers, but by the time the credits have long since rolled and you've moved on with your life it's not the plot or the rules of the movie's world that will stay with you, but more it is the reoccurring ideas of identity and individuality that remain the most striking. So much of the nuance of the film comes from the two principle actors as they essentially must embody the same character-the same individual-while reminding the audience that they are in fact two separate entities. While Riseborough has proven herself an actor's actor time and time again she is enabled to do the most "actory" of things in this role as Voss must study who she'll be inhabiting and pick up on their ticks, quirks, body language, and speech patterns whereas Abbott is tasked with playing the character of both Tate and Tate as inhabited by Riseborough's character. Such roles call for each actor to apply slight differences in their performance at any given moment while being able to sync up their performances for the majority of the runtime. It's this achievement and recognizing how difficult it must have been to pull off, not to mention the amount of work that must have gone into it that would seemingly make how effortless it ultimately feels the biggest compliment one could pay the film; the only time the viewer being unsure of who's in control being when Cronenberg deems it necessary to hold tension over the audience. Abbott is certainly an up and comer to watch as it is his performance that doesn't necessarily establish the role of the degree of violence on display here, but it is he who reiterates through the repetitive stabbing featured in the film that our physical forms truly are just vessels that can easily be wrecked and broken and his performance as this psychologically wrecked and emotionally broken woman trapped inside a surrogate helping her seek what satisfaction she can't define is complicated, top notch craft. There's the turn of phrase about how it's not the body that has a soul, but the soul that has a body and it is in this simple reversal of perception that Possessor reaches its desired conclusion even if as a cohesive movie with a syncretic story and plot it somewhat fumbles at the one yard line.     

As an aside, this film does contain one of the most striking editorial cuts experienced in some time. It is more the timing of the edit than that of what the images necessarily contain, but it absolutely sets up the best context for itself and then is executed in such swift fashion it is impossible to detach the two acts from one another from that point on. It's an edit so good that when Cronenberg and his editor saw it cut together for the first time they undoubtedly called themselves geniuses or-at the very least-performed a small, awkward dance in the editing bay together. 

No comments:

Post a Comment