Prayer Focus
Movie Review

Possession

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexuality and some thematic elements

Reviewed by: Megan Basham
CONTRIBUTOR

Very Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults
Genre:
Romance Drama
Length:
1 hr. 43 min.
Year of Release:
2002
Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart in Possession Jennifer Ehle and Jeremy Northam in “Possession”

Starring: Tom Hollander, Lena Headey, Gwyneth Paltrow, Aaron Eckhart, Jeremy Northam | Directed by: Barry Levinson, Neil LaBute | Produced by: David Barron, Len Amato, Paula Weinstein, Barry Levinson | Written by: David Henry Hwang, Laura Jones, Neil LaBute | Distributor: Focus

Aaron Eckhart plays Roland Michell, a brash, young scholar on fellowship in London. While researching at the British Museum, Roland discovers a letter that has the potential to turn the literary world on its ear. The letter indicates that Randolf Henry Ash, a Victorian poet famous for his Romantic verse and marital fidelity, shared a passionate love affair with the less famous, pseudo-lesbian Christabel LaMotte. As Roland continues hunting for clues of the affair, he finds he must enlist the help of Maude Bailey, Christabel’s great-great-grandniece and an intellectual in her own right.

Gwyneth Paltrow gives a charming performance as Maud, a young woman suspicious of love and wary of men, who hides her insecurities behind a feminist mask. Her warm, timid nature is revealed as she and Roland uncover the passion behind Randolf and Christabel’s letters.

Due to Possession’s story within a story nature, I was torn over how to review this film. Where Roland and Maude seem sincere and tender, Christabel and Randolf’s relationship feels sordid and contrived. In one scene, Randolf tells Christabel that he will wait for her in the church where he will be praying the “holiest” of prayers, namely that she will come away with him for a four-week tryst. This is one of Satan’s most effective lies—that strong feelings justify disobeying God’s laws (the fact that Randolf is praying this in the church even implies that God condones such behavior).

On the other side, aspects of the developing attachment between Roland and Maude are quite admirable. Both are cautious and mindful of their shortcomings. Roland is remorseful over pain he caused in previous relationships, and this keeps him from pursuing love in the present. Maude intimates that she also has a lot of regret (there is inference of an abortion) and that the bond created by a sinful sexual relationship has kept her connected to someone who, under normal circumstances, she would not even like.

From an acting standpoint, the chaste scenes between Paltrow and Eckhart are far more electrifying than those of the older, steamier couple. But the overall theme of the movie is that love, especially adulterous love (illustrated by one completely out-of-place sex scene), covers a multitude of sins. As Christians, we know it just isn’t so.

Viewer Comments
Negative—Alas. My Big Fat Greek Wedding was sold out, so my husband and I bought tickets for Possession. I knew this movie would have passion, drama, and one of my favorite actresses, Gwyneth Paltrow. Yes, she is talented. Yes, she has a decent English accent. But this movie cannot be compared or categorized with the likes of Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and other like genres.

It was very disturbing that the plot consisted of a buried secret love affair between a married man and a woman who left her lover (who also happened to be a woman.) Suicide, lies, homosexuality, brief nudity, our Lord’s name in vain, the list goes on. Romantic, yes. Beautiful, could be. Honoring to God, certainly not. Save your money and rent “Emma” instead.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 3½]
—Nicole Ray, age 27
Negative—…Possession is a beautifully acted, wonderfully scored, and visually delightful film. It will probably turn the heads of critics this fall and you may even see it in the Oscar lineup come 2003. It’s just the kind of movie that secular critics love… forbidden passions, elusive mysteries, long lost love letters, and the ability to converse between time and space, to be in two romances at once without ever breaching the gap entirely. That alone makes it a wonderful screenplay and an engaging idea… if only the premise was more godly.

Alas, adultery, marital deceit, lustful passion and innuendoes toward homosexuality and one night stands ruin a visual masterpiece. …Even with the ability to overlook the torrid romantic triangle, there are other problems that write this film into the nearest waste basket. I will say merely that Possession’s worst visual flaw comes from a lengthy and sensual love scene in which Ash and LaMotte kiss, caress, and undress one another before having sex (the image shows no nudity, but includes movement). Maud and Roland also share a bed at one point, which leads to some fooling around before it ends in an argument. There’s also a number of gay jokes/innuendoes, and some nudity in art.

Language is surprisingly minimal with only some abuse of deity and minor profanities (which do include three profane abuses of Jesus’ name), and the violence is limited to the expulsion of a couple of grave robbers. There’s also a Victorian séance scene in which LaMotte attempts to have a medium contact the dead. A woman commits suicide.

All in all, it’s a pretty piece of rubbish. Don’t waste your time unless you can successfully suspend your conscience, ruin your opinion of each member of the cast, and enjoy a sordid Harlequin-type romance.
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive / 4]
—Scarlett Powell