Possessor

Possessor ★★★★

I killed it and mounted it one summer when I was a girl. Then I felt guilty about it. I still feel guilty about it.

Like his father, Brandon Cronenberg does not shy away from depicting viscera, gore, and blood in Possessor. Unlike his father, though, Brandon's body horror is not about artistry. There are no artfully designed mounds of pulsating flesh here, only wet, cold, grimy gore. Because Possessor wants to remind us that we are only sheets of skin stretched over lumps of meat. While that package can be frail and easily punctured, mashed, and perforated, somewhere within all that flesh is the self. Made up of memories, emotional attachments, and feelings, the self may not be any less destructible, but it is who we are, for better or worse.

The fact, then, that Cronenberg has chosen to open his film with a scenario where a white woman is controlling the body of a black woman to frame her for murder and get her shot by police cannot be ignored. Reminiscent of so many killings we have seen captured on cellphones over the last decade, there seems to be an intentional message about detachment and dehumanization at play. Tasya Vos - the aforementioned white woman - undergoes an arc over the film where she becomes more and more desensitized to the other bodies she is commandeering; she has begun to see them solely as meat. Her job has numbed her, trained her to no longer empathize, not unlike the training and inculturation of soldiers and police. That has an inverse effect, however. As her compassion for others deteriorates, so too does her sense of self. She becomes only one body inflicting pain on another body. When we are taught to view others as inhuman, we become inhuman in turn.

When Vos is brought out of her uplink, she has to be reminded of who she is by studying objects associated with formative memories. At the start, a glass box with a pinned butterfly spurs her to comment on the guilt she felt after first killing the insect. Returning to that object at the end of the film, her memory - and, thus, herself - have changed. She doesn't feel guilty anymore.

I killed it and mounted it one summer when I was a girl.

(I wouldn't be me if I didn't comment on the fact that the title is a super clever near-palindrome. It's almost a perfect mirror, but the beginning letter has changed by the end.)

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