Possession (2002)Rated PG-13 for sexuality and some thematic elements.
Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Aaron Eckhart, Jeremy Northam, Jennifer Ehle.
LVJeff's Rating: 7/10
Photo ©Focus. All rights reserved.
A Couple of Couples
Guys, you may have to prepare yourselves for a ladies' night out this weekend. If your date won't see the girl-powered Blue Crush with you, she'll probably ask you to take her to Possession instead. As a "chick-flick," it has it all -- romance, British accents, flashbacks to Victorian English period scenes, and even a love-themed mystery. This isn't to say that the movie will be insufferable to the male audience. Any given male with a healthy tolerance for a good sniffle-jerker just might find a few things to be intrigued about in director Neil LaBute's new offering.
Based on a prize-winning novel by A.S. Byatt, Possession is a story that tries to excite one's inner academic -- an American literary research student in England (Aaron Eckhart) makes a discovery about a famous poet named Randolph Henry Ash (Jeremy Northam). He teams up with an uptight professor (Gwyneth Paltrow) to uncover more about the possibility of Ash's affair with a peer (Jennifer Ehle). A tale of parallel relationships unfolds as the modern-day pair -- in denial about their attraction -- finds out more about the historical pair, a couple forced to deny their attraction to others.
At first glance, much of the movie challenges believability. Some viewers may be tempted to roll their eyes at the convenient trail of discovery followed by our two protagonists. It begins with a lucky find, one that soon leads to many more clues adding up in quick succession (I can hear the history professors now mumbling, "we should all have it so easy"). Also, a few unfolding romantic scenes in the flashback sections come dangerously close to the cheese-limit. And attempts to inject villainous characters into the present-day story feel silly. Oooh, yes, look out for those evil scholars.
But underneath LaBute's rather friendly and straightforward presentation of this romantic tale lies an examination of people's desires to find love and meaningful relationships. It's a theme that he has visited before in his previous films, including Nurse Betty and Your Friends and Neighbors. In Possession, both couples have reasons not to get involved with each other -- the historical couple is held back by relationships each one is already in, while the present-day couple is hampered by rules each one has created to avoid pain and complications. At one point, Paltrow's character wonders why anyone would want to follow his or her heart, since it usually leads to misery.
The question becomes, "Is there a justification for pursuing love?" An answer does await at movie's end, and I rather like it. Overall, Possession is a film that can satisfy one's desire to experience a decent love story. Hopefully, even most guys won't mind sitting through it. If nothing else, at least it contains a scene where one scholar tackles another to the floor. Those evil scholars were useful to the movie after all.
©Jeffrey Chen, Aug. 8, 2002