Friday, August 31, 2012

The Possession [2012]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  Roger Ebert (3 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert's review -

The Possession (directed by Ole Bornedal, written by Juliet Snowden and Stiles White) is a well made movie about demons and possession coming out of Jewish tradition.

Set in upstate New York today, Clyde (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan), feeling guilty about the breakup of his marriage between him and Stephanie (played by Kyra Sedgwick) the mother of his children, lets one of his two young daughters, Em (played by Natasha Calis), the other daughter's name being Hannah (played by Madison Davenport), buy an odd looking "box"at a rummage sale near the new house he had just bought for himself.  (He had just bought the new house at the edge of town because he's trying to "start over..." ).

The box is kinda old, wooden and has some Hebrew lettering carved along its side.  Being Jewish, if seemingly not particularly observant, he's probably happy that Em and her sister seem to be at least somewhat interested in their heritage.  It's also obvious that the two young girls are not taking the divorce all too well.  Em is still hoping that her parents are going to get back together, even as it's obvious that mom Stephanie has already begun dating a new boyfriend named Brett (played by Grant Show).  So it doesn't seem that the outcome that Em is wishing for is particularly likely.  So Clyde just hands over the cash to the guy selling the box, _anything_ to make his kid happy ...

Well it turns out that box has those Hebrew markings on it for a reason.  If any of the family had bothered to read (or even knew how to read...) the inscription, they would have quickly disevoered that the inscription contained a warning: DON'T OPEN THE BOX.  Why?  Because it's a "Dybbuk Box" that is, one which in Jewish folklore was designed to encase a malevolent displaced spirit, a dybbuk, that would otherwise seek to enter into the world by entering into the body of an innocent.  Well, 10-12 year old Em, who asked her father to buy her the box, finds a way to open it ...

Now, the situation that ensues would be difficult enough for any family to deal with.  However, remember the parents are divorced ... and the box is at "dad's house."  Em becomes progressively more and more fixated on the box even as she behaves ever more strangely -- in a way that after a time most of us (viewers) would still recognize as _possibly_ "demonically possessed."  Yet, the estranged parents are getting increasingly worried that their daughter is simply slipping into insanity.  Schizophrenia?  Possible.  But why?  Well, as any good guilty parents would certainly deduce: this has _got_ to have something to do with the divorce...

Finally, Clyde, knowing Em's fixation on the box, takes the box to a professor at the university where he coaches, and the professor finally tells him of the nature of the box.  The Professor _doesn't believe_ "the folklore.  But at least tells him that it is a "Dybbuk Box, probably from Poland in the 1920s-30s" and that such a box would have been used to capture and encase malevolent disembodied spirits.

Clyde goes home, searches out dybbuks and demonic possession on YouTube and decides what he has to do: Go down to the Hassidic Jewish community in New York City and find a rabbi who would help him.  But ... how to explain this to his ex-wife who blames him (and indeed them ...) for their daughter's problem.

The film plays from there is more or less predictable firework fashion and yet with enough variation (inspired _in part_ on a specifically Jewish take on demonic possession) to make the film interesting.

Yet there _is_ more at play here.  Many Catholics and Christians will probably appreciate the invocation of some well-known Psalms in the Jewish exorcism ritual including:

You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shade of the Almighty,

Say to the LORD, “My refuge and fortress,
my God in whom I trust.”

He will rescue you from the fowler’s snare,
from the destroying plague,

He will shelter you with his pinions,
and under his wings you may take refuge;
his faithfulness is a protecting shield.

You shall not fear the terror of the night
nor the arrow that flies by day... 

                                  -- Psalm 91:1-5

Okay, the Psalm is used in the context of a Jewish exorcism ritual.  BUT IT IS ALSO A REMINDER TO ALL OF US facing more mundane (and fearful) situations in life -- that GOD PROMISES to be with us in those situations.

So ... after all the fireworks are over, do the parents get back together?   See the movie ;-).  BUT EVEN IF THEY DON'T (possible, _perhaps_ even probable) the more important question then ought to be: Should they be able to continue their lives now with hope?  What demon(s) did they exorcise anyway? ;-)

There's a lot more to this movie than first meets the eye ;-)

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