Possessor ★★★★

Film #31 for Hooptober 8.0

Everything Brandon Cronenberg does in his second feature film, Possessor, looks like an extension of what his father David accumulated through his films during the past five decades. The stylistic body-horror trademark and the exploration of technological dangers and consequences are what his father became known for, and Brandon seems to elaborate upon his legacy. And if this is the style and aesthetic that Brandon will be going for in future, then I am all here for it.

Possessor creates a corporate dystopia in which advanced technologies are abused and misused by corrupt corporations to assassinate people for high-paying clients. What impact the technologies, and the ethical responsibilities that come along with the question of how to deploy said technology, have on the human minds and bodies exposed to it is the core subject of Cronenberg's film. A clear moral dilemma seems to rest at the core: who is responsible for when modern, advanced technologies are deployed for – objectively – bad things?

The technology is nothing but a machine, a piece of metal, connected wires. You cannot delegate questions of moral or ethical responsibility to a machine. But any technology, once available, will inevitably be misused by someone for something other than its original intent. Now the question is, can only the corporation, the individual who misused that technology be held responsible? Or is it also the technology's inventor, the developer, who might only have developed it to achieve good, but *should* have been able to predict the negative consequences their technologies might have once applied by others?

This underlying conflict is not what sits at the heart of Possessor: at its core, the film tackles the individual's disunity and fragmentation once the technology has taken over control. Which leads us back towards a very fundamental fear humans often associate with technological advancement: the fear of technology taking over, depriving us humans of our empathy and our own identity.

But I think Cronenberg tackles a very important question here: just because a technology might seem developable, should it be developed? Already, technologies are misused for a variety of causes. With how far they might be enhanced and refined in future, the possibilities for political, personal or other misuse seem virtually endless (just consider the potential of deepfakes). But if it can be done, someone will ultimately do it. It is a process that does not appear like it can be stopped; the question is how we humans deal with it.

Possessor hints at a variety of questions surrounding ethical responsibilities of technological advancement, but does fairly little to explore those aspects in favor of a more formative look at identity crises arising due to technological impact. What Cronenberg seems to excel at most is the audio-visual and atmospheric setup; the look of this film is undeniably gorgeous, and the acting convincing with a stellar cast (Andrea Riseborough and Christopher Abbott are the obvious stand-outs, but a small, yet impactful Sean Bean appearance needs to be mentioned as well).

I do think the narrative could have been given a little more depth by focusing more profoundly on the moral dilemmas of each character, but most of what Cronenberg achieved here I really liked, and I suspect that this might be a film I will return to multiple times in the future.

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