Possession and Duplicity
These are two contemporary films that pull in opposite directions:
Duplicity is the complex, convoluted love story of a couple of awful shits reduced (by choice) to finding themselves so entirely unloveable that the only other person capable of fashioning a life together with them is an utterly untrustworthy mirrorimage of the covert-operations scumball each of them has become.
Possession brings together two young, jaded, malcontented, 2002 academics whose mutual interest in an illicit 19th Century liaison takes them from their stale complacency to the gradual discovery of an incandescent obsession that exceeds the tight, repressed, Victorian focus of their common interest into the bold adventure of shaking off their respective dreads and making a life together.
I disliked everybody in Duplicity (with the sole exception of the character portrayed by Tom Wilkinson) from start to finish. That’s despite the fact that I admire the Gilroys tremendously for their ability to tell enormously complicated stories.
Neil Labute’s individual sensibilitites were far less evident to me in Lakeview Terrace, but his Possession commentary radiates a very deliberate, oldschool austerity that dwelt on the stillness of camera, emphasis on the actors’ conception of character, and the creation of a film bent on physical authenticity that leaves the audience knowing more about the narrative than the characters who lived it.
The difference between these two films is most evident as each concludes; with the comparatively staid academics utterly reborn and revitalized, and the shits beginning to realize how completely they got screwed.
By the end of Possesson, Paltrow and Eckhard have exemplified and demonstrated a remarkable range of human imperfections, many of them unspoken, compassionate projections that replicate for the audience the process scholars (and audiences) employ in transforming negative capability into positively meaningful elements of universal, experiental art.
Roberts and Owen, conversely, bring a few persuasive speeches through to the end of their story that’s barely about the power of their deeply disguised affections for one another, and mostly dedicated to the multiple whining engines of glorified self-interest that actually drive the film. Duplicity adheres to The Great Man Theory of Everything if greatness is measured in degrees of harm.
These two films find the fork in The Conversation like a surveillance camera that eventually moves to follow action. I prefer the choices Labute made that seem to be more conscious of the mental and emotional life of an audience scenting story than the Gilroy approach in Duplicity which was quilted from swatches of various timeframes to deliver an icy vision of people inclined to freezer-burn. Not that the excellent performances needed thawing, it’s the original what-if premise that’s simply unbearably cold.
Years ago, I caught the first five minutes of the first episode of Babylon 5. The gala, ambassadorial setting nearly made me puke. Now, because of Henry Jenkins’ interview with J. Michael Straczynski, I’m taking another look, and impatiently awaiting NetFlix’ delivery of the remainder of Season 3. It still isn’t much to look at, but the story is infinitely more engaging, complex and fascinating than a peek at the pilot betokened.