Pull Me Out, My Home is Gone: Possessor, a question of ownership, and a city in flux
To think that the director of this film graduated from the university that I am currently studying in is…overwhelming, to say the least.
Having first seen Brandon Cronenberg’s work in 2019 with Please Speak Continuously And Describe Your Experiences as They Come to You (and much to both me and my friend being completely mind-blown), I can’t help but think of how much his work draws from more than one cinematic provocateur. In fact, the likes of Grandrieux, Ferrara, and Clouzot (but especially Clouzot) come to mind before the unprecedented king of body horror himself.
I would even go as far to say that Brandon’s postmodernist approach here completely separates him from many of David’s works. And as someone currently studying media in Toronto, as well as someone who has just finished studying media theory, this film is more than a fatal attraction.
I find it quite strange given that Possessor is still about as visceral (and perhaps more titillating) as the work of Brandon’s heralded father, and while Crash was more difficult for me to stomach, there is no other film at least currently that speaks to Toronto as a city in flux. Even Edgar Wright’s Toronto has now been bygone for the last four years, and it was one I didn’t come to embrace until I was no longer able to see it. In fact, it’s rather unfortunate that Scott Pilgrim is now a cinematic artifact of Toronto on the cusp of vertical development.
Nonetheless, Possessor offers a different case, as entire areas rather than fragments of the city are ones I’m still familiar with. Moreover, it is so ingrained in the present (nevermind that it’s a future 2008) that it may as well also stand as a piece of work capturing the viscerality of the human body as it coexists in a time that will soon mark the end of an era, and the beginning of a seemingly neverending period of stagnant verticality.
There are many connections to be made between the higher-ups that run rampant in Possessor and the current population that has unseated a Toronto that was once fully realized as a cultural community. One can liken Vos and Girder to the likes of Westbank Corp., a company whose familiarity with Toronto’s current population immediately points to the demolition of Mirvish Village. It has been three years since this project was promised to fully develop, but as with many architectural companies that are currently occupying Toronto’s most recognizable areas, the initial plan has barely come to fruition. To this day, it remains no more than a vacant space on Bloor and Bathurst.
Given this, Possessor’s Toronto precedes the dawning of a 2008 that would end up spearheading an ongoing period of architectural companies whose presence has been so flagrantly powerful that they can frivolously kill off any business and community for the sake of personal profit — moreso in the most terrifying manner, as the outcome on “the receiving end” is virtually nonexistent to the benefit of these companies.
Possessor is no stranger to what is essential lawlessness, and one can’t help but consider the adjacency of how the government ineffectually handled Elio’s stabbing to how the municipal police force handled their casualties against an entire uprising whose turbulent aftermath would inevitably turn the population’s perception of civil liberties on its head. The complacency of the government in both versions of Toronto align with their disturbing lenience towards companies that stifle the legislation’s snail-paced oversight of what is now the fastest-growing society in North America.
My brain would only end up warping itself from trying to fully comprehend this film’s themes in conjuction with the city’s own similar involvements with corporate-funded and often privatized technological innovations, which only increased long after 2008, and continued to do so post-Rob Ford. In fact, it is only one of several contributing factors to Toronto’s drastic transformation from a living community to a lived commodity; that which its people have tried to avoid becoming even before local landmarks, music venues, housing projects, and an entire arts scene were shut out by multiple urban planning projects that claimed to hold the key to revitalization.
Additionally, the ways in which Vos is tasked to invade people’s identities by performing exceptionally well under mimicry (and is she quite seasoned at it herself) can also be likened to how the city’s current developers have “hacked” into the minds of these communities, radically changing notions of community and neighbourhood surveillance. It’s even more ironic to know that in order for Vos to return to her original state, she must kill her possessed state after assassinating her targets through the bodies of others.
It’s much like the facade that these urban planners have put on to convince the communities that they are about to eradicate that they will end up in the hands of safety as a result of the project’s ill intentions. However, as much as these communities know that these companies never deserved a spot in the city’s developments in the first place, proprietors would refuse to kill off what they have built up to get to a point that is anything but completely harmless.
Which brings me to the people who are now increasingly present within the city, whose palpable sense of obliviousness towards lived spaces become physical and emotional reactions in conjuction with these spaces they have evaded and inhabited. They live by the same lawlessness of the municipality that has preferred to welcome them with open arms as mere outliers in contrast with the seasoned working class. Most of all, they follow suit with the municipality’s reputably ineffectual neglect, ultimately leaving those most dedicated to maintaining these communities in the dust.
By virtue of occupying, imitating, and reflecting the identities of the areas that these people now possess (much to the resistance of several communities and creative spaces), these people may as well truly become them as well. Although this is the case, the main difference between this possibility and the exhaustion of this possibility as presented through Vos’s occupation is the reality that an entire community of people that counter the intentions of the city’s most established communities can afford to remain under these veneers, as thinly veiled as they are. Most of all, the municipal government would never notice such a thing.
The physical and mental ailments of those that Vos possesses are unavoidable, while those in global real estate firms will have yet to experience the reality of establishments that they have now rendered perishable and historically ephemeral to the city’s supposed growth.
As Vos cannot escape the imprintation of her victims’ identities onto her own, the likes of Parkdale’s Tibetan community can hardly erase their affiliation with property owners looking to rebrand the identity of a community they have helped restore — most notably one that was supposedly immune to gentrification. Thus, the memories and customary traditions that define a community’s identity bleed over into the myth that is Toronto’s international brand of extreme diversity.
Even then, as I am writing this from Ajax (one of many suburban communities that several of Toronto’s most diverse populace have been relegated to due to the impossiblity of property values), having lived in Toronto for a decade was enough for me to realize that these markers that communities have continually had to reclaim become tied to those staking a claim over what they merely see as a waste of space. Thus resulting in Possessor holding a cinematic mirror to what has evidently been a post-modern municipality still brimming with communities desirable enough to be on the verge of property displacement.
Toronto has always presented itself as a city that has turned multiculturalism into a singular identity, further implying the reality that singular identities in this city’s population do not exist. As a result, it also presents the dangers of its most powerful people obtaining the privilege to wear, purchase, appropriate, and dispense of multiple identities, despite clearly being signifiers of specific identities that go against the grain of what is now the last archipelago of diversity in a city swamped by the increasing demands of global estate. That there is no single umbrella term, or ‘you’ to which we can truly refer to those working in corporate offices and privatized industries, as every individual affiliated with them can easily switch between identities that counter the notion of collective inclusion.
With the intention of creating spaces meant to innovate solely to their benefit, and entire monuments that are supposed pillars for futuristic progress, the individuals who have rebuilt over these communities only end up building mental prisons whose physical toll is just as visceral as the aftermath of evicting an entire community for the sake of demolition, rather than prioritizing the preservation of dilapidated housing. They begin as self-governing proprietors, and ultimately land their final form as subservient possessors (pun intended) whose singular identities cease to exist.
The act of possession that Vos undertakes throughout the entirety of this film, and within the confines of Colin Tate’s inescapably conglomerate affiliation, remains applicable to the act of corporate possession, which becomes more and more salient given the direction that Toronto has currently been going in. Once again, Cronenberg’s 2008 precedes this, albeit more indirectly given that it is significantly much easier for any Toronto native to see it both on film and around them. It makes the presence of CBC’s offices (as a literal factory nonetheless) a far more encompassing and omniscient structure in the film’s setting than Cronenberg may have initially intended.
Nevermind Colin’s progressively syndicated identity. It is still Vos who has done away with components of her own identity, equally fracturing the identities of those she possesses. It’s no wonder than neither her, nor Colin, nor their real-life counterparts who have opened the floodgates of property speculation in the remaining bastions of affordable rent, have had their psyches fractured, rendering them as significantly less of an intact human being against the backdrop of their own inhumane decisions.
Unlike both cities’ working-class individuals that can regulate multiple identities (ironically this is also the case with people who have gentrified smaller businesses), both parties in the significantly upper echelon of municipal society eliminate the goal of a collective identity, and in turn, eliminate its components as its own unique entity. It creates an irreversible disruption within an already largely damaged system whose initial goal has already infiltrated the stability and mentality of its collective hivemind.
As a result, these individuals become the very commodities that they have created out of what is now an overwhelmingly historical slew of previously unsustainable urban developments. They’ve only made it worse, amongst others and within themselves.
This is what makes Cronenberg’s sophomore effort a prescient glimpse of a present Toronto, and how the emotional toll of reaching the height of self-commodification transforms into the physical embodiment of a didactic and permanent transaction that cannot be erased.