The World Is Only What It Is’: A Roundtable Discussion of Possession (1981)

Alison Taylor, Kat Ellinger, Daniel Bird

Research output: Contribution to journalBook/Film/Article reviewResearchpeer-review


It has been four decades since Andrzej Żuławski’s genre-defying Possession (1981) was released. With its tormented couple’s emotional evisceration playing out against the backdrop of the Berlin Wall, in some ways the film feels like a time capsule of a not-so-distant past. In other ways, the film feels very much of the present moment. It speaks to today’s apocalyptic mood; with the seemingly endless cycle of bad news about climate change, global pandemics and escalating geopolitical tensions, the world we live in feels laden with ambient horror. The suffocating proximity of the camera to Marc and Anna’s domestic disputes no doubt also captures something of the insular and claustrophobic feeling experienced by many amidst COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. One could be forgiven for feeling the world weariness of Heinrich’s mother, lamenting ‘The world is only what it is… Murderous, if we are the best of it.’ Notwithstanding this very real atmosphere of disenchantment (or perhaps because of it?) Żuławski’s Possession – emotionally harrowing with moments of absurd humour – continues to resonate with audiences. To discuss the film, Żuławski’s complicated gender politics, and the pernicious cultural legacy of Oprah Winfrey, I am joined by Kat Ellinger and Daniel Bird.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - May 2023


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