A Literary Indiana Jones Movie?

Possession is based on the novel by A.S. Byatt. I have the book, but sadly, like too many books I own, it sits unread in favor of movies and other simpler gratifications.

This movie is intriguing. There are basically three plot lines, two of them make sense, the third is mainly a device. In the first plot line, we have the modern scholars, their research, and their relationship. In the second plot line, we have the historical poets, the subject of the research, and their affair. In the third plot, we have the race to uncover the truth. In an anemic final scene, it looks like something that may have been storyboarded with Indiana Jones.

Onwards with the plot lines that matter.

The historical poets are trying to escape the lives they have created with a spark that has intrigued them. In one case, we have the lovely Christabel LaMotte who is torn about her 'shared solitude' with Blanche Glover (her life companion). On the other side of the spark is Randolph Ash and his legendary devotion to his wife. We learn of their affair through the scholarly investigation carried out by Roland Mitchell and Maud Bailey. Ash and LaMotte meet by chance and begin a delightful correspondence that makes them feel closer than they probably are. Over time, the correspondence grows in depth and so do their interests.

Back in the current time line, Roland and Maud are retracing the steps and rechecking their facts for this improbable affair. They uncover many new sources and spend a good deal of the movie reading them to each other (which also serves as transitionary narration to the historical plot). Fed by the intrigue of the past, Roland and Maud struggle through a modern relationship. It's this juxtaposition that I found the great strength of Possession.

In the historical relationship, things are messy and tangled. This is just like the present. However, in the past, the command of language connected the two characters. In the present, we see the failure of language to help Ronald and Maud speak truthfully. Their conversations are short and mostly factual. Just when Ronald and Maud appear to be connecting, Ronald cannot help but turn a famous quote by Freud into a Calvin Klein ad. This irony is missing from the historical romance. Ash and LaMotte's correspondence has many layers and is expressed more fully. Is this commentary or coincidence? Either way, there is much truth in this comparison. The modern relationship is guarded. This historical relationship smolders and burns with desire.

The film itself moves easily from the historical plot line to the past. However, if it had ended there, it would be like some companion piece to Somewhere in Time (starring Christopher Reeves). The movie moves less deftly when adding in the race to uncover the facts. Although the film does not have many characters, surely the scenes with the Barrister could have been left on the editing room floor. The cast is a real treat. There a number of principal players that did a great job, but are unknown to me.

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