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The many shades of gray in 'Posesif'

Laila Achmad
Laila Achmad

A mom of a son, currently freelancing and regularly make unfunny jokes

Jakarta | Thu, November 9, 2017 | 03:21 pm
The many shades of gray in 'Posesif'

A still from 'Posesif'.' (Palari Films/File)

Back in 2002, when I was still in high school, I thought Ada Apa Dengan Cinta (What’s Up with Love?) was seriously upsetting.

I was left flabbergasted by the ending, where Rangga and Cinta finally admit their true feelings yet separate seconds later. What the heck, Rudy Soedjarwo? I thought this was supposed to be a teenage love flick?!

In my naïve, young mind, the most important element of a coming-of-age film is a happy, albeit highly predictable, ending: the boy and the girl eventually get together, and are happy forever. The end.

Fifteen years later, Edwin gives us an even more devastating coming-of-age film, Posesif (Possessive).

If you haven’t watched it, Posesif essentially tells the story of a toxic relationship between two high school lovebirds, Yudhis and Lala.

Read also: 'Posesif': The dark side of puppy love

Lala (Putri Marino) is the pretty, girl-next-door type who is a national diving athlete, while Yudhis (Adipati Dolken) is the hunky, slightly mysterious new kid in school. They meet and quickly fall in love with each other.

If you merely judge Posesif from the first 15-minutes of the movie and its (very average teen-movie) poster, you’d think that the story is just as clichéd as most local teen flicks.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the film is anything but.

Warning, major spoilers ahead.

Lala and Yudhis’s relationship is stereotypical at first: they instant message each other daily, like each other’s Instagram posts and go on cute dates to amusement parks. But their relationship quickly turns sour as Yudhis gradually reveals himself as a possessive, over-protective guy with almost no anger control.

Whenever Yudhis has an aversion to someone in Lala’s life, he doesn’t hesitate to put that person in fatal danger, like when he directs a laser pointer at Lala’s diving rival’s eye until she falls into the pool from a 10-meter platform.

Things get seriously scary when Yudhis secretly hits Lala’s male best friend with his car out of jealousy. And we most definitely hold our breath when Yudhis chokes Lala after she refuses to come along with him to Bandung for university.

Is this a story about a monster and his victim? No, it’s not as simple as that. This is a story about a toxic, abusive relationship, told from the views of characters in many shades of gray; none of them are black or white.

Yudhis’s character is intensely intimidating for the first half of the film. However, our fear suddenly melds with empathy when it is revealed that his behavior is most likely the result of his controlling and abusive mother, fabulously played by Cut Mini. Posesif manages to portray Yudhis’s behavior as the villain, not Yudhis himself.

Moreover, although it’s easy to sympathize with Lala and see her as the victim, she is also part of the problem with dating violence, as she keeps coming back to her possessive boyfriend. Understandably, though, it’s easy to mistake jealousy and control for adoration. Sometimes it’s hard to spot red flags in the person we’re attached to, especially if we — like Lala — have minimum experience in dating.

Even Yudhis’s mother can’t be judged as the main villain. It’s simple to assume that her toxic behavior was caused by her deeply rooted grudge toward her ex-husband, who abandoned her and Yudhis years ago. So in a way, she is also a victim of her spouse.

Violence in dating occurs from a vicious cycle, contributed by multiple sources, and Posesif’s filmmakers managed to deliver this message gracefully.

The “gray” narrative is not easy to deliver, and not many Indonesian commercial filmmakers are willing to do it, but Posesif successfully executes it.

However, this has led some people to argue that the film romanticizes violence in a relationship.

Such allegations are understandable. Yudhis is portrayed as the bad guy at first, but then our hearts break as we watch his mother beat him until he bleeds. Yudhis even seems heroic eventually, because he manages to restrain his enormous ego and leave Lala for her own good.

All that could make us ponder — maybe Yudhis isn’t that evil? Maybe he’s just helpless and can’t control his intense feelings?

This “grayness” — which further justifies the view of romanticizing violence in Posesif — is also shown when Yudhis impulsively attacks a gang of thugs who harass Lala. Was Yudhis being a knight in shining armor for his girlfriend? Should we swoon? Was he being brave, or just plain reckless and crazy? Ultimately, our feeling for Yudhis is mixed with admiration and fear.

Some people are even disappointed because Yudhis eventually leaves Lala. If Yudhis was dangerous, aren’t we supposed to feel relieved? But why are we sad? Why is there a part of us that wants them to end up together?

However, director Edwin disagrees with the opinion that Posesif romanticizes violence.

“We made the characters gray, instead of black or white, and we realize the consequences — that [the film] would be perceived as romanticizing Yudhis’s behavior. But no, we still condemn violence in relationships. Though Yudhis might seem sympathetic at some points, we still want the audience to see that his behavior is wrong,” Edwin said during a movie discussion at Plaza Senayan, South Jakarta, on Monday.

But things aren’t all bleak and serious in Posesif. One of the “fun” elements in the film is the many symbolisms sprinkled throughout it.

Edwin is famous for using symbolic language in his movies. We may recall the metaphorical fireworks in the girl’s mouth in Babi Buta Ingin Terbang (Blind Pig Wants to Fly), dandruff in coffee in A Very Slow Breakfast, the guns in The Fox Exploits the Tiger’s Might and the Ronald McDonald statue in Kara, Anak Sebatang Pohon (Kara, the Daughter of a Tree).

Without exception, metaphors are also sprinkled throughout Posesif. As a start, why diving?

Screenwriter Gina S. Noer explained during the film’s discussion at the Kalla Youth Fest last month: “Since the start, we knew Lala needed to be an athlete. We chose diving because it’s an intense sport. There is an intricate psychological struggle in practicing it, especially in that split second before the athlete jumps. She has to decide to take the risk [of jumping] or not. And to make a good dive, she has to control herself. Plus, it’s really intimidating to stand at such a great height! For me and Edwin, that sounds very much like Lala’s first love with Yudhis.”

There are also fun little tokens, such as a penguin and a whale as representations of the two characters, and tied-up shoelaces that foreshadow their extreme connection later on.

Even the main soundtrack, "Dan" (And) by Sheila on 7, is metaphorical. Pre-Posesif, "Dan" seems like an innocent song about a man’s sacrifice for his lady. But when you ponder over the lyrics, they do relate to Yudhis’s behavior as he repeatedly attacks Lala and then begs for forgiveness.

At a glance, Posesif looks like a simple coming-of-age movie, with a simple execution and simple narrative. But what we experience after watching it is not simple at all. Throughout the film, Posesif brilliantly provokes interesting feelings in us — we are unsure, uncomfortable and have mixed feelings.

Posesif pushes us to contemplate even long after we walk out of the movie theater, and despite the dozens of nominations it has received from various film festivals, that is Posesif’s most important accomplishment. (kes)

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Laila Achmad is a mom of a son, living in Jakarta. She adores dancing, travel planning, horror stories and engaging in conversations. She is currently freelancing and regularly makes unfunny jokes at letthebeastin.com

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