Ending Explained is a recurring series in which we explore the finales, secrets, and themes of interesting movies and shows, both new and old. This time, we dive into the ending of Possessor (Uncut).
Brandon Cronenberg’s second feature film, Possessor, is a beautiful piece of sci-fi body horror full of crushed skulls and buckets of blood. Much of the praise around the film focuses on its visuals and ultraviolence, which are indeed dazzling. But it is about more than just death. Through the sea of violence and viscera arises a film about what it means to truly be yourself.
Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) is a new kind of assassin: she infiltrates the mind of someone close to her target. In taking over their mind and body, Tasya can commit the perfect crime with no suspicion brought against her or her employer. For her next job, she takes over Colin (Christopher Abbott), who is dating the daughter of the target (Sean Bean). It’s a typical job — not too complicated and quick to execute. But, as she dives into Colin’s mind, she realizes something is different. It is not so easy for her to slip into her host’s skin, and she struggles to maintain a hold on her identity while controlling Colin.
These difficulties lead to the failure of the assassination plot, which, in a rare instance, leaves Sean Bean’s character alive. But, the job becomes secondary, taking a back seat to Tasya’s own journey towards self-identity. In her struggle to maintain control over Colin she becomes more focused on herself.
At the end of Possessor, Tasya ultimately eliminates her host, returns to her body, and lives to complete another assignment. However, this comes with a cost: the execution of her husband and young son. Yet, she sheds no tears for their deaths and doesn’t show any outward expression of grief. Husband and son were merely symbolic figures that marked Tasya’s domesticity, two pieces of cover that kept her true identity a secret.
Identity here does not just mean her actual job as an assassin. It means her actual self and personality, one that is increasingly cruel and apathetic. Her job is merely an outlet for that cruelty, a way for her to exorcise those impulses and maintain a visage of normalcy. Importantly, her family is unaware of her job, so she must already hide part of herself from them to keep that part of her secret. But again, the secret is more than just the job; it is who Tasya really is.
Early in the film, Tasya is shown standing outside of their home, mumbling the phrase, “Hi darling,” to herself over and over again, before knocking on the door. Instead of being able to just enter the home and express her excitement to see her family, she is practicing the line like it’s part of a play, a line that will keep her cover intact. This domestic life does not come easily to her. It is instead a performance, not unlike what’s expected of her in her job.
Just as she embodies her hosts, Tasya embodies the life of someone less dangerous. With them, her lack of empathy is hidden, just bubbling beneath the surface. She can embrace her son and feign interest in his toys. She can sit at a dinner party and drink glasses of wine with friends. She can fulfill her husband’s sexual appetite. She knows the steps that need to be taken. But, through their deaths, she now is free.
In depicting their deaths as newly found freedom for Tasya, Cronenberg creates a complex female character who refutes the idea of being a loving mother and wife above all; instead, she embraces the violence and begins to understand her true nature. Possessor is Tasya’s journey into understanding her true self as an apathetic killer with a taste for blood. But she doesn’t want to admit to that. She wants to seem like a normal working mother who can host dinner parties and say all the right things to her son. Yet, there is a disconnect.
This lack of a connection with her true self causes increased episodes of dissociation where she loses control of her host. At first, it seems that Tasya is getting older and losing her abilities as an assassin due to multiple implantations. But, a butterfly in a box is the key to realizing that this is about more than age; this is about an identity crisis.
The butterfly in a box is part of a test administered after every hit to ensure Tasya has fully returned to her body and is “herself.” Her self is defined by a box of items that have connections to her past, from an old pipe of her grandfather to this butterfly. In her first onscreen assessment, she holds the butterfly, saying she killed and mounted it as a girl and that she continues to feel guilty about the unnecessary death. In admitting that guilt, Tasya is able to display a semblance of empathy and an ability to regret her acts of violence.
The ending of Possessor features that same assessment with the same box of objects. Tasya identifies them with ease, but with one key difference: she does not mention her guilt about the butterfly. She merely picks up the box, examines it, and bluntly states that she killed the creature when she was a child. Her visage of empathy has been erased. She is no longer trying to appear like a normal human being that can experience regret. Instead, she is fully embracing her cold-hearted side. This is not the typical transformation where a woman overcomes obstacles to become a better wife and mother. Instead, Tasya evolves to embrace the darkness and accepts that she does not fit into a normal human life.
The title Possessor does not just reference the possession of another person’s mind, but of Tasya possessing a domestic life that is not truly hers. Even when she is not implanted in a host’s mind, she is playing a role, reciting lines. In denying that fact, an identity crisis only grows and the mind is thrown into chaos. Through increasingly bloody deaths, Tasya realizes who she is more than what resides in the physical body, which is only solidified as she makes a living being transported between consciousnesses. In accepting her true nature, Tasya is able to find a demented version of peace.