Possessed is an interesting psychological thriller in that it takes a unique approach to the person possessed. The film walks a fine line between two different religious beliefs and those who think both are mere superstition. The two religious belief systems at play here are Christianity and Shamanism which is still very alive and well in Korea the home country that produced this film.
A college student named Hee-jin is called home because her sister So-jin has gone missing. The remaining movie is the sister working with a pretty unmotivated cop to solve the missing person’s case. Once the sister arrives home, Mom is acting weird, refusing to get the police involved because according to her faith, they are all in the service of Satan. Mom’s solution is to simply pray more for the return of her daughter. This frustrates Hee-jin to no end, yet mysterious things continue to happen and people are dying all around this apartment building. At first they seem random, yet as the story unfolds, the connections become clear as many of the neighbors believe So-jin to be possessed by a spirit.
One of the neighbors is a female Shaman who rallies the troops, who are the surrounding neighbors who happen to have some illnesses of their own, and she holds a kind of ritual with shaking bells and a big bowl of water and two knifes which they place the girl’s hands on. After they cut into her, the Shaman makes a talisman which she gives to a neighbor with cancer and tells her to eat it, which she does and is miraculously cured of her cancer. The neighbors get greedy and want more talismans, so they attempt to recreate the ceremony and it has disastrous affects. I won’t say any more because the ending is quite disturbing and at one point there’s just way too many strange things going on to not be crawling in your own skin. It’s well worth a view.
What’s fascinating to me is how everyone views this sick girl's situation through the lens of religious beliefs or doubts in the case of Hee-jin and the police man. But even the police man has a dying daughter in the hospital whom he takes the talisman (police evidence) to her room to try and get her to eat it in a father’s desperate attempt to save his daughter’s life. His wife catches him and berates him for such superstitious nonsense.
What’s on display here is what mankind has been struggling with since mankind has been around. The philosopher Boethius, in his book The Consolation of Philosophy, which was THE big hit book of the Middle Ages (because there are over 800 manuscripts of his book and about 50 of the Canterbury Tales…that should put it into perspective), writes how “Events, appearing evil, misfortunate, disastrous, or accidental are none of these. Rather such events are illusions that only appear this way to humans because we are limited in our perceptions while bound by time.” In other words, we can’t see the big picture, so we misinterpret ordinary things as evil and ask the eternal question, “If God is, whence come evil things? And if He is not, whence come good?” It’s the Book of Job…why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?
Boethius writes, “A person must look to philosophy rather than his own religion for comfort in persecution and support at the approach of death.” That’s exactly what is going on in Possessed. Unlike Western horror films where the demon or spirit is driven out of the host, here, the spirit is being exploited by both the mother (proof that her daughter is filled with God’s spirit) and the Shaman (using the power of the spirit for healing). It's always been interesting to me that the word in Korean for ‘superstitious’ is 미신 (pronounced Mee-sheen) and the Korean word for crazy is 미친 (pronounced Mee-cheen)...only one letter difference. In Korean society today there are still many people who consult Shamen for things like the best dates to get married, the names of unborn children, etc. Korea is also the home of a very active Christian community. This film balances its depiction and its criticism of both these belief systems while challenging non-believers as well. It’s a fine example of the Boethian Philosophy of how we misinterpret things we cannot possibly understand.
Click HERE to read The Consolation of Philosophy