“Posesif” in the Eyes of a Very Confused Liberal Arts College Student

I came out of the theatre baffled. I spat out words—incoherent ramblings—to my poor non-Indonesian friend who thought this trip is some kind of an Indonesian cultural immersion for him. I watched Edwin’s Posesif last night through a screening held by the Indonesian Film Forum in New York City, and I still don’t know how to feel about the movie. I refrained from putting a rating to my Letterboxd diary entry from the film because I don’t even know if I like Posesif or not. My friend—who isn’t accustomed to Indonesian cinema’s affinity for the melodrama—complained of how cheesy the whole thing is. “You haven’t seen Filosofi Kopi, or 5cm, or basically any film directed by Hanung Bramantyo,” I said. He just looked at me in confusion.

Anyway, I’ve heard a lot of things about Posesif before I watched it. I heard that it’s one of a handful of Indonesian films that puts domestic violence/abusive relationships front and center. There have been a plethora of different reactions to it, from people saying that it romanticises dating violence to people saying that it takes teen romance to a darker side. To be honest….. I still don’t know which side I’m on, and I kept bugging my friends about it (who said to me to not think about it too hard). Damn that Ancient Greek literature class! Apparently, everything has to mean something. Anyway, this post is going to be a very stream-of-consciousness attempt of me deciding how should I feel about Posesif. Of course, spoilers ahead.

As a refresher, Posesif tells a story about Lala, a student-athlete (diver) who returns to her school fresh off of getting a bronze medal in the Nationals. She meets Yudhis, a new kid in school, and they hit it off instantly after getting detention together. At first, the movie leads us to believe that it is a cliché’d teen romance, however, it gets to a darker turn by revealing how domineering and controlling Yudhis is in the relationship.

First of all, I want to mention that this film is very anxiety-inducing to watch. 102 minutes of an unending cycle of abuse? During the screening, I spent most of my time covering my mouth with the festival’s program, clutching for dear life to my seat. I have to say kudos to both leads, Adipati Dolken and Putri Marino, for conveying electrifying performances of Yudhis and Lala. Indonesian cinema is so buzzing with talent right now.

The thing that catches the audience’s eyes (and led to numerous feminist op-eds) is the promotional material of the film. The title of the film is written in chalkboard font, complete with a heart as the “o” in “Posesif”. The poster has a soft pastel color that implies that this is going to be sweet and lighthearted. This led people to believe that the film romanticizes dating violence, however, I believe the director thinks that dating violence is a bad thing—indicated by the eerie soundtrack during scenes of manipulation. That led me to think: is the imagery and promotional material of Posesif ironic? Does it imply that a sweet teenage romance isn’t just a shallow emotion (as the poster would imply) but a real thing that could go awry? I believe that this is a didactic part of the movie where what adults would think as a playful romance among teens could go serious, and these things could go unnoticed just because the perpetrators are teens who are unsure of their feelings.

Lala (Putri Marino) and Yudhis (Adipati Dolken)! So cute… but are they really?

Speaking of seeing this movie from an adult lens, another issue arises. My non-Indonesian friend noticed about how cheesy the romance is, especially the emphasis of the word “forever”: the neon light that spelled the word, the promises the couple makes, and most importantly, Yudhis telling Lala that they should be together forever. Raksa Santana’s Cinema Poetica review of this movie mentioned that the word “forever” can mean two things: a kind of teenage sweet-talk, or a binding promise (which sounds eerier than the former). This also led me to think that it is possible for all this cheesiness to be ironic. If we take a step back to watch this film as adults, we would think that the word “forever” is an empty word that teenagers throw around when they have a crush on someone, but taking this into the context of an abusive relationship, the word “forever” is terrifying. This is why I think that the cheesiness of it all is just a façade of a disturbing issue that needs to be addressed.

I also like how this film touches a great range of issues that fall under abusive relationships. Yudhis has a fixed cycle: he sees Lala doing things he doesn’t like, he confronts Lala about it, physically abuses her, and comes to her house the next day begging for forgiveness. This cycle keeps going on and on, complete with several intimidation tactics: 33 missed calls, stalking, manipulative words, and many others. The film finally reveals that Yudhis is so good at manipulation because his mother abuses him the same way he abuses Lala. He wants to get out of that cycle of abuse, but he is so in too deep with the abuse he experiences since he was a child; he doesn’t even know whether he’s being abusive or not at any given moment. On the other hand, Lala wants to save him. She seems to have this “obligation” to save Yudhis, just because she’s his girlfriend. Could this also be affected by her father’s expectations towards her in her athletics? Seeing that Yudhis is highly affected by his mother, it is safe to say that Lala is also highly affected by her father. There are a lot of portrayals of women in popular media whose main job is to “fix” our main male character (cough the manic pixie dream girl trope cough), and it is very easy for the filmmakers to throw Lala into that category. But they don’t. And I salute them for that.

Lala and her two best friends, Ega (Gritte Agatha) and Rino (Chicco Kurniawan).

My feminist side thought of a particular thing: we shouldn’t justify Yudhis’s actions just because he is a victim as well. Abuse is abuse. However, I am not sure if the movie holds the same attitude. That’s where a popular Indonesian song comes in—sorry if this blog post is giving you whiplash. We hear Sheila On 7’s “Dan…”—my favorite Indonesian song, I remember playing this on repeat when a guy broke my heart a few years ago, my non-Indonesian friend is playing it on repeat right now yes please join me in our Sheila On 7 listening cult—played twice during the movie: first is when we first found out about Yudhis’s mom’s abuse, and the second time is when Lala meets Yudhis after the breakup and decides to ignore him. The song itself is written from the perspective of a man who sees his ex-lover being happy, where the man mentions that he is sorry for hurting them, acknowledges that he is hurt too, and urges the ex-lover to forget him if it makes them happy. When the song first appeared in the movie, I thought about an earlier scene where Yudhis first asks forgiveness for his abuse to Lala (where he notably slaps himself multiple times) and I thought that the song frames it to justify Yudhis’s actions—because he is hurt too. And there’s no mention of Lala leaving him at all (in fact, the scene is a complete opposite: Lala runs away with Yudhis, singing the song in Yudhis’s car), so I’m thinking that the “acknowledging that the guy is hurt too” part is the emphasis here. However, when the song played the second time, it feels like the emphasis has shifted from the second verse to the refrain, about the man asking the ex-lover to forget him. At that point, Lala has forgotten Yudhis, and if we were to assume that the narrator in “Dan…” is Yudhis, Lala has fulfilled Yudhis’s wishes to forget him. Therefore, which interpretation of the song do we want to go forward with? Personally, I think the second interpretation gets the film into a full circle.

Speaking about Lala fulfilling Yudhis’s wishes…. isn’t that all that she does in the movie? My feminist side thinks that there are no saints in the movie and there are no sinners too; every character is both victim and apologist. There are no true role models in the film, and I wouldn’t categorize Lala’s character to be a good example of a well-written female character. She leaves Yudhis because Yudhis asks him to (in that very bizarre sequence of events that ends up with Yudhis leaving Lala alone at a highway rest stop), not because of her own will, which makes that last scene of Lala ignoring Yudhis during her morning run seems not as powerful as it’s supposed to be. She’s torn between universities in Bandung and in Jakarta. Aside from diving (which eventually becomes some sort of a chore for her), we are never introduced to what Lala really likes and what Lala wants to do. She just follows whatever. An argument could be made that teenagers are like that: they copy their peers’ traits, they follow their parents’ wishes, and they don’t really have a defining passion. An argument could also be made that Lala is like that because of her dad’s overbearing wishes on her as an athlete (and Yudhis is the first person who introduces “free will” to her). However… I don’t know. This just justifies that there is no true role model in this film. It portrays what happens when this cycle of abuse is inflicted on people like Lala and Yudhis. And that’s okay, I guess.

A question pops up: does this film break the cycle of abuse Yudhis and his mother are involved in? Does this resolve the toxicity? Is anything really successful in this movie? I’m still not sure about that. And that’s why I can’t stop thinking about this movie. The last scene of Lala finally getting over Yudhis does not hide the fact that Yudhis is still trapped inside the cycle of abuse, but it gives a great message that women are not obligated to be saviors of troubled men. However, since we are given so much emphasis on Yudhis’s cycle of abuse earlier in the film, there is still a feeling that the cycle of abuse should’ve been resolved. At the same time, it’s not easy to give out a satisfying ending for a story about an abusive relationship and be able to address it fully at the same time. That question will still burn in my mind for another week or so, though. And that’s fine, I guess. As how the band Efek Rumah Kaca would put it, “hidup tak selamanya linier” (life is not always linear).

Therefore… I don’t know. That was the reasons why I’m still thinking about this film. If you have any tips, shoot it on the comments below, or email me at patricia.adiyoso@gmail.com. I am very, VERY welcome to hear your responses, and hopefully, if there are actually people who bother to respond, I will update this post accordingly. If not, I hope you enjoy my purge—my stream-of-consciousness figuring out a film that I’m not supposed to think too hard about in the first place. And… if Mr. Edwin is reading this… I hope you’re entertained, and please give me your insight so I can actually find a final verdict towards this movie. wink wink

no rating yet, I’m sorry

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