Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
This sumptuous century-spanning romantic epic from 2002 found its spark in the words that can quietly send a fleeting attraction into a full-blown love affair. In other words, the last thing you’d expect from writer/director Neil LaBute.
Misogyny, sexual warfare and mental illness have been usual nihilistic territory for LaBute. But tossed-off digs at rascally British academics were as nasty as Possession got. Instead, its parallel stories of equal interest formed believably earnest romance.
Roland Mitchell (Aaron Eckhart) discovers love letters from 19th-century writer Randolph Henry Ash purportedly written to Christabel LaMotte — a poet who was not Ash’s wife but was a lesbian and feminist at a time when both were taboo.
Paired with Maud Bailey (Gwyneth Paltrow), a LaMotte scholar, Roland tries to unravel the centuries-old secret and develops feelings for Maud. Meanwhile, Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle play Ash and LaMotte in flashbacks.
LaBute puts forth an entrancing idea of love outlasting this mortal coil when preserved on paper. The plentiful, passionate prose takes flight with emotion that avoids sentimentality, the drama so tightly wound that merely reading letters burns with a stately fire. Plus, English teachers will proudly note numerous clues hinging on how well literature is interpreted.
Only near the end did Possession falter a bit — a laughable confrontation with grave robbers more like Scooby Doo than Jane Austen. Otherwise, Possession allowed Labute to showcase diversity. After disasters like The Wicker Man and the Death at a Funeral remake, LaBute should seek such inspiration again.