© 1947 Warner Bros. Pictures

Possessed (1947)

In Possessed Joan Crawford gives a strong and unsettling performance as a nurse who is obsessed with a former lover, David (Van Heflin), and can’t let go even after she marries the her employer (Raymond Massey), who had hired her to take care of his mentally unstable wife. When David begins dating her new daughter-in-law, she is pushed over the edge. The performances are good all around, and the basic story arch is interesting enough, but what makes the film so compelling is the structure, which is what is today described as nonlinear. The film opens with Crawford wandering around the nearly deserted morning streets of Los Angeles, asking bewildered passers-by if they have seen “David.” She soon winds up in the psychiatric ward of the local hospital in a state of near shock. Her doctors gradually get her to talk, and the story is related in flashbacks. But they are no ordinary flashbacks, for as her mental state weakens, it becomes clear that not all of her memories necessarily reflect reality, and many are colored by delusions, paranoia, and hallucinations. Thus Possessed becomes an early example of an unreliable narrator in film.

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