‘Posesif’ Romanticizes Dating Violence

Tuesday, 21 November 2017 - 09:29:32 WIB
By : Kate Walton | Category: Culture - 3788 hits
“Maybe he’ll change.”

This thought will be a familiar one to girls and women who have experienced abusive relationships. The idea that if you are patient enough, supportive enough, nice enough: maybe he will stop.

Survivors of abusive relationships know that change rarely happens. They know that he will not stop controlling you. In fact, abusive behavior tends to worsen over time, as many women will attest – the kind, gentle man they started dating turns into something else.

That’s why the key messages of Palari Film’s new feature, Posesif (director Edwin, screenplay by Ginatri S. Noer), are problematic. The film implies that abusive relationships are normal: that your boyfriend’s intense jealousy of your friends is normal, that him always wanting to always know where you are and who you’re with is normal, that being strangled for making your own decisions is normal.

This is the unhealthy relationship the film’s protagonists, Lala and Yudhis, fall into over the course of Posesif. Their relationship starts off sweet, like most young romances do, but over time, becomes what psychologists would rightly describe as “toxic”. There is a noticeable power imbalance between the two teenagers – Yudhis tries to control Lala’s life, from who she hangs out with to which university she applies to study at, and even physically hurts her when she pushes back.

Even small acts that Lala sees as romantic are actually possessive or controlling. Early in their relationship, for example, Yudhis makes a copy of Lala’s house key without asking. He surprises her with the duplicate key one evening. Lala is delighted. This should have set off alarm bells for both Lala and her family, as it means he can come and go as he pleases. It is a violation of privacy.
It is important to reaffirm that abuse does not only manifest itself physically, such as through hitting. Abuse can also be emotional, psychological, and even financial. Men are abusive if they do any one of these. Unfortunately, multiple forms of abuse often occur within one relationship, as Lala finds out.

Also troubling is the film’s suggestion that men become abusive because of their parents. While this may be the case for some, men must be responsible for their own actions. Blaming Yudhis’ mother for the way he is lets him get away with his abusive behavior towards Lala. It also permits Lala to think that she can change him if only she is given enough time.

No doubt, Posesif aims to start a conversation on dating violence. However, by romanticizing abusive behavior, it has ultimately failed. The film is packaged as a romantic comedy, and leaves viewers thinking that Yudhis and Lala’s relationship is normal, when this is actually far from the truth.

At the premiere screening I attended in late October, many viewers laughed at scenes in which Yudhis is abusive towards Lala, including when he tries to strangle her. Scenes that should have made people gasp in horror had people chuckling instead. This indicates a serious lack of understanding among Indonesian audiences – and filmmakers – about the seriousness of dating violence.

Violence within a relationship is not acceptable in any form. If Lala was my friend, I’d be telling her to run. Fast.

Kate Walton is a queer feminist activist, writer, and photographer. She works in maternal health and is passionate about women's rights. Outside of work, she loves cooking Indian food, drinking tea, and trying to read more books than she did last year.

Got an opinion on this issue? Let’s talk about it in the comments section below.

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Cemara Dinda | 21 November 2017 | 12:43:46 WIB
I totally understand your point of view, Kata. I also think that both director and scriptwriter were aware on the problems of violence in dating, which is why I think this movie was created. Of course, there were times I were really angry at Lala's tolerance towards Yudhis' behavior. Then, we were introduced to both of their parents' narrative and so on. That's when I understood everything. That we all can acquire traits of possessiveness to each their own extents. We all can be possessive and express it through many ways and for Yudhis, it's violence and those sudden bursts of anger (to which he actually admitted!) because that's pretty much the only thing he's exposed to. For me this movie is all about "how".
Cemara Dinda | 21 November 2017 | 12:49:14 WIB
I get why Sheila on &'s song in the movie contributed to arguments of romanticizing abuse...and don't get me wrong, I will never tolerate abuse. However, if we look past our confusion and bewilderment, the song is there for a reason, every little aspect of plot, cinematography, and characterization, in the movie has a purpose and by the end of the movie, I was proud of Lala.
Cemara Dinda | 21 November 2017 | 13:03:22 WIB
"men must be responsible for their own actions": of course, but with Yudhis, I see why Edwin wanted to portray him like that because he wanted to convey cold, hard reality.

If we end up angry at this movie, we should stop for a second and think that perhaps, this is really what's happening in real life to make room for advocacy in this issue of not just about dating, violence in dating but also issues of mental health such as trauma (I thank my friend for this input!).
Helen | 22 November 2017 | 10:11:03 WIB
While it's commendable for the filmmakers to talk about dating violence in this movie, I agree with Kate here that this film is problematic. I think the problem is in the flawed writing. Sure, it's hard to talk about such complex issue but the film resorts to easy fixes (and cliches of 'broken home' and demonizing parents and melodrama) and ends up romanticizing violence. It's too forgiving upon Yudhis and wow "I'm bad, I'm manipulative", hallelujah, because of course all violence perpetrators realize they're bad, right?
Cemara Dinda | 22 November 2017 | 11:46:42 WIB
People sometimes focus too much on the visual aspect of this movie without looking at what lies beneath. There is no black and white in this movie, only the gray area... Edwin provides us the tip of the iceberg, really. Yudhis is portrayed as the villain, but then we see what villanous aspects of his life contributed to his possessive behavior... and isn’t his mother’s tough behavior also caused by some trauma in her life? This movie tries to convey the vicious cycle of abuse and I don’t think it’s enough to condemn Yudhis and label Lala as stupid for going back to him again and again. Once again this movie is about the HOW.
Nuno | 22 November 2017 | 19:36:24 WIB
I fear that without follow up discussion and intense discussion on mental health, on abuse, on circle of violence, some 60-120 mins movie might not really describe the reality and that's what make it potentially problematic (I haven't seen it, tho, but intent to catch up). The whole abuse things might start within a dysfunctional family and been there a long time it's normalized, and then spread.

It would be a great idea to accompany this movie with a lot of talk shows, discussions, public debates on this issues because it will potentially give contexts on the whole depictions of the movie.

It's possible that some of the scene might trigger intense reaction on abused victims with PTSD.

Also, without some proper context, the "other side" might take on this narration to give their own interpretation that "pacaran is dosa hence kawin aja cepet"
SR | 23 November 2017 | 22:06:14 WIB
"This indicates a serious lack of understanding among Indonesian audiences – and filmmakers – about the seriousness of dating violence."

Pernyataan ini sungguh terlalu simplistis.
Maya | 24 November 2017 | 00:12:53 WIB
OH, COME ON!!!! The film narrative is strong and the message is pretty clear. They do their homework, know their audience well, and understand how to approach them. The movie shows us the complexity of a relationships and encourages us to rethink and requestion the romantic boundaries by creating a story based on most common and close experiences in Indonesian teenager life. I am happy it's not such a frustrating and more importantly frustrating movie. It's one of the best Indonesian drama movie that i ever seen.
Nanda | 28 November 2017 | 13:54:34 WIB
Couldn't agree more. From the first time I glanced at Posesif's promotional poster, I cringed at the movie's tagline. It was somewhere along the lines of "He's Lala's first love, but he wants her forever", and I would forever be puzzled why nobody so much batted an eye at it. I imagine that tagline had to go through a number of people during pre-production and how the entire movie was approved really speaks volumes on how tone-deaf our country still is towards violent relationships.

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