Queer Bodies/Love Surviving Patriarchal Pressure in ATTACHMENT

Attachment (2023)
Directed & Written by Gabriel Bier Gislason
Starring Ellie Kendrick, Josephine Park, David Dencik, & Sofie Gråbøl.

Drama / Horror

The following essay

contains SPOILERS!
Turn back, lest ye be spoiled.

1/2 (out of )

The past few years in the horror genre have begun to expand the horizons more beyond the tired, often lazy tropes of Christian horror films with Dayan D. Oualid’s 2019 short Dibbuk and most recently with Oliver Park’s 2022 feature The Offering (featuring Game of Thrones‘s Paul Kaye in a fantastic supporting role). A new burgeoning trend of Jewish horror stories hitting the big screen continues this year with Gabriel Bier Gislason’s Attachment, the story of two lesbiansLeah (Ellie Kendrick) and Maja (Josephine Park)—who meet randomly one day and a romance between them begins. Very quickly, Leah and Maja are going back to the home Leah shares with her mother, Chana (Sofie Gråbøl). Their relationship starts to bloom, but Maja realises there’s something deeply unsettling going on in Chana and Leah’s house; exactly what, she doesn’t. After a while it becomes obvious to Maja that Leah’s not doing well. She just doesn’t know if it’s because of Chana, or something more sinister.

Attachment is a Gothic love story, in the original literary sense of the word: a tale full of love, both romantic and familial, and just as shrouded with shadowy terrors. The film is also a very compelling queer story because of the lesbian relationship between Leah and Maja, and also due to the fact the dybbuk who terrorises Leah comes to represent a patriarchal force gripping her body and her life—a force that two queer women, along with the help of Chana, fight to expel. Gislason’s film is full of Jewish folklore and superstition while still a vividly human portrait of the loving connections that bind people together emotionally across space and time, disguised in the cloak of a demonic possession story that’s far from the standard genre fare.
Father Son Holy Gore - Attachment - Falling in LoveThe story starts off brilliantly, as the Jewish woman, Leah, and the goy lady, Maja, run into one another while the latter’s wearing her “elf princess” costume. The reason why this is so good is because, subtly, it briefly confronts the foolish idea that Jews are somehow offended by the presence of Christmas in public spaces. Leah’s immediately attracted to Maja and they hit it off. Later, Maja’s Christmasy job returns for another brief moment when Maja’s out for the day and she returns to find Leah’s been watching episodes of the holiday show Maja acted in. Leah’s binging episodes of a Christmas series, at once defying the idea that Jews are repelled by Christmas, and simultaneously defying traditional Christian/Jewish views about sexuality since she’s only watching the show due to her new, cute girlfriend. While these are only VERY quick, almost passing scenes within the larger context of Attachment, they lightly touch on more ideas about religion beyond all the Jewish folklore and superstition at the core of the film. And, certainly, these ideas are a lot less pressing than all the terrifying spirituality that comes about to test Leah and Maja’s relationship later.

A specifically patriarchal angle to the dybbuk possessing Leah starts when a neighbour assumes Leah is pregnant, when it’s actually just the presence of the dybbuk inside her making it appear that way. It’s a quick line, never expanded upon any further, nor is the idea that Leah’s pregnant something that comes up prior to this scene, but it’s immensely important because of how it brings up a theme of the queer body v. patriarchal forces. Dybbuks are usually male and have historically been portrayed as ‘penetrating’ the bodies of the living. Here, with Leah being a queer woman, the patriarchal, possessive force of the dybbuk becomes even more horrifying, and the neighbour’s assumption about Leah being pregnant points directly to this historical representation of the dybbuk’s penetrative act.
Another way the patriarchal theme comes into play throughout Attachment is how Chana’s sense of spirituality, instilled by her ex-husband, mirrors the dybbuk’s possession of Leah. Through what Leah tells Maja we learn that Chana was not religious or superstitious until she met her husband, yet even after he left she was still, in a way, haunted spiritually by him; she continued to go about the rituals and the beliefs instilled in her by her husband in spite of how the rest of the Hasidic Jewish community sees her. In parallel to Chana’s figurative haunting by her husband’s spirituality, Leah is corporeally haunted by the dybbuk. Even though Leah is eventually saved, Chana must give up her own body and soul in order to save her daughter, offering herself to the dybbuk so that Leah can regain lost agency; thus, patriarchy has still taken its toll.
Father Son Holy Gore - Attachment - Girlfriend Meets MomThere’s a story within Attachment about becoming an adult and eventually moving on from the love of a parents/family to the love of a romantic partner. This aspect of life is a joyous thing, to be moving on with life with a partner, though simultaneously somewhat painful because while we’re not ‘leaving’ parents/family behind, there is a sense of loss attached to that new stage in life where you, at the very least, physically move from the place you grew up and make a new home elsewhere with somebody else. It’s amplified in the film by the dybbuk’s possession, the attachment of the demon acting as Leah’s unbreakable attachment to her home and her mother, as well as her personal, familial sense of spirituality.
The most important part of Attachment‘s story remains a coming together of folks from different religious and spiritual backgrounds. Maja, in the end, doesn’t reject the Jewish faith or run from the darker aspects of it that she’s witnessed, choosing to take all of Chana’s superstitions and ritualistic items along with her and Leah when they leave. She’s also figuratively keeping Leah’s mother Chana with them by retaining that part of Chana’s spirituality and making sure not only to remember it but honour it. Maja goes from feeling rejected by Chana, and even, to a degree, Chana and Leah’s religion itself, to having reverence for Chana, particularly what the mother was willing to sacrifice for Leah. Attachment is a Gothic love story that touches upon all sorts of love, from the love of new partners to the love of a mother, to the love that brings people of vastly different backgrounds together, and affirms how strong love has the potential to be in the face of any obstacle, earthly or otherwise.

Attachment is available via Shudder on February 9th, 2023.

One thought on “Queer Bodies/Love Surviving Patriarchal Pressure in ATTACHMENT

  1. Pingback: This Week at the Movies (Feb. 10, 2023) – Online Film Critics Society

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