Obsession (1976)

August 1, 1976

PG 1hr 38 min

Obsession (1976) Movie Reviews

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Déjà vu and Déjà vu.

Obsession is directed by Brian De Palma and written by Paul Schrader. It stars Cliff Robertson, Genevieve Bujold and John Lithgow. Music is by Bernard Herrmann and cinematography by Vismos Zsigmond.

You either love him or hate him, it seems. Brian De Palma that is. He's an amazing stylist who made some piercingly great thrillers in the tradition of Maestro Hitchcock, or he's a knock off artist using style to hide his inadequacies as a story teller? One thing for sure, for a good portion of the 70s and 80s his films would not be ignored, for better or worse depending on your own proclivities of course.

Obsession, as has been noted numerous times, is De Palma's homage to Hitchcock's masterpiece, Vertigo. It's not a straight out copy as some reviewers have somehow managed to convince themselves, but narrative drive is similar. Robertson in grief for a passed on wife (Bujold) and daughter meets a doppelganger (also Bujold) of his dead wife 16 years down the line and becomes obsessed with her. As the new woman reciprocates the attraction, the relationship becomes wrought and borderline unhealthy, reaching a crescendo when muddy waters are stirred and revelations force the can to open and worms to spill everywhere.

When remembering that for a long time Vertigo was out of circulation in the 70s, Obsession was sure as hell a good second option for anyone hankering for a superbly stylish thriller boiling over with psychological smarts. Even if you buy into the style over substance argument, what style there is here though. Roving camera work, up tilts, haze surrounds, canted frames, pan arounds, dream shimmers and personalised focus. Add in the splendid use of New Orleans and Tuscany locations and Herrmann's sensually dangerous score (lifted in part and re-worked from Vertigo) and it has style to burn. While the big reveals at pic's culmination are in turn intriguing and daring; even if the original ending planned would have really put the cat among the pigeons and made for a more potent piece ripe for heated discussion.

Lead cast are on fine form, Robertson plays it superbly as a wistful and damaged wastrel, guilt and obsession seeping from every pore. Bujold is just darling, a telling twin performance that actually doesn't demand to be noticed until late in the play. While Lithgow stomps around the edges of the frame like some shyster lawyer whose tie is on too tight. Ultimately Obsession is a film crafted in the mode of Hitchcock, but not in anyway disgracefully so. This is no illegitimate relation to Vertigo, it's more like a reliable brother-in-law. Pulpy, Trashy but also Classy. Great. 8/10