‘Attachment’ Themes And Major Characters, Explained

At their worst, unchecked attachments can become extremely overbearing—to the point where they start to trespass the boundaries of personal space—or they can become delusional to such an extent that a sense of one’s own self and purpose gets assimilated with the subject of the attachment. Debutant director Gabriel Bier Gislason’s Danish romance-horror movie “Attachment” examines these predicaments in a puritanical Jewish atmosphere, and the treatment often veers toward the heavy-handed. While the movie shines brightest in the queer couple Leah (Ellie Kendrick) and Maja’s (Josephine Park) passionate, caring romance and in Sofie Gråbøl’s poignant performance as Chana, the horror elements portrayed are definitely the weakest parts, being played out and lacking any bite. To delineate the themes portrayed in “Attachment,” we will analyze some of the key characters and the motivations behind their actions. 

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Spoilers Ahead


Maja As The Outsider, Caring Lover

Maja is a former Danish actress whose heyday of playing Elf princess on children’s Christmas TV shows has gone past her. After her mother’s death, she inherited their family home in Denmark, and at some point in that period, she got trampled under peer pressure and loneliness. She shares later with Chana that seeing her friends move ahead in their walks of life while she remained purposeless made her feel more like a recluse. She cocooned herself in isolation and lived a quite aimless life. Upon Leah’s arrival, she found a purpose in life. More than love, there was her need to feel productive, which she got by taking care of Leah. Maja’s desperation is palpable in the situation where she asks Leah to stay just after talking once and invites Leah to her home. A pejorative use U-haul lesbian stereotype can be sensed clearly in this instance.

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After Leah suffers from a sudden episode of seizures and breaks her leg, Maja offers to move to London with her. She tries her best to internalize Jewish culture and makes an effort to let Chana accept her in the family, but to no avail. She stands at odds with Chana’s superstitious beliefs, as shown by her initial reactions about the possibility of Leah getting possessed by a Dybbuk. Maja’s curiosity regarding Jewish iconography leads her to Uncle Lev, whose vague conversations make her suspect Chana’s actions. After wrongly suspecting Chana to be mentally insane and planting false evidence to incriminate her in front of Leah, Maja manages to take Leah away to a remote cabin. But what she thought might provide the bliss of seclusion ends up being a horrorfest as a Dybbuk completely possesses Leah in the absence of Chana’s religious artifacts. At least she could make amends with Chana before her death and make them in due time. Chana’s love for Leah is more of a medium for self-sustenance than anything else, and her presence as a goy (non-Jewish) outsider in the close-knit family stays true at the very end when she takes Leah away from their house for a new beginning. She somewhat redeems herself by keeping the ritual artifacts for herself, showing respect to Chana in her own way.


Chana As An Overbearing, Loving Mother

Arguably the most complex, rounded character in the movie is Leah’s overbearing, extremely religious, and paranoid mother, Chana, who goes out of her way to ensure her daughter’s safety. There is a sense of co-dependence in the mother-daughter relationship that remains almost intact even by the end of the movie. By Leah’s admission, Chana used to be a free-spirited woman belonging to a rather liberal Jewish family. After marrying Leah’s father, she was thrust into a puritanical life, something she got used to with great unease—but lost her own self in the process. She had family in Denmark and came to London after marrying Leah’s father, but she couldn’t return to her homeland even after his death due to the attachment she has unwillingly grown for such a lifestyle. Chana’s character is quite tragic in the sense that, having severed the connection with her past life, she has grown to become paranoid, fastidious, and overprotective. We later come to know much of her irritable actions were part of her ritual episodes. 

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The first reaction of Chana toward Maja was to consider her an unknown outsider. Her indifferent attitude toward Maja apparently turns into hostility after she makes an attempt to ruin Leah’s health—at least, that is what Maja believed initially. As the later incidents show us, every one of Chana’s suspicious activities had reasons to back her up, i.e., to save her daughter. Leah and later Maja consider her mentally insane and abandon her. For Chana, Leah and the Orthodox teachings have been firmly integrated into her existence, and she can’t think of anything outside of that for herself. The wig she occasionally uses while going outdoors is a sad reminder of her attempt to cling to the past and remain the woman she once was. There’s a bit of honest conversation when she unexpectedly bonds with Maja while sharing a round of beer, where she warns Maja not to get attached to something to the point that one loses oneself in it – and it acts like a lamentation for her own life. However, the biggest problem with her was that, despite wishing well for her daughter Leah and her partner Maja, she didn’t come clean to them regarding the dangers of possession—probably because her orthodox self was too afraid that she would get judged. In the end, she ensures that Leah lives a full life and doesn’t get bogged down like her, and after knowing she can trust Maja to take care of her, she sacrifices herself to save her daughter and holds her in one last embrace. With Chana, there’s always more than meets the eye, as on-screen, she always appeared as a woman who could have opened up for her own good but ended up carrying a lot of supressed feelings and conversations to her grave. Chana signifies the tragic outcome of a life full of potential.


‘Attachment’ Themes, Explained

The generational gap acts as a recurrent theme throughout the movie, as we see Leah as a part of the younger generation who is rather flexible in adapting to new changes, unlike her mother, Chana, who had to adjust to an orthodox lifestyle against her will and couldn’t move on afterward even when she had the chance. Tradition and modernity clash with each other through the differing perspectives of Maja and Chana, with the former considering the anecdotes of Jewish mythology as nothing more than engaging fantastical stories, while the latter has her belief system constructed around those very things. A theme of loneliness and abandonment is also present through a tragic similarity in both Chana and Maja’s characters. Maja lived an aimless, humdrum life where she felt ineffectual; similarly, aside from taking care of Leah, Chana lived a secluded existence. The possibility of Leah moving away from any one of them frightened them both to an equal extent, in Maja’s case, which prompted drastic measures like incriminating Chana and forcing Leah to abandon her. 

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Siddhartha Das
Siddhartha Das
An avid fan and voracious reader of comic book literature, Siddhartha thinks the ideals accentuated in the superhero genre should be taken as lessons in real life also. A sucker for everything horror and different art styles, Siddhartha likes to spend his time reading subjects. He's always eager to learn more about world fauna, history, geography, crime fiction, sports, and cultures. He also wishes to abolish human egocentrism, which can make the world a better place.

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