Repulsion – Roman Polanski (1965)

We are vain and we are blind
I hate people when they’re not polite
Psycho killer qu’est-ce que c’est?

The Leaning Tower of Pisa departs from the perpendicular by about six degrees, an imperfection long-known to be the result of faulty foundations. Nonetheless beautiful, the famous bell tower is revered and held in the popular imagination as a Galilean testing site. We forgive its aberrant character in defense of its beauty. But when it falls, I’m sure we’ll act shocked.

Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, his first English-language feature, uses this conflicted attitude toward aberration’s coupling with beauty as a point of departure for a psychological character study. Carol, his subject (played by the stunning Catherine Denueve) has obviously caught a case of the bat-shits. Beyond their own selfish, personal inconvenience, neither her sister (Helen) nor her obsessively lovesick boyfriend pay any mind to Carol’s twitchy gestures, detached mumbling, spaced-out stares or otherwise schizophrenic behavior. Helen’s married lover is the only character to signal a certain amount of sympathy in so kindly recommending a shrink: She’s a bit strung up.

When Helen leaves for Pisa on holiday, Polanski’s claustrophobic and paranoiac sensibilities take charge. The film is filled with brilliant tricks of the imagination that give the audience a front seat in Carol’s tortured psyche. Certain shocking, Clouzot-esque events at conclusion were considered too gruesome for distribution outside the British soft porn industry (a quick IMDB search on “Compton Films” should help explain), though nothing here is too much for a horror-culture whose expectations are set by the Saw cycle. Polanski insisted on leaving the roots of Carol’s psychological torment ambiguous, but I’m not convinced answers matter. Polanski is less interested in proscribing individual cures than describing the broader social context behind sickness. The folks at Film Quarterly located the film inside Polanski’s satirical view – as an outsider himself in 1960s London:

[T]he film’s thematic indictment of society is made with sardonic and succinct visual ironies. The acceptance of beautiful women as physical objects of desire and the complete indifference of modern society toward the bizarre (this glamorous era of eccentricity, when odd behavior, no matter how outrageous, is considered to be “individualistic”) makes it easy for insanity to flourish, undetected by mothers, sisters, prospective lovers, and employers.

[Vol. 19, No. 3, (Spring 1966)]

Cue the reference to any number of contemporary celebrities and we have Polanski’s “evil apartments” films providing miniature studies of society writ large.

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