Monday, 5 January 2015

Review: Repulsion

Figure 1: Theatrical Poster (Gallagos, 2013)
  • Native Title: Repulsion
  • Primary Language: English
  • Format: Black and White
  • Year of release: 1965
  • Director: Roman Polanski
  • Budget: est. $300,000
  • Film Length: 105 minutes
  • Production Company: Compton Pictures
    Repulsion is a feature-length suspenseful and surrealist horror film by Polish director Roman Polanski. Set in the heart of london during the middle of the 1960s, it is a dark tale of a woman's deep-set repressions twisting her and breaking her mind as she is forced to spend time alone in her apartment.

     The film's leading lady is a blonde Belgian shrinking violet by the name of Carol (Catherine Denevue). We are introduced to her at work at a beauty parlour where she works as a manicurist. Despite her attractiveness she is shown ot be shy around men and often avoids eye contact with any man she sees. Perhaps Catherine's attractive features are a key point of the story? "it's clear that there's something essential to Carole that only Deneuve could supply: a tension between her sexpot good looks on the one hand, and an icy sexual unavailability on the other" (Brayton 2011), Catherine as Carol is highly attractive, a draw for any man that only serves as a problem regarding her distaste for male lewdness, and it does not help that she works in a beauty parlour; an establishment whose purpose is to make women look attractive to society. Not long into the film she bumps into a young man named Colin (John Fraser) who - unfortunately smitten by said beauty and not wanting to be deterred by her distancing behavour - asks is she would be available for dinner tomorrow. Despite an aversion to the man she agrees out of shyness. There are more signs that she prefers avoiding the attitudes of men as that night upon hearing the groans of her sister Helen (Yvonne Furveaux) in the bedroom next door with her boyfriend Michael (Ian Hendry), Carol covers her face with a pillow. A classic physical attempt to hide an unpleasant sound while sleeping.

    Things get strange after Helen and Michael leave for Italy as Carol, now lacking the comfort and encouragement of her sister at home, becomes distracted. After being sent home for looking ill (which is hard to tell in a black-and-white film and with someone as naturally uneasy as Carol) she finds herself staring at a crack running up a pavement slab from under a bench. In doing so she unknowingly runs late with havign dinner with Colin.

Figure 2: Was this planted the seed of Carol's home cracking
itself up? (unknown, 2012)
   The theme of cracks being symbolic of the tension appears everywhere in this film. While wandering about the house, Carol is startled when upon flipping a light-switch a wall quite surprisingly splits horizontally with a savage "cccracckk"; a sound comparable to ripping velcro. But very unsettling. It is possible that Carol's visions of cracking and tearing walls may have been inspired by her sight of the pavement crack, her mind using it as a visual metaphor to explain her unsettled and tense feelings. Regardless, the cracks and Carol's behaviour serve to give a feeling of unsettlement that make what could be quite a typical flat in 1960s inner London feel very undesireable.

    The isolation only serves to exaggerate her strained feelings as she is raped by men of her own imagination a total of three times, the terror of the moment perhaps emphasised by complete silence save for a ticking clock gradually getting louder and louder. It is clear that she is screaming while trying to either escape or deal with the phantom molester which drives home her feelings of helplessness and the emptyness to the act of intercourse being undertaken. In the outside world her negative experiences with a men are being crudely talked to by construction workers fixing a pipe followed by the eagerness of Colin. So she does not exactly have a white knight to comfort her (despite Colin's best attempts).

Figure 3: The attack that surprised the audiance. (
    These experiences along with hints of deeply-ingrained anxiety in her drive her to desperation after Colin followed her home. Feeling ashamed he tried to talk to her, eventually saying that if she didn't open the door for him he'd force it open (which he did). Quite shockingly, she responded to his attempts to calm her down by bashing his brains in with a candelabra when he had his vision obscured, bashing the candlestick against his head until he stopped moving. Realising what she had done, Carol hastily barricaded the door using the candlestick  (to only secure one plank at skirting board level) and paranoid of the police (or someone) eventually finding out she dragged the body into a bathtub full of water.

Figure 4: That is one grim look for offering a glass of water.
(Greco, 2013)
     Though the course of the film Carol transforms from a shrinking violet into a silent and deranged woman as a day or so after she kills Colin she kills again - this time her landlord who came to collect the rent he was supposed to get from Carol after Helen left but she neglected to visit and had responded to an angry phone call from him earlier by cutting the line to the telephone. When he breaks in and finds Carol, she gives him the money and after a bit of talk to get to know Carol...he makes leering advances. Unfortunately for him, she still had the razor she used to cut the phone cord and she slashes him until he stops moving as well, hiding his body by overturning the sofa.

    As her anxiety and perhaps her illness increases, the house twists and deforms to fit her fears. "The nightmare she creates for herself is one of the most disturbing things I have ever seen in cinema: The way scenes will end with the bizarre hallucinations and jolts; the "assault" scene played out to the amplified ticking clock; the sudden giant cracks she imagines when switching on a light" (Bradshaw 2013). As she and the audience becomes more unsettled the house warps and spawns nightmares to fit her madness. There is one scene two-thirds in that shows how delusional she has become on the outside: She is humming melodically as she irons a night-gown with an iron that isn't even plugged in and downs the odd sugar cube (as far as I can tell this is the only thing she eats during Helen's time away as there is a skinned rabbit in the living room and a pair of potatoes in the kitchen that had begun to sprout). She then applies lipstick and heads off to bed to be molested. Yes. The man she hallucinates suddenly appears out of the shadows, right next to her in her own bed. At this point it can perhaps be assumed that she is letting these phantom rape attempts occur as she does not initially object to the scary man suddenly materialising in her bed. If anything, she seems quite accepting of it, perhaps a sign of how distanced from reality and accepting of misery she has become.

    Everything surreal that goes on from the teleporting perverts and hands bursting out of walls to the cracking walls and the out-of-place feel of the entire environment make this modest Kensignton apartment a pseudo haunted house. As the flat degrades in Carols' mind "Polanski creates a chilling, dreary atmosphere throughout the film. Helene and Carol’s apartment, where most of the film takes place, is small, rundown, depressing and tensely claustrophobic" (Grecko, 2013); through the design we can certainly see that and feel that this rather modest residence is becoming a place that most people would rather get out of and run out the building's front door on the cusp of screaming. Rooms feel smaller and mroe foreboding as time goes by and in one instance created by Carol's degrading mind the living room becomes enormous, the unsettling scale bringing home the cramped feel of the whole place, a similar effect to Sister Ruth's dress in Black Narcissus only done with space instead of colour palette. Almost every man we see is wearing a black three-piece suit and either wants to arouse her or force themselves on her, often rather crudely. After about halfway the audience becomes about as uncomfortable with the situation as she is. Whe nshe is finally found on the floor under Helen's bed, unconscious and eyes wide open but alive, the question is open as to whether or not she will make it though the night, or if her nightmarish weekend were to be her last days.

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  1. Love the fact that you're committed to completing your reviews, Mark - demonstrates admirable studentship - and perhaps more importantly - proper curiosity about these filmic experiences and the desire to articulate your ideas through writing. Just do a quick polish in terms of typos - for example, you've for a misspelled 'audience' in your image caption...

  2. Great review Mark!
    I'm with Phil on the 'typo checking'...just a couple of things slipped through the net. Also, be careful not to slip into vernacular language - you say for example,
    '...shows how delusional she has gotten on the outside.' - '...has become on the outside' sounds a lot more academic, don't you think?
    Looking forward to your next batch of reviews! :)