Release date: October 3, 1965
Director: Roman Polanski
Renee Houston and
Roman Polanski's first movie in the West is, I think his best to date. When Repulsion was released it was considered by many including young women who related to the sexually repressed Carol (Catherine Deneuve) and her dangerous fantasies to be scarier than "Psycho". Today, it seems more unnerving than actually scary although movie watchers still jump when they see the fantasy man's reflection in the mirror. Yet it remains fascinating as a very good psychological horror/thriller; an enigmatic portrait of a lady who sinks into madness; and an early look into the mind of Polanski.
Certainly, the films ability to conjure monsters from its heroine's id remains unparalleled. Deneuve's Carole Ledoux lives life as a frightened lady, despite the fact that she has nothing to actually be afriad of. Her world is marked by strange grotesqueries: the fat middle-aged women whom she treats at the boutique, the swinging London men who always stare in her direction, her sister's (Yvonn Furneax) affair with an already married man in the room next to hers. Slowly, but with horrible certainty, those different internal threats blend with internal imaginings until it becomes impossible to tell the two apart. When her sister goes away for the holiday for a week, the apartment that they live together in transforms into a chamber of horrors: Faceless men appear in the mirrors, arms extend from disturbingly organic walls, food rots in the corners, and cracks grow wider at a frightening pace. So perfectly the director orchestrate this dissolution that it has become the blueprint by which scores of future filmmakers based their visions of insanity.
But Repulsion truly cements the woman's tragedy with the baffled and ignorant responses of the people that surround her. As a Belgian immigrant, she's a stranger in a land she does not know, surrounded by people who can't understand or communicate effectively with her. Signs of her condition become obvious to them and yet they don't know what to do, which only increases her isolation and further hastens her doom. None of the other characters are evil and with the exception of the landlord (Patrick Wymark), all of them wish her well. But their good intentions prove useless in the face of her monsters.
The thread echoes Polanski's later nihilism: the notion that decency and morality cannot hope to prevail in a world so compromised as ours. He declines to elaborate on Ledoux's past here (we do see a picture of her family, which implies some manner of incestuous abuse, but never actually states anything). While the madness is hers, Polanski suggests it was inflicted upon her as casually and irreparably as the twisted fantasies floating in her head.
Repulsion draws a lot of comparisons to Psycho, a better-known movie which shows the solitude of madness from those outside looking in. What the director does is approach it from the opposite perspective, Polanski provides an ideal movie: matching Hitchcock's unique vision with one that is just as good, and marking the guilt of those who bear witness to lunacy as much as the nightmare of those who give in to it. The pace with which Repulsion builds can be difficult to swallow in this day and age. This film should still be seen on a movie screen, for only by absorbing it in totem does its true power come to light.
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