Repulsion (Polanski, 1966)

Rabbits stink, heat burns, walls crack and midnight sounds. A faceless man breaks through the door. Her screams go unheard, there are only HIS hands on HER body. It happens every night.

Merriam Webster definition of Repulsion:

1. the action of repelling : the force with which bodies, particles, or like forces repel one another
2. a feeling of aversion

When I first saw this film, I assumed the latter. That Carole’s “repulsion” was born out of aversion and dislike. Her distate for sex is never explained, and is complicated because of her sister’s embrace of it. One would have otherwise assumed it was a question of a parent implementing a strick and repressive sex education.

Carole is not vocal, and I don’t think she even understands her feelings, and soon madness takes over. It’s as if two strong desires are meeting each other, and destroying her. The pressure of her sexual desire and repulsion fighting against each other, causing cracks in her world and breeding violence and distance from the real world. The feelings are quite literally tearing her apart, and in her mind, she quite literally sees the world cracking and breaking around her.

Though heavy handed at times, Polanski evokes all the senses. Smell, taste, sound, looks and touch. It’s no easy task, and he accomplishes it with exceptional skill. It works to evoke Carole’s compulsion, and her total and complete self-awareness. It’s as if all her senses are heightened, and sex itself might kill her.

The film’s stiffling atmosphere is further created by the use of lighting. There are always shades of light. Rarely is the entire shot lit, and often it’s difficult to make out what’s hanging beyond the edges of the screen. Shots are held for a very long time, and it works to extend each moment as if it were eternity. It’s usually fixated on some object, or wall that obsesses Carole, or on Deneuve’s perfect face. It’s more than an issue of beauty however, as Deneuve is able to display such a range of emotion and emptiness (fullness doesn’t seem right), with a single expression. Just watching her toss and turn in bed is more than most actors can do within the confines of an entire film. She is THAT good.

What makes Carole’s fears and obsessions all the more troubling is that paranoid fear that though her own enemies lie in her mind, they are also present in the world around her. Even by characters who she never encounters, there is violence and anger that is thrown upon her in principle. One can almost feel the weight of their eyes and hands on her body, and her fear does not seem alltogether irrational. There is also an encounter with a landlord late in her demise, where nightmare becomes reality. It makes for an extremely tense experience. As much as Carole’s behavior may disgust, confuse or frighten me, I can’t help sympathising with her.

One response to “Repulsion (Polanski, 1966)

  1. interesting, I watched this exact movie last night and did a write-up too, and seems we were both impressed with the same things. The heavy-handed sexual symbolism/philosophies didn’t do much for me, but just in terms of Polanski establishing mood with the lighting, the angles, and ESPECIALLY the sound, and combining that mood with some great payoff scare moments, Repulsion’s a great piece of psychological horror.

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