Roman Polanski’s ‘Repulsion’ is a story of twisted psychological torment, set in the era of expressive sexual exploits and overwhelming pressure to succumb to such temptations—the sixties. The focal character, Carol, is a manicurist living in the newly thriving London, the streets of which are adorned with sexually charged louts (see Fig 2) and confidently liberated women. From the moment Carol is introduced as a quietly anxious young woman, parallels with the setting begin to ensue, and as the ever-growing burden of sexual desire begins to stagnate within her, all that was once pure becomes repulsive.
Isolation plays a key role in the film; an isolation from people, sex and society as a whole. “Polanski depicts Carol’s life as a series of isolated moments. Presenting her as disconnected on the job – clients think she dozes off – Polanski focuses more on her walks to and from work.” (Sorrento, 2009) It is these lengths of seclusion which give Carol more depth in her delusion, making her a somewhat disturbing ‘antagonist’. Silence (and the breaking of it) is used with the intention of chilling the audience at pivotal moments in the film, which becomes a particularly harrowing device during the nightmarish rape scenes that Carol concocts in her mind. The telephone is also used to great extent, (see Fig 3) as Carol often answers to no avail which, along with disturbing imagery of limbs protruding from the walls, making similar comparisons to Keiichiro Toyama’s Silent Hill.
Sexuality is at the forefront of the films’ many themes, paired with Carol’s background of speculated abuse and her inability to escape from the subject. “Carol is a child-woman both fascinated and repulsed by sex, but her nightmare fantasies of rape also suggest suppressed memories of abuse bubbling up to the surface in her isolation and eerie imagery as the fragile girl slips into helpless madness.” (Axmaker, 2009) Carol’s sister acts as the precedent for open-minded women of the time, which drives Carol to the point of madness, being that she is forced to listen to her sexual endeavours ensue. The levels of sexual dominance in the male cast are raised as the film progresses, which Carol finds herself having to consistently defend against (see Fig 4).
The transformation in set design completely shatters any pre-conceived ideas of what Repulsion may seem like to begin with. “Polanski employs a host of wonderfully integrated visual and aural effects to suggest the inner torment Deneuve (Carol) suffers: cracks in pavements, hands groping from walls, shadows under doors, rotting skinned rabbits,” (GA, 2008) By the final act, Carol has wrecked the apartment in her insanity, which reflects the different stages of mental illness she experiences throughout the film. Early scenes see Carol leaving food by the telephone, which decays gradually along with her mind, which then leads to skin-like textures covering the walls and the inexplicable groping from imaginary hands.
Repulsion could be interpreted in many different lights: as a horror film, an act of defiance against the repression of sexuality, or perhaps just a story of descent into madness. At any rate, Repulsion is a disturbingly layered film, and certainly not for the faint of heart.
Sorrento, M. (2009) Repulsion Review
http://www.filmthreat.com/reviews/11829/ (Accessed on 01/12/13)
Axmaker, S. (2009) Repulsion Review
http://www.seanax.com/2009/07/27/dvds-for-72809-the-middleman-repulsion-the-original-life-on-mars-begins-and-the-new-battlestar-galactica-ends/ (Accessed on 01/12/13)
GA (2008) Repulsion Review
http://www.timeout.com/london/film/repulsion (Accessed on 01/12/13)
Fig 1. Repulsion Poster (1965) From: Repulsion - Directed by: Roman Polanski
http://www.eatbrie.com/large_posters_files/Repulsion1.jpg (Accessed on 01/12/13)
Fig 2. Repulsion Screenshot (1965) From: Repulsion - Directed by: Roman Polanski
http://i436.photobucket.com/albums/qq85/cornershop15/MikePrattinRepulsion.jpg (Accessed on 01/12/13)
Fig 3. Repulsion Screenshot (1965) From: Repulsion - Directed by: Roman Polanski
http://thisdistractedglobe.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Repulsion-1965-Catherine-Deneuve-pic-9.jpg (Accessed on 01/12/13)
Fig 4. Repulsion Screenshot (1965) From: Repulsion - Directed by: Roman Polanski
http://www.odeonent.co.uk/images/product_images/zoom/19725.jpg (Accessed on 01/12/13)